ECOWAS court faults NBC code, says it violates freedom of expression

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The Court of the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, says the Nigerian Broadcasting Code (NBC code) used by the National Broadcasting Commission to impose sanctions and fines on broadcast stations violates freedom of expression.

This was as ECOWAS court sitting in Abuja, on October 23, delivered judgement on a suit filed by a non-governmental organisation, Expression Now Human Rights Initiative, against the Federal Republic of Nigeria, challenging the use of the NBC Code by the Nigerian government to arbitrarily impose sanctions including fines against broadcast stations.

In its judgement, the court, presided by Justice Dupe Atoki held that the Nigerian government had failed in its responsibility to align its domestic legislation with its international obligations while observing that in enacting laws “member states must give due consideration to its alignment with international guarantees and obligations like those under the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights.”

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The applicant, represented by Solomon Okedara & Co, specifically challenged Articles 3 (1) (1), 3(1) 2), 15(2) (1) of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code (6th Edition) and Article 15 (5) (1) of the Amendments to the Nigeria Broadcasting Code (6th Edition) that they contravene the principle of freedom of expression.

In its judgment, the court noted that Article 3(1) (1) of the Code is infinite in scope and therefore violates the provision of Article 9(1) and (2) of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights. The court noted that the provisions of Article 3(1) (2) of the Code are too ambiguous and vague and can “lead to curtailment of the right to freedom of expression.”

The court also ordered that the Nigerian government aligns Articles 3 (1) (1), 3(1) (2), 15(2) (1) of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code (6th Edition) and Article 15 (5) (1) of the Amendments to the Nigeria Broadcasting Code (6th Edition) in line with its obligations under Article 1 of the ACHPR and to cease giving effect to the provisions until it has aligned the same as ordered.

In May 2023, the Nigerian Guild of Editors commended the Federal High Court Abuja, for making an order of perpetual injunctions restraining the National Broadcasting Commission from imposing fines on broadcast stations in the country.

The court, in a judgment in May by Justice James Omotosho, held that not being a court of law, NBC had no power to impose sanctions as punishment on broadcast stations.

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