Human rights lawyer, Inibehe Effiong, has sued the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed; the Federal Government, and the National Broadcasting Commission for arbitrarily amending the Broadcast Code and hiking the fine for hate speech from N500,000 to N5 million.
In the originating motion filed before a Federal High Court in Lagos, Effiong challenged the imposition of N5 million 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 suit comes barely days after the NBC fined Nigeria Info for granting an interview to a former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Dr Obadiah Mailafia, who claimed that an unidentified northern governor was 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 N5 million or shut down.
The NBC board had also alleged that Mohammed hijacked the responsibility of the NBC and unilaterally hiked the fine for hate speech without consultation.
Effiong in his supporting affidavit 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 argued that “abusing” or “insulting” the government cannot be criminalised in a democracy.
He contended that the expression “hate speech” is not defined under any written law and cannot be invoked or penalized based on the capricious expectations of the Respondents.
He said that 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)”.
The activist reminded the court that “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.”
The lawyer, therefore, prayed the court to make “a declaration that broadcast stations in Nigeria, broadcasters, guests, and callers during radio and television programs 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 further prayed the court to make an order of 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 programs.
The lawyer also asked the court to nullify and set aside the penalty of fines or other penalties imposed on broadcast stations by the NBC.
Effiong equally asked that the court should 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, and the Federal Government to be “abusive”, “insulting” or “hate speech”.