The Economic Community of West African States Court, based in Abuja, ruled that the Nigerian Broadcasting Code, utilized by the National Broadcasting Commission to enforce penalties and fines on broadcast stations, infringes upon freedom of expression.
This declaration was made on October 23 in response to a lawsuit filed by the Expression Now Human Rights Initiative, a non-governmental organization, against the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The court emphasized that the Nigerian government had not fulfilled its obligation to harmonize its domestic laws with its international commitments.
The applicant contested the utilization of the NBC Code by the Nigerian government, arguing that it allowed arbitrary imposition of penalties, including fines, on broadcast stations.
The court presided by Justice Dupe Atoki observed that in enacting laws “member states must give due consideration to its alignment with international guarantees and obligations like those under the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights.”
The applicant, represented by Solomon Okedara & Co, specifically contested the legality of Articles 3 (1) (1), 3(1) (2), 15(2) (1) of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code (6th Edition), as well as Article 15 (5) (1) of the Amendments to the Nigeria Broadcasting Code (6th Edition), asserting that they contravene the principle of freedom of expression.
In its ruling, the court highlighted that Article 3(1) (1) of the Code lacks defined boundaries, thereby violating the provisions of Article 9(1) and (2) of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights. Additionally, the court criticized the ambiguity and vagueness of Article 3(1) (2), stating it could potentially restrict the right to freedom of expression.
The court mandated the Nigerian government to align Articles 3 (1) (1), 3(1) (2), 15(2) (1) of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code (6th Edition), and Article 15 (5) (1) of the Amendments to the Nigeria Broadcasting Code (6th Edition) with its obligations under Article 1 of the ACHPR. It also ordered the cessation of enforcing these provisions until alignment is achieved.
In a separate ruling in May 2023, the Federal High Court in Abuja, under Justice James Omotosho, received commendation from the Nigerian Guild of Editors for issuing a perpetual injunction restraining the National Broadcasting Commission from imposing fines on broadcast stations. The court ruled that the NBC, not being a court of law, lacked the authority to levy sanctions as punitive measures against broadcast stations.