The Socio-Economic Rights Accountability Project (SERAP) has dragged President Muhammadu Buhari before the Federal High Court, Abuja, over the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) order to broadcast stations not to report the activities of bandits, terrorists and kidnappers.
SERAP disclosed this in a statement it issued on Sunday.
The civil society organisation filed the case with suit number: FHC/ABJ/CS/725/2021, alongside the Premium Times Centre For Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ).
Both bodies also sued Lai Mohammed, the Minister of Information and Culture. Joined in the suit as Defendant is the NBC.
The NBC gave the directive in a letter dated July 7, 2021, entitled: ‘Newspaper Reviews And Current Affairs Programmes: A Need For Caution’, which was signed by Francisca Aiyetan, Director, Broadcast Monitoring, on behalf of Balarabe Ilelah, Director-General of the NBC.
According to the bodies, the NBC order stopping journalists and broadcast stations from reporting details of terrorist attacks and victims violates media freedom, and Nigerians’ freedom of expression and access to information”.
The suit, filed on behalf of SERAP and PTCIJ by their lawyers, Kolawole Oluwadare and Opeyemi Owolabi, read in part: “The NBC and Mr Lai Muhammed lack the power and authority to restrict the ability of journalists and broadcast stations to carry out their constitutional duties and to unlawfully impose penalty such as fines and other sanctions on any journalists and broadcast stations for reporting on details of terrorist attacks and victims in the country.”
The organisations are seeking “an order of perpetual injunction restraining the government of President Buhari, the NBC, and Mr Lai Muhammed or any other persons from imposing fines or other sanctions on broadcast stations for carrying out their constitutional duties of reporting details of terrorist attacks and victims during daily newspaper reviews.”
They also prayed to the court for “an order to compel and direct the NBC and Mr Lai Muhammed to withdraw the directive asking journalists and broadcast stations to stop reporting details on terrorist attacks and victims, as the directive is unlawful and inconsistent with the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 [as amended], and the country’s international human rights obligations”.
SERAP and PTCIJ are also seeking “an order setting aside the directive on reporting of terrorist attacks and victims, for being inconsistent and incompatible with sections 22 and 39 of the Nigerian Constitution, Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights”.
According to SERAP: “Unless the reliefs sought are urgently granted by this Honourable Court, the directive by the NBC and Mr Lai Muhammed would be used to impermissibly restrict Nigerians’ rights to freedom of expression, access to information, media freedom, and victims’ right to justice and effective remedies.”
SERAP and PTCIJ are arguing that “the failure by the government of President Buhari to direct the NBC to withdraw its directive on reporting of terrorist attacks and victims violates sections 5[a] and [b], 147 and 148 of the Nigerian Constitution, Code of Conduct for Public Officers [Fifth Schedule Part 1], and Oath of office [Seventh Schedule] of the Constitution.”
SERAP and PTCIJ are also seeking “a declaration that sections 5.4.1[f] and 5.4.3 of the National Broadcasting Code and their application to the daily review of newspaper headlines by broadcast stations are inconsistent with sections 22 and 39 of the Nigerian Constitution, Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”
According to SERAP and PTCIJ: “The NBC directive fails to establish a direct and immediate connection between the reporting by broadcast stations and purported risks to national security and peace. The NBC is using ‘national security’ as a pretext to intimidate and harass journalists and broadcast stations, and to violate Nigerians’ rights to freedom of expression and access to information.”