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SERAP, NGE want court to stop Buhari, others from shutting down 53 broadcast stations

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Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) have filed a lawsuit against President Muhammadu Buhari and the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) over “the arbitrary use of the NBC Act and broadcasting code to threaten, revoke and shut down 53 broadcast stations in the country for allegedly failing to renew their licenses.”

Joined in the suit as Defendant is Mr Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information and Culture.

The NBC had last week revoked the licenses of the 53 broadcast stations and threatened to shut down their operations within 24 hours over alleged N2.6 billion debt. The NBC has now asked the stations “to pay all outstanding license fees on or before August 23, 2022 or shut down by 12am on August 24.”

In the suit number FHC/L/CS/1582/2022 filed today at the Federal High Court, Lagos, SERAP and NGE are asking the court to determine “whether section 10(a) of the Third Schedule to the National Broadcasting Act used by NBC to threaten revoke the licenses of 53 broadcast stations and shut them down is not in inconsistent and incompatible with freedom of expression and access to information.”

SERAP and NGE are asking the court for “a declaration that section 10(a) of the Third Schedule to the National Broadcasting Act used by NBC to threaten to revoke the licenses of 53 broadcast stations and to shut down the broadcast stations is unconstitutional and unlawful, as it violates freedom of expression.”

SERAP and NGE are seeking “an order of interim injunction restraining them, their agents or privies from revoking the licenses of 53 broadcast stations in the country and shutting their down operations, pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice filed contemporaneously in this suit.”

In the suit, SERAP and NGE are arguing that, “The provisions of the Nigerian Constitution and human rights treaties on freedom of expression indicate that this right can be exercised through any medium.”

SERAP and NGE are also arguing that, “Effectively, these provisions recognize that every individual has the right to an equal opportunity to receive, seek and impart information through any communication medium without discrimination.”

According to SERAP and NGE, The use of NBC Act and Code in this case would inadmissibly open the door to arbitrariness and would fundamentally restrict the freedom of expression that is an integral part of the public order protected the Nigerian Constitution and human rights treaties to which Nigeria is a state party.

The suit filed on behalf of SERAP and NGE by their lawyer Kolawole Oluwadare, read in part, ”The media plays an essential role as a vehicle or instrument for the exercise of freedom of expression and information – in its individual and collective aspects – in a democratic society.

“Indeed, the media has the task of distributing all varieties of information and opinion on matters of general interest.”

“The public has a right to receive and assess this information and opinion independently. Therefore, the existence of a free, independent, vigorous, pluralistic, and diverse media is essential for the proper functioning of a democratic society.”

“According to the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa adopted by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, licensing processes shall seek to promote diversity in broadcasting. Any registration system for the media shall not impose substantive restrictions on the right to freedom of expression.

“Revoking the licenses of 53 broadcast stations and shutting down their operations because they have not renewed their licenses would both seriously undermine the rights of millions of Nigerians to express their thoughts, and their right to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds, in any medium they choose.

“Freedom of expression includes the public’s right to receive, and the right of those who express themselves through a medium of communication, to impart the greatest possible diversity of information and ideas.

“The right to freedom of expression is based on the right to establish or use a media outlet to exercise freedom of expression and on society’s right to have access to a free, independent, and pluralistic media that allows for the most and most diverse information.

“The media, including the affected 53 broadcast stations, serve to distribute Nigerians’ thoughts and information while at the same time allowing them access to the ideas, information, opinions, and cultural expressions of other individuals.”

“The exercise of the right to freedom of expression through the media is a guarantee that is fundamental for advancing the collective deliberative process on public and democratic issues.

”Therefore, the strengthening of the guarantee of freedom of expression is a precondition for the exercise of other human rights, as well as a precondition to the right to participation to be informed and reasoned.

“The media including the affected 53 broadcast stations play an essential role, as they allow millions of Nigerians to access both the relevant information and a variety of perspectives that are necessary for reaching reasonable and informed conclusions on matters of public interest.

“Under the Nigerian Constitution and human rights treaties to which Nigeria is a state party, freedom and diversity must be guiding principles in the regulation and licensing of broadcasting. The threat to shut down 53 broadcast stations is entirely inconsistent and incompatible with these principles.

“It is the mass media such as the 53 broadcast stations that make the exercise of freedom of expression a reality. This means that the conditions of its use must conform to the requirements of this freedom.

“Therefore, any regulation of the media, including licensing, must be evaluated according to the guidelines and directives imposed by the right to freedom of expression.

“The Plaintiffs recognize the mandates of NBC to regulate broadcasting. However, the exercise of such mandates including renewals or revocation of licenses must follow the thresholds and guidelines set by the right to freedom of expression.

“The free circulation of ideas and news is not possible except in the context of a plurality of sources of information and media outlets. The lack of plurality in sources of information is a serious obstacle for the functioning of democracy.

