Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID) have filed a lawsuit against President Muhammadu Buhari.
They asked the court to “Declare arbitrary and illegal the N5 million imposed on Trust Tv, Multichoice Nigeria Limited, NTA-Startimes Limited, and TeleCom Satellite Limited, over their documentaries on terrorism in the country.”
Joined in the suit as defendants are the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, and the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC).
NBC had last week imposed the fines on the companies, claiming that the documentaries “Glorified the activities of bandits and undermines national security in Nigeria,” and contravened the provisions of the Nigerian Broadcasting Code.
But in the suit number filed Friday at the Federal High Court, Lagos, SERAP and CJID are seeking “An order setting aside the arbitrary and illegal fines of N5 million and any other penal sanction unilaterally imposed by the NBC on these media houses simply for carrying out their constitutional duties.”
The plaintiffs said NBC and Mohammed had not shown that the documentaries by the media houses would impose a specific risk of harm to a legitimate state interest that outweighed the public interest in the information provided by the documentaries.
The plaintiffs said that the documentaries by these independent media houses posed no risk to any definite interest in national security or public order.
The plaintiffs also said, “It is inconsistent and incompatible with the Nigerian Constitution 1999 [as amended] to invoke the grounds of ‘glorifying terrorism and banditry’ as justifications for suppressing access to information of legitimate public interest that does not harm national security.”
“The documentaries by the independent media houses are in the public interest, and punishing the media houses simply for raising public awareness about these issues would have a disproportionate and chilling effect on their work, and on the work of other journalists and Nigerians.
“The action by the NBC and Mr Lai Mohammed is arbitrary, illegal and unconstitutional, as it is contrary to section 39 of the Nigerian Constitution and international human rights treaties including the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which Nigeria has ratified.”
The plaintiffs, in the suit filed by their lawyers, Kolawole Oluwadare and Ms Adelanke Aremo, sought a declaration that the fine “Is unlawful, inconsistent with, and amounts to a breach of the principles of legality, necessity, proportionality and therefore a violation of the rights to freedom of expression, access to information, and media freedom.”
“A declaration that the use of the Broadcasting Code by NBC to impose sanctions on the independent media houses for alleged infractions without recourse to the court constitutes an infringement on the provisions of sections 6 & [b] and 36 of the Nigerian Constitution 1999 and Articles 1 and 7 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Nigeria is a state party.
“A declaration that the provisions of the National Broadcasting Commission Act and the Nigeria Broadcasting Code, which are arbitrarily being used by the Defendants to sanction, harass, intimidate and restrict the independent media houses are inconsistent and incompatible with sections 36, 39 and 22 of the Nigerian Constitution, Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and are null and void to the extent of their inconsistency and incompatibility.
“A declaration that the Defendants lack the legal power and authority to impose penalty unlawfully and unilaterally, including fines, suspension, withdrawal of license or any form of punishment whatsoever on the independent media houses for promoting access to diverse opinions and information on issues of public importance.
“An order of court setting aside the fine of five million Naira imposed by the Defendants, through the 3rd Defendant, each on Trust TV, Multichoice Nigeria Limited, TelCom Satellite Limited (TSTV), and NTA-Startimes Limited for televising the documentary by the British Broadcasting Corporation “BBC Africa Eye” titled “Bandits Warlords of Zamfara”.
“An order of perpetual injunction restraining the Defendants or any other authority, persons or group of persons from unlawfully shutting down, imposing fine, suspension, withdrawal of license or doing anything whatsoever to harass and intimidate or impose criminal punishment on the independent media houses or any of Nigeria’s journalists and media houses for promoting access to diverse information on issues of public importance.”
No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.