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Lawyer sues FG over alleged move to gag media

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A Port Harcourt-based constitutional lawyer, Chief Festus Ogwuche, has dragged the Federal Government to court over an alleged attempt to gag the broadcast media in the country through the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC).

The suit filed at the Federal High Court, Port Harcourt Division in Rivers State is similar to that of the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and 261 others.

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Joined in the matter are the Attorney General of Federation as the first defendant, NBC as the second defendant, and the Acting Director-General of the commission, Prof. Armstrong Idachaba, as the third defendant.

Ogwuche is seeking enforcement of fundamental rights pursuant to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (LFN, 1990).

However, unlike SERAP and others who are challenging the recent NBC fines of N9 million against Channels Television, African Independent Television (AIT), and Arise TV, Ogwuche is challenging the violation of the fundamental rights of citizens to freedom of expression and the press.

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The applicant is also seeking an order of the court “setting aside Chapters 14 (3) and 15 of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code, 6th Edition for allegedly engendering infringements on fundamental rights and usurping judicial functions.”

The lawyer also wants the court to set aside all sanctions, penalties, and other forms of disciplinary actions against the media houses for their broadcast of the #EndSARS protest that led to the alleged shooting of unarmed protesters.

The applicant raised the following points for determination by the court:
• whether the respondents are bound to adhere to the provisions of the African Charter, Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights aforementioned as institutions and officials of the state;

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•whether the second and third respondents can invoke or enforce the consequences and penalties in sections 15.3 and 15.5 against a broadcaster outside due process; and

• whether the provision of NB Code, 6th Edition (Chapters 14 and 15) can, pursuant to section 315 (3) of the constitution, apply such penalties for the purpose of the preservation and sanctity of the fundamental rights to freedom of expression and of the press.

Based on the foregoing, the applicant prays the court to declare that “it is not within the statutory mandate of the second and third respondents to cow the operation of a free press, in the exercise of their duties.”

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Other reliefs being sought include a declaration that the power of the second and third respondents to impose sanctions, penalties, and other disciplinary actions against erring broadcast stations must be exercised within the tenets and ambit of the due process of the law.

Ogwuche wants a declaration that the imposition of measures that infringe on the existence of a free press entails a judicial act and not the exercise of the regulatory powers of NBC.

He prays the court to “compel the respondents to withdraw and/or suspend all pending actions pertaining to the procedure under Chapters 14 and 15 of the National Broadcasting Code as contained and to grant N150million as punitive and exemplary damages against the respondents.

No date has been fixed for the hearing.

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