A Federal High Court in Lagos State presided by Justice A.L Allagoa will on Monday deliver judgment in a fundamental rights suit filed by human rights lawyer, Inibehe Effiong, against the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, and the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed on the imposition on N5million fine on broadcast stations over alleged hate speech.
The judgment which is expected to be a watershed on media freedom and free speech in Nigeria was previously slated for October 8, 2021 but had to be adjourned because the judge was on official assignment outside Lagos.
Effiong had in 2020 sued the NBC, Mohammed and Malami for arbitrarily amending the Broadcast Code and hiking the fine for hate speech from N500,000 to N5m.
The lawyer challenged the N5m fine on Nigeria Info 99.3FM Lagos and the threat by NBC to punish other broadcast stations in the country over alleged hate speech.
His followed the fine imposed on Nigeria Info by NBC for granting an interview to the late former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Dr. Obadiah Mailafia, who claimed that an unidentified northern governor was a Boko Haram commander.
The NBC had threatened that any TV or radio station that allows elected officials to be insulted on its platform would be fined N5m or shut down.
The NBC board had also alleged that Mohammed hijacked the responsibility of the NBC and unilaterally hiked the fine for hate speech without consultation.
Effiong had in his supporting affidavit told the court that the actions of the NBC, the Minister of Information and the Nigerian government had gravely affected his freedom of expression and that of broadcast stations, broadcasters and other Nigerian citizens who also appear as guests on radio and television stations to express critical views about the government and public officeholders.
The lawyer argued that “abusing” or “insulting” the government cannot be criminalised in a democracy.
He contended that the expression “hate speech” is not defined under any written law and cannot be invoked or penalized based on the capricious expectations of the Respondents.
He said that to do otherwise “will amount to setting fire to the constitution” and that “those who are paid with taxpayers’ money cannot be insulated or shielded from insults and abuse by those who pay them (the citizens).”
The activist reminded the court that “Nigeria has passed the era of colonialism and military dictatorship”. He said that Lai Mohammed, NBC and the Federal Government were “seeking to subvert Nigeria’s constitutional democracy with the attendant liberties and foist a civilian dictatorship on the country.”
The lawyer, therefore, prayed the court to make “a declaration that broadcast stations in Nigeria, broadcasters, guests and callers during radio and television programmes are entitled to a fair trial before a court of competent jurisdiction as guaranteed by Section 36 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) and Article 7 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act, Cap. A9 L.F.N. 2004 before a sentence of fine or other penalties can be imposed on them over comments, views or opinions expressed on radio and television.”
He further prayed the court to make an order of perpetual injunction restraining the NBC, the Minister of Information and the Federal Government from imposing fines or other penalties on broadcast stations in Nigeria for comments or opinions expressed by citizens during radio or television programmes.