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NBC has no power to fine media houses — Court

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The National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) has no power to impose fines on broadcast stations for alleged breaches of the Code, the Federal High Court in Abuja has declared.

In a landmark judgement, the Court declared null and void the provisions of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code authorising the NBC to impose fines noting that administrative and regulatory bodies could not exercise judicial powers.

Delivering judgement in a suit instituted by Media Rights Agenda (MRA) against NBC following the Commission’s imposition of fines of N5 million each on a television station and three pay-TV platforms in 2022 for allegedly undermining Nigeria’s national security by broadcasting documentaries on banditry in Nigeria, Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia held that the NBC, not being a court of law, acted above its powers by imposing such fines.

The judge commended MRA for its legal challenge of NBC’s action and issued an order of perpetual injunction restraining the Commission or anyone acting on its behalf from further imposing any fine on any media platform or broadcast station in Nigeria for any alleged offence committed under the Nigeria Broadcasting Code.

Justice Ofili-Ajumogobia set aside the fines imposed by NBC on 3 August 2022 on Multichoice Nigeria Limited, owners of DSTV; TelCom Satellite Limited (TSTV); Trust-TV Network Limited; and NTA Startimes Limited for broadcasting a documentary about the state of banditry and security in Zamfara State, saying the regulator’s action was wrong and unjustifiable in a democratic society.

Abuja-based human rights lawyer, Uche Amulu, filed the suit on behalf of MRA asking the court to hold, among other things, NBC’s action of imposing a fine on each of the media platforms and the station for broadcasting a documentary about the state of banditry and security in Zamfara State is unlawful and unconstitutional and has a chilling effect on the freedom of media to impart information and ideas.

MRA contended that it would deter the platforms and station from reporting the true state of affairs regarding the security situation in Nigeria, and therefore constitutes a violation of the rights of MRA, its members, and other citizens of Nigeria to freedom of expression, particularly their rights to receive ideas and information without interference, as guaranteed by the Constitution and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights.

MRA also sought a declaration that the procedure adopted by the NBC in imposing the fines is a flagrant violation of the rules of natural justice and the right to fair hearing under Section 36 of the Constitution and Article 7 of the African Charter as the Commission is the drafter of the Code, which provides for the alleged offences for which the media platforms and the station were punished, and which empowers the NBC to receive complaints, investigate and adjudicate on the complaints, impose fines and collect fines.

MRA contended that the NBC, not being a court of law and not having been constituted in a manner as to secure its independence and impartiality, has no power or competence to impose fines on broadcast stations as punishment or penalties for the commission of an offence as the competence to establish that an offence has been committed and to impose criminal sanctions or penalties belongs to the courts.

Besides, it claimed, the NBC, not being the Nigerian Police or a law enforcement agency, has no power to conduct a criminal investigation or an investigation that could lead to criminal charges against the affected media platforms and stations or the imposition of criminal penalties and accordingly, that the investigation purportedly conducted by the Commission, leading to the fines imposed on the media platforms and station for alleged offences under the Nigeria Broadcasting Code is ultra vires, null and void.

MRA also urged the court to declare that the Nigeria Broadcasting Code issued by the NBC, being a subsidiary legislation that empowers it as a regulatory and administrative body to enforce the provisions of the Code, cannot confer judicial powers or jurisdiction in criminal matters on the Commission to impose criminal sanctions or penalties such as fines, particularly as the Code was made by the NBC itself.

It urged the court to declare the fines unconstitutional, ultra vires, null and void, set them aside and issue an order of perpetual injunction restraining the NBC, its servants, agents, privies, representatives or anyone acting for or on its behalf, from further imposing any fine on any of the media platforms or station, or any other broadcast station in Nigeria for any alleged offence committed under the Nigeria Broadcasting Code.

In her judgement, Justice Ofili-Ajumogobia agreed with all MRA’s arguments and granted all the declarations and injunctions sought by the organization. She, however, refused to grant the organisation’s claim for N700,000 as costs it incurred in litigating the action; another claim for N2 million as general damages for NBC’s infringement on its rights as well as a request for N1 million as punitive damages for the Commission’s “outrageous conduct in abusing its powers and arbitrarily imposing fines on broadcasting stations.”

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NERC transfers regulatory oversight of Enugu Electricity Market to EERC

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Following the Enugu State Electricity Law signed by Governor Peter Mbah and the recent constitution of the Enugu State Electricity Regulatory Commission, ESERC, by the Mbah administration, the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) has formerly transferred the regulatory oversight of the Enugu State electricity market to the state agency effective May 1, 2024.

This is the first time NERC would be ceding such regulatory authority to any state electricity regulatory agency.

The transfer was made known by NERC on Monday in an April 22, 2024 Order No. NERC/2024/039 signed by the Commission’s Chairman, Sanusi Garba, and the Commissioner for Legal, Licensing, and Compliance, Dafe Akpeneye.

The transfer is sequel to the amendments of the Paragraph 14 (b) of the Second Schedule to the 1999 Constitution by the 9th National Assembly in 2023 as well as the Electricity Electricity Act 2023, both of which effectively devolved power generation, transmission, and distribution from the Exclusive List to the Concurrent List and also empowered the states to manage and regulate their electricity markets within their jurisdictions.

