Barristers & Solicitors
Elections: SERAP Wants Court to Stop Buhari, Others from Shutting Down Broadcast Stations

The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has filed a lawsuit against President Muhammadu Buhari and the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) for the arbitrary use of the NBC Act and broadcasting code to sanction and threaten to revoke the licences of broadcast stations in the country and shut them down over their legitimate coverage of the 2023 general elections.

Joined in the suit as Defendant was the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed.

The NBC had last week reportedly sanctioned 25 broadcast stations and issued ‘final warnings’ to 16 others for allegedly violating provisions of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code during the February 25, 2023 Presidential and National Assembly elections.

But in the suit number FHC/L/CS/469/2023 filed last Friday, at the Federal High Court, Lagos, SERAP asked the court to determine whether the broadcasting code used by the NBC to sanction some broadcast stations and threaten to shut down others was not in inconsistent and incompatible with freedom of expression, access to information and media freedom.

SERAP also sought an order of interim injunction restraining Buhari, the NBC and Mohammed from threatening and sanctioning broadcast stations in the country simply for carrying out their constitutional duties, pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice filed contemporaneously in this suit.

The suit filed on behalf of SERAP by its lawyers, Kolawole Oluwadare, Ms. Adelanke Aremo and Ms. Valentina Adegoke, read in part: “The media plays an essential role as a vehicle or instrument for the exercise of freedom of expression and information in a democratic society. The NBC legislation and codes do not confer unfettered discretion for the restriction of freedom of expression and media freedom on those charged with their implementation.

“The sanctioning of some broadcast stations and threat by the NBC to revoke the licences of others and shut them down is neither necessary nor proportionate, as it would unduly intrude upon Nigerians’ right to freedom of expression, access to information, and media freedom.

“The use of vague and undefined phrases such as ‘unpatriotic individuals’ ‘subversive, hateful, and inciting utterances, particularly post-election’, as grounds to sanction and threaten to broadcast stations is inconsistent and incompatible with human rights requirements.

“The Nigerian constitution and human rights treaties impose legal obligations on the Nigerian government to refrain from imposing restrictions which are not consistent with human rights requirements, including on discussion of political and election-related issues.

“It is also inconsistent with constitutional and international human rights requirements to sanction and threaten broadcast stations solely for their coverage of the issues around the general elections on the basis of vague phrases such as ‘unguarded statements’, and ‘negative conversations’ used by the NBC.

“The sanction and threat also represent a serious hindrance to the exercise of journalism, media diversity and independence, media freedom, and participation.”