Mailafia: Why N5m fine imposed on Nigerian Info FM is illegal – Falana
Popular human rights lawyer, Femi Falana SAN has described as “illegal” the N5 million fine imposed on Nigerian Info FM over a controversial interview granted by former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Dr. Obadiah Mailafia.
In the August 10 interview, Mailafia had made some weighty allegations, including that a sitting Northern governor was the commander of Boko Haram and that the group was plotting to plunge Nigeria into civil war by 2022.
In a statement, Falana said that the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) turned itself into a judge and usurped the power of the court to impose the fine.
The senior lawyer emphasised that only a court of competent jurisdiction has the power to impose a fine.
He added that the amended 6th Edition of the Broadcasting Code that the commission relied upon to impose the fine had also yet to come into force, citing the Chairman of the NBC Board.
Recall that The Herald had quoted the Minister of Information and Culture as saying last week that the fine for “hate speech” for broadcast stations in the amended code increased from N500,000 to N5 million.
However, the Chairman of the NBC Board, Ikra Bilbis, came out to accuse the minister of unilaterally producing the amended code.
Falana said, “The chairman of the NBC board disclosed that the amendment of the code authorising the payment of the fine of N5 million was not approved by the board. That means that the amendment of the code has not come into force.
“Assuming that the code was properly amended the board cannot charge a suspect with criminal offences, prosecute, convict and impose a fine on him.
“The investigation being conducted into Dr. Obadiah’s interview by the State Security Service has not been concluded. So why was NBC in a hurry to violate the fundamental right of the broadcasting station to fair hearing?
“Section 33 (4) of the constitution provides that anyone charged with a criminal offence shall be tried before a competent court or tribunal. Only a competent court of law is empowered to try, convict and impose a fine on a criminal suspect after a trial has been conducted before a competent court.
“ In Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited in Suit FHC/UY/CS/1623/2016 – National Oil Spill Detection & Response Agency (NOSDRA) vs. Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited the federal high court per honourable Justice Ojukwu held that the imposition of fines by regulatory agencies was unlawful. The judgment of the learned trial judge was upheld by the court of appeal in the case of Nosdra v Exxon Mobil (2018) JELR 41137 (CA).
“In view of the fact that the imposition of the N5 million fine was anchored on a purported amendment of the code and since the NBC lacks the legal competence to impose a fine on any broadcasting station without a finding of guilt by a properly constituted criminal court the NBC should suo mutu quash the illegal fine.”