A Federal High Court in Lagos has granted Media Rights Agenda (MRA) permission to proceed with its Freedom of Information (FoI) suit against the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) over its refusal to disclose details of payments of licence fees by broadcasting stations and platforms operating in Nigeria, and the amount the stations are owing the Commission as licence fees.
Justice Ambrose Lewis Alagoa paved the way for the suit to proceed upon a preliminary motion brought by MRA’s lawyer, Alimi Adamu, asking the court to grant the organization leave to mount a legal challenge to NBC’s failure to provide it with the information it requested through a letter dated August 22, 2022.
In the suit in which the NBC and the Attorney-General of the Federation are named as respondents, the MRA is contending that the NBC’s refusal to provide it with the information it requested amounts to a breach of its right of access to information, as well as a flagrant violation of the FoI Act.
The motion ex-parte brought by Adamu, pursuant to Order 34, Rules 1, 3(1) and (2) of the Federal High Court (Civil Procedure) Rules 2009 and Sections 1(3) and 20 of the FoI Act, asked the court to grant MRA leave to seek the following reliefs:
A declaration that the NBC’s denial of access to MRA of the information it requested by a letter dated August 22, 2022 constitutes a violation of the organization’s right of access to information established and guaranteed by Section 1(1) and 4 of the FOI Act;
A declaration that the NBC’s failure and/or refusal to give MRA a written notice that access to all or part of the information it requested would not be granted with reasons for the denial and the section of the FoI Act upon which the Commission relied to deny the organization access to the information requested amounts to a flagrant violation of Section 4 (b) and 7 (1) of the FOI Act;
A declaration that by its failure to give MRA access to all or part of the information applied for in its letter dated August 22, 2022, within the time limit set out in the Act, the NBC is deemed to have refused to give MRA access to the information requested, as provided under Section 7(4) of the FOI Act;
An order directing the NBC to disclose or make available to MRA a list of all broadcasting stations and platforms operating in Nigeria licensed by the Commission, the amount that each of them is required to pay as licence fees, the status of payment of each of the station from the date of its licence to August 22, 2022 for those licensed broadcasting stations that are owing, the amount of indebtedness and the period covered by the amount, and for broadcasting corporations owned by various state governments included in the list of the broadcasting stations whose broadcast licences were revoked by the Commission as announced by its Director-General in his press briefing on August 19, 2022, a breakdown of the amount of indebtedness by each of the radio stations and each of the television stations owned by the respective state-owned broadcasting corporations;
An order directing the NBC to deposit the information requested by MRA with the court pending the determination of the suit;
An order directing the NBC to pay to MRA the sum of N1 million as exemplary and aggravated damages for the flagrant and unlawful violation of the organization’s right of access to information; and
An order directing the Attorney-General of the Federation to initiate criminal proceedings against the NBC for the offence of wrongful denial of access to information under Section 7 (5) of the FoI Act.
Justice Alagoa, upon listening to Adamu move the motion, and after reviewing the motion papers and a copy of MRA’s request to the NBC, granted the request as prayed.
Nurudeen Akewushola is an investigative reporter and fact-checker with The ICIR. He believes courageous in-depth investigative reporting is the key to social justice, accountability and good governance in the society. You can shoot him a scoop via [email protected] and @NurudeenAkewus1 on Twitter.