Mixed reactions have continued to trail the judgment of the Federal High Court, Abuja barring the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) from imposing fines on erring broadcast stations.
While some lawyers and stakeholders hailed the decision of the court others have argued that the judgment “is ill conceived, dead on arrival and cannot be enforced because of legal encumbrances”.
Ruling in a suit filed by Incorporated Trustees of Media Rights Agenda, MRA, Justice James Omotosho held that NBC lacked the power to impose fines on broadcast stations.
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The judge voided the N500,000 fine imposed on 45 broadcast stations on March 1, 2019 on the ground that NBC not being a court of law, lacked power to impose sanctions.
According to the court the NBC Code, which vested the commission with the power to impose sanction, was in conflict with Section 6(6) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, which vested such judicial powers on the court of law.
Justice Omotosho said the court would not sit idle and watch a non-jurisic body, arbitrarily impose fine without recourse to the due process of the law.
Some stakeholders including the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) had commended the court for issuing the order.
In a statement issued by its leadership, the NGE said the judgment vindicated the position of the editors that the NBC could not appropriate the constitutional responsibility of the judicial arm of government
Some other stakeholders have however, said that the court decision was ill-conceived and could not stand the test of time.
A lawyer, Mr Nelson Orji, told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) that a federal high court also sitting in Abuja had earlier given a contrary decision that the NBC has the power to impose sanctions on erring stations.
Orji, Director Legal Department in the Ministry of Information and Culture, said the judgment was delivered by Justice N. E. Maha in April 2022 in a case filed against NBC by seven organisations led by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP).
In a Certified True Copy of the judgment made available to NAN, Justice Maha interpreted the provision of section 2 (1) (n) of the NBC Act, 1992.
The provision states: “The Commission shall have the responsibility of determining and applying sanctions including revocation of licences of defaulting stations which do not operate in accordance with the broadcast code and in public interest”
Relying on the provision, Justice Maha held: “The law is settled that a regulator imposing fines under its enabling law in the discharge of its functions could not have acted unconstitutionally.
“In Moses Ediru v. Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) and 20rs (supra)) the court held that the FRSC Act gives the Commission the right to impose and enforce sanctions and such right does not derogate from the judicial powers of the court as provided in the Constitution.
“In essence, there is no confluence point where the powers of FRSC and that if the Court meet.
“In that Moses Ediru’s case the court further observed that FRSC and the Court and the Court are mutually exclusive such that the FRSC powers of enforcement of sanction is not an usurpation of the judicial powers of the court,”
Speaking on the two cases, Orji said there existed conflicting decisions of the same court of coordinate jurisdiction on the same issue of whether or not NBc can impose sanction
The Director said by Convention of the law, “where there is conflicting decision of courts of coordinate jurisdiction a party can chose which of them to obey and it will not be in contempt of any court.
“It is worthy of note that the judgment of Justice Maha is first in time and still subsisting as it has not been set aside by any appellate court.
“In this light NBC is still well within it’s rights to continue to impose sanctions on broadcast organisations which run fowl of the NBC code,” he said.
Orji said the cases against the 45 erring stations were strict liability offences and they had all complied by paying their fines.
He contended that if the judgment is allowed to stand it would mean that government agencies such as the NBC, FRSC, Quarantine Services would be rendered redundant.
Meanwhile, the NBC has said it would appeal the judgment of the court.