Aggrieved embers of the Peoples Democratic Party caucus in the House of Representatives have sued the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN; Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed; and the National Broadcasting Commission over the 6th National Broadcast Code recently released by the National Broadcasting Commission.
Chairman of the PDP caucus, Mr Kingsley Chinda, revealed on Thursday that the lawmakers would also sue the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.); Minister of Labour, Employment and Productivity, Sen Chris Ngige; Minister of State, Festus Keyamo, SAN; and the National Directorate of Employment over the recruitment of 774,000 for the Federal Government’s Public Works Scheme.
Chinda said, “We cautioned that we shall litigate on the amended code released by the Ministry of Information and the 774,000 jobs by Labour (ministry). We are going ahead to litigate on both the amended code and the 774 jobs, unless the amended code and the programme are stepped down or rejigged in line with the law and the right thing done. We have filed the suit against the Ministry of Information.”
Nobel Laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka, in a statement on July 7, condemned the new broadcasting code, saying it amounted to a declaration of war on arts producers by the Federal Government.
The PDP also on August 7, 2020, in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, faulted the reviewed code especially where violators are liable to a fine of N5m as against the previous fine of N500,000.
A former Director-General, Nigerian Television Authority Tonnie Iredia, who is also a professor of Broadcast Management and Media Law, had in an interview published on August 23, 2020, condemned the new code as politicised and lacking the input of professional bodies and stakeholders.
Mohammed had, however, insisted that the sixth edition of code was part of ongoing reforms in the sector, which he said was in the best interest of the country.
At the NBC’s 28th anniversary and sixth annual lecture in Abuja, the minister said government’s expectation was that the ongoing reforms, including the amendment of the code, would revolutionise the nation’s broadcasting industry.
Mohammed noted that the Buhari-led Federal Executive Council supported the amendments after a review of the 2019 general elections.
But the PDP caucus dragged Malami, Mohammed and the NBC before a Federal High Court in Abuja seeking to void the code.
The originating summons, a copy of which was made available to our correspondent on Thursday, showed that the plaintiffs – Chinda; Deputy Caucus Leader, Chukwuma Onyema; Caucus Deputy Whip, Ajibola Muraina; and Messrs Mark Gbillah, Tyough Robert, Bulus Solomon, Rimamnde Shawulu Kwewum, Yusuf Ayo Tajudeen and Onyema Chukwuka – filed the suit in their individual capacities and as representatives of the caucus.
The suit, with number FHC/ABJ/CS/1136/2020, was filed on September 9, 2020. One Francis U. Obalim deposed to a 15-paragraph affidavit and a written address on behalf of the lawmakers.
The lawmakers, through their lawyers, Segun M. Fiki and Barrister Johnmary Chukwuasi Jideobi of Johnmarry C. Jideobi and Co., in their written address, argued that the amended 6th National Broadcasting Code enacted/issued by the 1st defendant (Mohammed) is in “flagrant breach of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), particularly as it seeks to surreptitiously and unlawfully create the offences of ‘hate speech’ and ‘fake news’ and to prescribe penalties therefore, whereas the said offences are not prescribed by any written law in force, as well as sundry provisions of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) Act Cap N11. LFN 2004.”
They asked the court to determine whether, by the provisions of Section 36 (12) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), the amended 6th broadcasting code enacted/issued by the 1st defendant (Mohammed), which created the purported offences of “hate speech” and “fake news” and correspondingly purported to have imposed penalties, is not unconstitutional, null and void.
The lawmakers further asked the court to determine whether or not, having regard to the extant provisions of Sections 6 and 23 of the National Broadcasting Commission Act Cap. N11 LFN 2004, the 1st defendant has the statutory power to issue broadcasting code and whether the 6th Nigerian Broadcasting Code purportedly issued is not a nullity and therefore void.