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Rights group takes FG to ECOWAS Court, seeks perpetual injunction on provisions of NBC code

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RIGHTS group, Expression Now Human Rights Initiative  has filed a suit at the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court  against the Federal Government  of Nigeria over the N5 million penalty imposed on Nigerian Info 99.3 FM station, Lagos for granting an interview to Obadiah Mailafia, former deputy governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

The rights group argued that the Federal Government’s action was against Article 9 (1) (2) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 66 of the (2) of the revised ECOWAS Treaty.

It also kicked against some  provisions of the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) Code, noting that those sections   breach the fundamental principle of a free press.

According to a copy of the suit with reference number ECW/CC7/APP/35/20 acknowledged by the ECOWAS Court, on September 4 obtained by The ICIR on Friday, the group is asking the court to declare as void Articles 3.1.1, 3.1.2, 15.2.1 of the NBC Code 6th edition.

It stated that since the NBC is not an independent judicial body, it is not empowered to exercise Article 15.5.1 of the amended code including other penal provisions in the regulation.

It could be recalled that the NBC sanctioned the Nigeria Info FM station over allegations made by Mailafia on the state of insecurity in the North East. He alleged that a northern state governor is a commander of the Boko Haram group.

Mailafia’s assertions were aired on the radio programme titled, “Morning CrossFire,” on August 10.

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“Dr Obadiah Mailafia’s comments on the southern Kaduna crisis were devoid of facts and by broadcasting same to the public, Nigeria Info 99.3 FM, is in violation of the following sections of the NBC code: 3.1.1 No broadcast shall encourage or incite to crime, lead to public disorder or hate, be repugnant to public feelings or certain offensive reference to any person or organisation, alive or dead or generally be disrespectful to human dignity,” a statement by the NBC read.

However, stakeholders criticised the development describing as an assault on media independence.

Counsel to the NGO, Solomon Okedara noted that “while the focus of many Nigerians is on the N5 million fine which the NBC Code (6th Edition) imposed in its amendments, the Code even imposes other far-reaching penalties.”

For example, Article 15.2.1 of the Code provides for sanctions such as “Immediate order of suspension of broadcast services, Suspension of license and immediate shutdown/seal up of transmitter; and Revocation of license, seizure and forfeiture of transmitting equipment.”

The Lagos-based lawyer described the N5 million fine was disproportionate and unjustifiable, adding that penalties like “suspension of broadcast services, suspension of license, shut down/seal up of transmitter” were excessive and disproportionate and could have a far more damaging effect on free speech.

According to him, the definition of hate speech as given in the Code is vague, ambiguous and overbroad.

The legal practitioner also noted that the code criminalizes “offensive reference” and wondered if the drafters of the code realized that making “offensive reference” is integral to free speech and important to open, diverse and heterogeneous society.

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Olugbenga is an Investigative Reporter with The ICIR. Email address: [email protected] Twitter handle: @OluAdanikin

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