Court declines NBC’s bid to nullify judgment barring imposition of fines on media houses

The Federal High Court sitting in Abuja on Thursday refused an application filed by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) asking the court to dismiss an order barring the agency from imposing fines on broadcast stations.

Justice James Omotosho of the Federal High Court in Abuja had on May 10, in a case filed by the Incorporated Trustees of Media Rights Agenda, held that NBC lacked powers to penalize broadcast stations.

Media Rights Agenda had filed that suit after NBC, on March 1, 2019, sanctioned 45 broadcast stations for what it termed as “ethical infractions during the general election.”

The affected media houses were also fined N500,000 by the NBC.

But Justice Omotosho set aside the fines on the grounds that it violated the media houses’ Constitutional right to fair hearing as enshrined under Section 36 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and Article 7 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act.

Dissatisfied with the judgment, the NBC counsel, Babatunde Ogala SAN, urged the court to set aside its “default judgment” on the grounds that the verdict was “reached without jurisdiction.”

The NBC counsel contended that throughout the proceedings prior to judgment, he was not served with the originating processes in the case.

He maintained that the judgment amounted to an abuse of court process because a similar case had been litigated before another court.

Passing his ruling on Thursday, Justice Omotosho said he has gone through the court’s file and the evidence showed clearly that all the processes in the matter, including hearing notices, was received by the NBC, contrary to its lawyer’s claim of non-service.

“All this fact clearly points to proper and effective service on the respondents(NBC) who refused to appear or enter appearance on the matter,” Justice Omotosho held.

On the issue of abuse of court process, Omotosho held that the NBC had a duty to inform the court of the existence of another similar suit before another court, but failed to do so.

Subsequently, he ruled that it was futile for NBC to seek to set aside its judgment.

“The application by the respondents has no substance for being an afterthought,” the judge said while refusing the application.