Lagos lawyer, Inibehe Effiong, has dragged Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed; the Federal Government, and the National Broadcasting Commission before the federal high court, Lagos for arbitrarily amending the Broadcast Code and hiking the fine for hate speech from N500,000 to N5m.
The amendment has been seen my watchers as an attempt to gag the Nigerian Press.
Effiong challenged before the imposition of N5m fine on Nigeria Info 99.3FM Lagos and the threat by NBC to punish other broadcast stations in the country over alleged hate speech.
The Human Rights lawyer asked the court to make “a declaration that broadcast stations in Nigeria, broadcasters, guests and callers during radio and television programmes are entitled to a fair trial before a court of competent jurisdiction as guaranteed by Section 36 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) and Article 7 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act, Cap. A9 L.F.N. 2004 before a sentence of fine or other penalties can be imposed on them over comments, views or opinions expressed on radio and television”.
He also sought a perpetual injunction restraining the NBC, the Minister of Information and the Federal Government from imposing fines or other penalties on broadcast stations in Nigeria for comments or opinions expressed by citizens during radio or television programmes.
Effiong further prayed the court to nullify and set aside the penalty of fine or other penalties imposed on broadcast stations by the NBC.
He also urged the court to set aside the provisions of the extant National Broadcasting Code and any amendment made thereto, which purports to prohibit, criminalize or penalize comments or views expressed by citizens about the government and public office holders considered by the NBC, Lai Mohammed and the Federal Government to be “abusive”, “insulting” or “hate speech”.
NBC had recently fined Nigeria Info Radio for granting an interview to a former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Dr.Obadiah Mailafia.
Mr. Mailafia had alleged in the TV interview that an unnamed northern governor is a Boko Haram commander.
The NBC had threatened that any TV or radio station that allows elected officials to be insulted on its platform would be fined N5m or shut down.
The NBC board had accused the minister of usurping the statutory responsibility of the NBC and unilaterally hiked the fine for hate speech without consultation.
Effiong told the court that the actions of the NBC, the Minister of Information and the Federal Government had gravely affected his freedom of expression and that of broadcast stations, broadcasters and other Nigerian citizens who also appear as guests on radio and television stations to express critical views about the government and public officeholders.
The lawyer said that “abusing” or “insulting” the government cannot be criminalised in a democracy.
He added that “hate speech” is not defined under any written law and cannot be invoked or penalized based on the capricious expectations of the Respondents.
To do otherwise “will amount to setting fire to the constitution” and that “those who are paid with taxpayers’ money cannot be insulated or shielded from insults and abuse by those who pay them (the citizens)”.
“Nigeria has passed the era of colonialism and military dictatorship”. He said that Lai Mohammed, NBC and the Federal Government were “seeking to subvert Nigeria’s constitutional democracy with the attendant liberties and foist a civilian dictatorship on the country.”