Court authorises MRA to bring claim against NBC for failing to disclose information

A FEDERAL High Court in Abuja has granted Media Rights Agenda (MRA) leave to sue the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) in two separate cases.

The case concerns the Commission’s failure to grant the organisation’s requests for information on the scope of independence reportedly given by President Muhammadu Buhari and details of the 302 broadcasting stations it said it sanctioned in four months after campaigns for the 2023 elections began in September 2022.

Justice Nkeonye Evelyn Maha granted MRA leave to apply to the court to compel NBC to make available the information requested by the MRA.

The decision was taken after hearing arguments from the organisation’s lawyers in two separate exparte motions in which it complained that the Commission had failed to respond to two different applications for information.

The first request was dated February 17, 2023, and signed by Maimuna Momoh, a Programme Officer at MRA; the second letter was dated February 20, 2023, and signed by Monday Arunsi, MRA’s Legal Officer.

The first filed on March 20 by MRA lawyer, Tale Alabi, has the NBC and the Attorney-General of the Federation as respondents.

MRA sought an order granting it leave to apply for a review pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act, 2011 and for the court to direct the NBC to make available to the organisation the information it requested by its letter, dated February 17, 2023,

The MRA requested a list of the 302 stations sanctioned by NBC between September 28, 2022, and January 31, 2023.

MRA wants details of the names and locations of the stations, and for each, the name of the individual or entity which made the complaint against the station leading to the NBC sanction, and the date of the complaint and details of the complaint or allegation made against each station.

In addition, the MRA wants copies of all correspondence by NBC to the stations against which the complaints were made, informing them of the complaints or allegations made against them, and copies of all correspondence from all the stations against which complaints were made in response to the allegations against them.

MRA also asked for a list of all the broadcast stations against which the NBC received complaints of any type, pursuant to the Nigeria Broadcasting Code, between September 28, 2022, and January 31, 2023, which the Commission investigated and absolved of any wrongdoing; and details of the sanctions imposed by the NBC on each of the stations, including the amount of the fine imposed on each of the stations.

The second lawsuit came from a statement by NBC Director General Malam Balarabe Shehu Ilelah, where he said the Buhari had approved the Commission’s independence from any political interference in the performance of its regulatory duties, particularly concerning the granting and revocation of broadcasting licences, during a press conference he held in Abuja on February 9, 2023.

In the suit, filed on March 20 by Bula Zakayo Kelle against the NBC and the Attorney-General of the Federation, MRA sought leave of the court to apply for judicial review pursuant to the FOI Act, among other things, for an order compelling the NBC to make available to MRA the information it requested in its letter dated February 20.

In the petition, the MRA sought to know whether the power of the Minister of Information under Section 6 of the NBC Act to give the Commission directives about the exercise by the Commission of its functions has been abolished and, if so, whether there are plans to amend Section 6 of the Act accordingly.

Also, MRA asked whether the NBC now has the final authority for the issuance of broadcast licences as against the extant practice under Section 2(b) of the NBC Act, which requires the Commission to merely recommend applications through the Minister of Information to the President for the grant of radio and television licences; if the NBC is now vested with final authority to issue radio and television licences; and whether there are plans to amend Section 2(b) of the NBC Act accordingly.

In addition, MRA sought to know what additional NBC Act provisions are being considered for amendment in light of the President’s approval of the Commission’s independence. MRA also demanded a copy of the communication from the President through which the Commission was informed of the President’s acceptance of the NBC’s independence.

Justice Maha permitted MRA to apply for the reliefs requested by the organisation after hearing the arguments made by MRA’s solicitors in the two cases, which were heard separately on May 4.

She also instructed the solicitors to file their motions on notice within seven days.

The judge adjourned further hearing in both suits to June 21.

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