The Nigeria Brooadcasting Commission NBC, shutdown 53 broadcast stations over annual renewal debts but the Court came to the rescue of the stations
By Tony Enebeli
Only recently, Nigeria’s apex broadcast regulatory body, the Nigeria Brooadcasting Commission NBC, made good its earlier threat made during the time of its former Director General, Ishaq Modibo-Kawu, to shutdown erring television stations for unethical practices and indebtedness to the NBC. The commission threatened the stations for operating in breach of their annual license renewals and other unethical practices, despite repeated warnings.
The development led to an agreement the stations entered into with the commission in 2017 to meet their official obligations when due.
Following what appears to be unrepentance from the broadcast station’s offending practice, on Monday, August 22nd, 2022, NBC, through its current Director General, Balarabe Shehu Ilelah, announced a 24 hour altimatum for the stations to pay up for their license renewals or have them revoked.
Inside source told this Reporter that the commission could no longer stomach prolonged non compliance with its repeated directives to clear their mounting indebtedness to the commission which it claims now amounts to N2. 6 billions.
Stations like DAAR Communications, owners of Africa Independent Television AIT, Ray power, Silverbird Television, including several state-owned broadcasting stations, totalling 53 in number, were thrown into confusion as a result of the shutdown order.
Since the shutdown order, frantic efforts and remedial plans have been set afoot even though belatedly by the stations to mend fences. However, in arriving at its decision, NBC is believed to be buoyed by three considerations. The first, is its reliance on the the act that set up the commission, which also gives it the mandadate to regulate all broadcasting practices in Nigeria.
The second is the seeming reluctance leading to the unacceptable length of time it has taken the stations to respond to the regulator’s directives for license renewals. While the third isn’t unconnected with the princely sum involved which the commission cannot wait to recover.
Curiously, the stations’ shutdown has elicited reactions from stakeholders, with some accusing NBC of been motivated by the political considerations, given that the 2023 general elections are getting to a feverish pitch across the land. The Media Rights Agenda MRA for instance, reacted by noting that the shutdown will deny Nigerians access to important information, including those needed for security reasons. Meanwhile, the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Center pointed out that even while not supporting the stations for not renewing their licenses, NBC decision would escalate incidents of fake news which also will not help the tense security situation in the country. The strongest opposition to NBC action however, came from SERAP and the NGE. Although NBC was reported to have later announced a reversal of its decision on the stations, claiming that it was doing so because of visible attempts by the stations, to pay up the backlog of debts. But it has come to public notice however, that the reversal followed a “Motion Experte” jointly filed at the Federal High Court in Lagos, by SERAP and NGE. Their motion was aimed at restraining NBC from enforcing the shutdown order as well as revoking the operational licenses of the affected stations until the court has determined the relief being sought. Both civil Society groups were claiming that the NBC’s decision is unconstitutional because it offends citizen’s freedom of expression and access to important information.
Meanwhile, SERAP and NGE picked holes with NBC’s reliance on section 10 (a) of the Third Schedule of the NBC Act which the commission is relying on to shutdown the stations. They are insisting that NBC action was a violation of the stations’ constitutionally and internationally guaranteed rights to fair hearing. They further uphold the fact that the media, not excluding the 53 stations, play critical roles that are guaranteed by the constitution as well as several international conventions that Nigeria is a part, as vehicle for public expression of ideas and accessing other people’s ideas in a democracy. They did not deny that NBC has the right to regulate the industry though. But they are insisting such regulatory role must conform with guaranteed freedom of expression and access to important information.
As if to further boost public confidence in the Judiciary and the rule of law, on Monday, August 29, 2022, Justice Akintayo Aluko of the Federal High Court Lagos, granted the relief sought by SERAP and the Nigerian Guild of Editors NGE. The Federal High Court court therefore went further to adjourn the matter till 8th of September for hearing, thus bringing relief to the embattled stations.