Rights lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Femi Falana, has described as illegal the fine of N5m imposed on Nigeria Info by the National Broadcasting Commission.
The NBC fined the radio station over comments by a former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Obadiah Malafia, saying the station grossly violated the revised Nigeria broadcasting code.
The senior advocate posited that the fine was illegal, adding that the revised NBC code was yet to come into effect as the NBC board had not approved it.
He also queried the speed at which the NBC slammed the fine on the radio station, saying the investigation was yet to be completed.
Falana said, “The Chairman of the NBC Board disclosed that the amendment of the Code authorising the payment of the fine of N5m was not approved by the Board.
“That means that the amendment of the Code has not come into force. Assuming that the Code was properly amended the Board cannot charge a suspect with criminal offences, prosecute, convict and impose a fine on him.
“The investigation being conducted into Dr. Obadiah's interview by the State Security Service has not been concluded. So why was the NBC in a hurry to violate the fundamental right of the broadcasting station to fair hearing?”
Falana also stated that section 33 (4) of the constitution provides that anyone charged with a criminal offence shall be tried before a competent court or tribunal.
He added that the revised code lacks legal competence to impose any fine on broadcast station without finding it guilty by a “properly constituted criminal court”.
He added, “Only a competent court of law is empowered to try, convict and impose a fine on a criminal suspect after a trial has been conducted before a competent court.
“In Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited in suit FHC/UY/CS/1623/2016 – National Oil Spill Detection & Response Agency (NOSDRA) vs. Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited the Federal High Court per Honourable Justice Ojukwu held that the imposition of fines by regulatory agencies was unlawful. The judgment of the learned trial judge was upheld by the Court of Appeal in the case of Nosdra v Exxon Mobil (2018) JELR 41137 (CA).
“In view of the fact that the imposition of the N5m fine was anchored on a purported amendment of the Code and since the NBC lacks the legal competence to impose a fine on any broadcasting station without a finding of guilt by a properly constituted criminal court the NBC should suo mutu quash the illegal fine.”