The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed has been sued in court for allegedly arbitrarily amending the Broadcast Code and increasing the fine for hate speech from N500,000 to N5 million.
Mohammed was dragged to court alongside the Federal Government and the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) by a human rights lawyer, Inibehe Effiong.
The human rights lawyer is challenging the imposition of N5 million fine on Nigeria Info 99.3FM Lagos and the NBC’s vow to punish other broadcast stations in the country over alleged hate speech, in the originating motion he filed before a Federal High Court in Lagos.
The NBC had recently fined the radio station for granting an interview to a former deputy governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Dr. Obadiah Mailafia, who alleged that a northern governor, he did not mention, was a Boko Haram commander.
The NBC went further to threaten that any TV or radio station that made its platform available for elected officials to be insulted would be fined N5 million or shut down.
Following the developments, Effiong in his supporting affidavit argued that the actions of the NBC, the minister of information and the Nigerian government had seriously encroached on his freedom of expression and that of broadcast stations, broadcasters and other Nigerian citizens who appear as guests on radio and television stations to express themselves on important notional matter as well as issues concerning government and public officeholders.
Contending that “abusing” or “insulting” the government cannot be criminalised in a democracy, Effiong added that the expression, “hate speech”, was not defined under any written law and could be invoked or penalized based on the capricious expectations of the respondents.
According to him, to do otherwise “will amount to setting fire to the constitution.”
He added, “Those who are paid with taxpayers’ money cannot be insulated or shielded from insults and abuse by those who pay them (the citizens)”.
He also said in his suit that Nigeria had passed the era of colonialism and military dictatorship.
Effiong told the court 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.”
He, therefore, among other things, prayed the court to make “a declaration that broadcast stations in Nigeria, broadcasters, guests and callers during radio and television programmes 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 equally urged 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 programmes.
He went further to pray the court to nullify and set aside the penalty of fine or other penalties imposed on broadcast stations by NBC.