It is recalled that the Mbah administration initiated the Enugu State Electricity Bill 2023, which the governor signed into Law in September the same year and also set the pace in March 2024 constituted the Enugu State Electricity Regulatory Commission (ESERC) led by Chijioke Okonkwo as the Chairman/CEO.

The Electricity Act 2023 provides that within 45 days of receiving formal notification of the enactment of the law under subsection (1), the Commission (NERC) shall draw and deliver to the State Regulator a draft order setting out a plan and timeline for the transition of regulatory responsibilities from the Commission to the State Regulator, which transition shall be completed not later than 6 months from the date on which the formal notification in subsection (1) was delivered to the Commission.

Explaining further, NERC said the ESERC now holds the exclusive power to set and adopt end-user electricity tariffs within Enugu State, tailoring these charges to local conditions and requirements.

Also, while ESERC manages local tariff methodologies, any electricity sourced from grid-connected plants and the related tariffs for generation and transmission services must still receive approval from the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), ensuring alignment with national energy policies.

Furthermore, the final tariffs approved by ESERC for consumers in Enugu State will be definitive for the state, with the Enugu State Government responsible for supporting and implementing tariff-related policies, ensuring that electricity pricing is both fair and attuned to the specific needs of the state’s residents.

Consequently, NERC ordered that: “Enugu Electricity Distribution Company PLC, EEDC, is hereby directed to incorporate a subsidiary EEDC SubCo under the Companies and Allied Matters Act for the assumption of responsibilities for intrastate supply and distribution of electricity in Enugu State from EEDC.

“EEDC shall complete the incorporation of EEDC SubCo within 60 days from the effective date of this Order and, EEDC SubCo shall apply for and obtain a licence for the intrastate supply and distribution of electricity from EERC.

“EEDC shall identify the actual geographic boundaries of Enugu State and carve out its network in Enugu State as a standalone network with the installation of boundary meters at all border points where the network crosses from Enugu State into another state.

“EEDC shall create an Asset Register of all its power infrastructure located within Enugu State.

“Evaluate and apportion contractual obligations and liabilities attributable to EEDC’s operations of its subsidiary in Enugu State.

“Identify all the applicable trading points for energy o take for the operations of EEDC SubCo in Enugu State

“Confirm the number of employees that are required to provide service to Enugu State as a standalone public utility; and transfer the identified assets for operations in Enugu State, contractual obligations, liabilities and employees to EEDC Subco.”

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Eko Disco: WPG sacks Tinuade Sanda

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West Power & Gas Limited, WPG, the majority shareholder of Eko Electricity Distribution Company, EKEDC, has terminated the appointment of the former managing director of the Disco, Tinuade Sanda.

WPG disclosed this in a recent letter signed by the chairman of WPG, Charles Momoh.

The letter noted that Sanda was no longer an employee of the company on April 17, 2024.

“We refer to your contract of employment dated April 1, 2022, signed between you and WPG Limited. At this moment, we advise you that your service is no longer required, and accordingly, your employment with WPG Ltd is hereby terminated effective April 17, 2021, by clause 10.2 of the Contract. “WPG is obligated to pay you three months’ salary instead of notice and advises that the due amounts have been credited to your account. You are requested to kindly return all the Company’s properties (whether WPG or EKEDP ) in your possession, including but not limited to laptops, identity cards, and status cars upon receipt of this letter.”

The Development comes amid controversy surrounding Sanda’s removal by EKEDC.

Sanda was earlier seconded to the Disco and had returned to WPG when she was removed as EKEDC MD. Mrs. Rekhiat Momoh was appointed as Sanda’s replacement.

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NAPTIP reunites 2 Gombe kidnapped children with families

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The National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), on Monday, reunited two kidnapped children with their parents in Gombe State.

Mr Aminu Shira, the NAPTIP Commander in the state, who stated this in Gombe, listed the children as Usman Kabiru, 11 and Aisha Shehu, four-month-old.

He said that Kabiru and Shehu were rescued in Lagos and Abuja, respectively, and handed over to the agency by the Gombe State Police Command.

Shira said the agency would ensure that the children receive proper care from their families.

He also said the Police Command on Jan. 16, handed over nine suspects and five victims of child trafficking to the agency in the state.

The NAPTIP official said that cases of child trafficking, sale of babies and sexual exploitation were instituted against the suspects currently undergoing prosecution.

Shira, however, said the victims were undergoing rehabilitation and skills acquisition training at the agency.

“Three victims were empowered by the command for full rehabilitation and re-integration into the society.

“Two female victims had been enrolled into skills acquisition training (tailoring) for six months here in Gombe.

“The agency sponsored all financial bills for the training and monthly allowance for the victims during the period of the training.

“One male victim has enrolled into Sheikh Jafar Memorial Primary School Arawa, Gombe, to continue of his education sponsored by NAPTIP,” Shira said.

He urged residents of the state to report suspected human traffickers to the agency, adding that: “NAPTIP will always remain committed towards the prevention of all forms of exploitation against women and children and liberating the vulnerable in the communities towards ensuring a safer and better society”.

It would be recalled that the Police Command on Jan. 10, confimed arrest of 16 persons for alleged child trafficking and criminal conspiracy in the Gombe State.

It also rescued three children from the suspects.

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