As the deadline for the 53 TV and radio stations across the country to renew their licenses expires by Tuesday night, the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) and the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) have jointly instituted a legal action against President Muhammadu Buhari and the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) over the planned shutting down of the stations from August 24.
The two bodies also sued Buhari and NBC for what they called arbitrary use of the NBC Act and broadcasting code to threaten, revoke and shut down 53 broadcast stations in the country for allegedly failing to renew their licenses.
Persecondnews reports that joined in the suit as defendant is the Minister of Information and Culture, Mr Lai Mohammed.
On August 19, the commission had revoked the licenses of the 53 broadcast stations and threatened to shut down their operations within 24 hours over alleged N2.6 billion debt.
Persecondnews recalls that following the intervention of the International Press Institute (IPI), Nigerian chapter, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) has temporarily “backed down” on the revocation of the operating licences of 52 broadcast stations for failing to renew their licences.
The NBC now gave the affected stations up to 6.00pm on Tuesday, August 23, to pay up their debts or be shut down following the revocation of their licences, citing Section 10(a) of the 3rd Schedule of the National Broadcasting Commission Act CAP N11, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.
The provision says, “10. A license may be revoked by the Commission in the following cases, that is (a) where the prescribed fee has not been paid on the due date…”
In the suit number FHC/L/CS/1582/2022 filed on Tuesday at a Federal High Court, Lagos, SERAP and NGE are asking the court to determine whether section 10(a) of the Third Schedule to the National Broadcasting Act used by NBC to threaten revoke the licenses of 53 broadcast stations and shut them down is not in inconsistent and incompatible with freedom of expression and access to information.
They want an order of interim injunction restraining them, their agents or privies from revoking the licenses of the affected stations in the country and shutting their down operations, pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice filed contemporaneously in the suit.
Filed on behalf of SERAP and NGE by their lawyer, Mr Kolawole Oluwadare, the suit states: “The media plays an essential role as a vehicle or instrument for the exercise of freedom of expression and information – in its individual and collective aspects – in a democratic society. Indeed, the media has the task of distributing all varieties of information and opinion on matters of general interest.
“Revoking the licenses of 53 broadcast stations and shutting down their operations because they have not renewed their licenses would both seriously undermine the rights of millions of Nigerians to express their thoughts, and their right to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds, in any medium they choose. Freedom of expression includes the public’s right to receive, and the right of those who express themselves through a medium of communication, to impart the greatest possible diversity of information and ideas.
“The media, including the affected 53 broadcast stations, serve to distribute Nigerians’ thoughts and information while at the same time allowing them access to the ideas, information, opinions, and cultural expressions of other individuals.
“The media including the affected 53 broadcast stations play an essential role, as they allow millions of Nigerians to access both the relevant information and a variety of perspectives that are necessary for reaching reasonable and informed conclusions on matters of public interest.”