Activist lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN) has declared that the sum of N5 million imposed on Nigeria Info 99.3FM, Lagos, by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) is illegal.
Although the NBC had anchored the imposition of the N5 million fine on a purported amendment of the broadcasting Code, Falana contended that only a court of competent jurisdiction has the power to impose fine.
To justify its action, the NBC had accused the broadcasting station of providing its platform on August 10, 2020, “for a guest, Dr. Mailafia Obadiah, to promote unverifiable and inciting views that could encourage or incite to crime and lead to public disorder.”
The broadcasting station was also accused of conspiring with Dr. Mailafia Obadiah to commit the criminal offence of incitement and public disorder.
He said since the Chairman of the NBC board had disclosed that the amendment of the Code authorising the payment of the fine of N5 million was not approved by the Board, it means that the amendment of the Code has not come into force.
He further stated: “assuming that the Code was properly amended the Board cannot charge a suspect with criminal offences, prosecute, convict and impose a fine on him.”
He noted that the investigation being conducted into Dr. Obadiah’s interview by the State Security Service has not been concluded.
“So why was the NBC in a hurry to violate the fundamental right of the broadcasting station to fair hearing? ” he asked.
He argued: “section 33 (4) of the Constitution provides that anyone charged with a criminal offence shall be tried before a competent court or tribunal. Only a competent court of law is empowered to try, convict and impose a fine on a criminal suspect after a trial has been conducted before a competent court.
“In Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited in Suit FHC/UY/CS/1623/2016 – National Oil Spill Detection & Response Agency (NOSDRA) vs. Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited the Federal High Court per Honourable Justice Ojukwu held that the imposition of fines by regulatory agencies was unlawful. The judgment of the learned trial judge was upheld by the Court of Appeal in the case of Nosdra v Exxon Mobil (2018) JELR 41137 (CA).
“In view of the fact that the imposition of the N5 million fine was anchored on a purported amendment of the Code and since the NBC lacks the legal competence to impose a fine on any broadcasting station without a finding of guilt by a properly constituted criminal court the NBC should suo mutu quash the illegal fine,” he contended.