The Economic Community of West African States Court in Abuja has ruled that the National Broadcasting Commission’s use of the Nigerian Broadcasting Code to penalize and fine broadcast stations was an infringement on their right to free speech.
The declaration was made on October 23 by the ECOWAS court in a ruling rendered in a lawsuit brought against the Federal Republic of Nigeria by non-governmental organization, Expression Now Human Rights Initiative.
The Court found that the Nigerian government failed in its duty to harmonize its domestic laws with its international commitments.
The applicant has contested the arbitrary imposition of sanctions, including fines, against broadcast stations, based on the NBC Code.
Justice Dupe Atoki, presiding over the court, noted that “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” while passing legislation.
The applicant, who was represented by Solomon Okedara & Co., specifically contested the claims that Articles 3 (1) (1), 3 (1) 2, 15 (2) (1), and Article 15 (5) (1) of the Amendments to the Nigeria Broadcasting Code (6th Edition) violated the right to free speech.
The African Charter on Human and People’s Rights Articles 9(1) and (2) are violated by Article 3(1) (1) of the Code, the court ruled, due to its limitless reach.
The Code’s Article 3(1)(2) was found to be excessively unclear and vague by the court and it may “lead to curtailment of the right to freedom of expression.”
In addition, the court directed the Nigerian government to stop implementing the provisions until they were in accordance with Article 1 of the ACHPR and to align Articles 3 (1) (1), 3 (1) (2), 15 (2) (1), and Article 15 (5) (1) of the Amendments to the Nigeria Broadcasting Code (6th Edition) with its obligations under that article.
According to Justice James Omotosho’s May ruling, the court determined that NBC lacked the authority to punish broadcast stations with sanctions because it was not a court of law.