Media Rights Agenda (MRA) announced on Monday that it has filed a Freedom of Information (FOI) suit at the Federal High Court in Lagos against the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) for its refusal to act on the organization’s information request seeking details of payments of license fees by broadcasting stations and platforms operating in Nigeria and the amount of indebtedness of each station owing license fees.
MRA is asking the Court to declare the NBC’s failure to provide it with the information it requested a breach of its right of access to information as well as a flagrant violation of the FOI Act and to order the Commission to pay it N1 million as exemplary and aggravated damages for unlawfully denying it the information.
The NBC and the Attorney-General of the Federation are named as Respondents in the suit filed on behalf of MRA by freedom of expression lawyer, Mr. Alimi Adamu, along with Ms Obioma Okonkwo, Mr. Monday Arunsi and Ms Opeyemi Yakubu.
In a motion ex-parte brought pursuant to Order 34, Rules 1, 3(1) and (2) of the Federal High Court (Civil Procedure) Rules 2009 and Sections 1(3) and 20 of the FOI Act, MRA is seeking leave of the court to apply for a review of the NBC’s action pursuant to the FOI Act and to seek the following reliefs:
• A declaration that the NBC’s denial of access to MRA of the information it requested by a letter dated August 22, 2022 constitutes a violation of the organization’s rights of access to information established and guaranteed by Section 1(1) and 4 of the FOI Act;
• A declaration that the NBC’s failure and/or refusal to give MRA a written notice that access to all or part of the information it requested would not be granted with reasons for the denial and the section of the FOI Act upon which the Commission relied to deny the organization access to the information requested amounts to a flagrant violation of Section 4 (b) and 7 (1) of the FOI Act;
• A declaration that by its failure to give MRA access to all or part of the information applied for in its letter dated August 22, 2022, within the time limit set out in the Act, the NBC is deemed to have refused to give MRA access to the information requested, as provided under Section 7(4) of the FOI Act;
• An order directing the NBC to disclose or make available to MRA a list of all broadcasting stations and platforms operating in Nigeria licensed by the Commission; the amount that each of them is required to pay as license fees; the status of payment of each of the station from the date of its license to August 22, 2022; for those licensed broadcasting stations that are owing, the amount of indebtedness and the period covered by the amount; and for broadcasting corporations owned by various State Governments included in the list of the broadcasting stations whose broadcast licenses were revoked by the Commission as announced by its Director-General in his press briefing on August 19, 2022, a breakdown of the amount of indebtedness by each of the radio stations and each of the television stations owned by the respective State-owned broadcasting corporations.
• An order directing the NBC to deposit the information requested by MRA with the court pending the determination of the suit;
• An order directing the NBC to pay to MRA the sum of N1 million as exemplary and aggravated damages for the flagrant and unlawful violation of the organization’s right of access to information; and
• An order directing the Attorney-General of the Federation to initiate criminal proceedings against the NBC for the offence of wrongful denial of access to information under Section 7 (5) of the FOI Act.
Stating the grounds upon which the suit was brought, Mr. Adamu contended, among other things, that by virtue of Section 1 of the FOI Act, MRA has a right of access to information and can request information from any public institution such as NBC, which is an agency of the Federal Government and that by the provisions of Section 1(1), the organization needs not demonstrate any specific interest in the information being applied for.
According to him, although under section 4 of the Act, the NBC has to respond to MRA’s request within seven days, the Commission not only failed to provide the information requested within this period, it also failed to give the organization a notice as required by Section 4 (b) of the Act that it would not grant the request.
Adamu argued that the information requested by MRA does not fall within any of the exemptions under the Act and that the court has the jurisdiction to compel the NBC to disclose the information requested under Sections 20 and 25 of the Act.
No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.