“The NBC Act and Broadcasting Code cannot and should not be used in a manner that is inconsistent and incompatible with plurality of voices, diversity of voices, non-discrimination, and just demands of a democratic society, as well as the public interest.

“Broadcasting is a means of exercising freedom of expression. Any restrictions on freedom of expression must meet the requirements of legality, necessity, and proportionality.

“The regulation of broadcasting must aspire to promote and expand the scope of the right to freedom of expression, not restrict it.

“SERAP and NGE are also asking the court to determine whether by relying on the provisions of section 10(a) of the Third Schedule to the National Broadcasting Act to unilaterally threaten and revoke the licenses of 53 broadcast stations and shutdown the operations of the broadcast stations, over alleged failure to pay their license fees the act of NBC is not an unnecessary and disproportionate sanction.”

SERAP and NGE are therefore asking the court for the following reliefs

A DECLARATION that the arbitrary and unilateral action by NBC to threaten and or revoke the licenses of the 53 broadcast stations and to shut down their operations because of the alleged failure to pay their license fees is unnecessary and disproportionate sanction, and therefore contrary to the public interest and the guiding principles of freedom of expression.

A DECLARATION that section 10(a) of the National Broadcasting Act used by NBC to unilaterally revoke the licenses of the broadcast stations and shutdown the stations is a violation of the constitutionally and internationally guaranteed right to fair hearing.

A DECLARATION that section 10(a) of the National Broadcasting Act or any such other laws enabling NBC to unilaterally revoke the licenses of 53 broadcast stations and to shut down the stations is inconsistent and incompatible with the provisions of the Nigerian Constitution 1999 (as amended), and therefore null and void to the extent of its inconsistency and incompatibility.

A DECLARATION that the arbitrary action by NBC to revoke the licenses and shut down the operations of the broadcast stations is directly in conflict with sections 6 and 39(1) of the Nigerian Constitution and human rights treaties to which Nigeria is a state party, and therefore null and void and ultra vires.

AN ORDER nullifying and setting aside the directive by NBC to revoke the licenses of the 53 broadcast stations for being inconsistent and incompatible with freedom of expression, access to information and media freedom.

AN ORDER compelling President Buhari to direct NBC and Mr Mohammed to withdraw the revocation orders in compliance with the provisions of section 39 of the Nigerian Constitution, and Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act.

AN ORDER OF PERPETUAL INJUNCTION restraining President Buhari, NBC, and Mr Muhammed whether jointly or severally or any other authority, person or group of persons from unilaterally revoking the licenses of the 53 broadcast stations and shutting down the stations.”

No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.

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Tinubu launches policy to curb over $4bn revenue loss to import-export infractions

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…To boost trade, generate $2.7bn revenue

President Tinubu has launched a policy to curb over $4 billion revenue loss to import-export infractions.

President Bola Tinubu inaugurated the National Single Window Project, aimed at streamlining Import-Export Activities across the country at the Presidential Villa Abuja on Tuesday.

The project is a cross-government website to facilitate trade by offering a single portal for trade actors, both Nigerian and international, to access a full range of resources and standardised services from different Nigerian agencies.

The Committee incorporated egg-heads drawn from representatives of the Federal Ministry of Finance, representatives of the Marine and Blue Economy, those of the Federal Ministry of Transportation, the Federal Ministry of Trade and Investment as well as Federal Inland Revenue Service.

The Committee also comprised representatives of the Nigerian Customs Service, Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority, NSIA, the Central Bank of Nigeria, the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, NAFDAC, the Standards Organization of Nigeria, the Nigerian Maritime Administration on Safety Agency, NIMASA, Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, and the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council, PEBEC.

The policy is encapsulated under the National Single Window Steering Committee which will explore real-time digital trade compliance.

A statement from the Presidency stated that the benefits of the initiative are immense.

“The paperless trade alone is estimated to bring an annual economic benefit of around $2.7 billion US dollars.

“This initiative will link Nigeria’s ports, government agencies, and key stakeholders by creating a seamless and efficient system that will facilitate trade like never before.

“The initiative will allow businesses to save time and resources, allow small enterprises to reach global markets, inclusion of the informal e-commerce sector, and increment in the country’s tax base.

“The National Single Window will also prevent revenue leakage and facilitate effective trade which will create a more transparent, secure, and business-friendly environment that will attract investment and spur economic growth in Nigeria.

“This initiative is a testament to the administration of President Tinubu’s commitment to regional integration and belief in the power of collaboration,” the statement read.

Speaking at the inauguration, President Tinubu said the country cannot afford to lose an estimated $4 billion annually to bureaucracy, delays and corruption.

He noted that it was time for Nigeria to join the ranks of countries like Singapore, Korea, Kenya and Saudi Arabia that have experienced significant improvement in trade efficiency after implementing a single window system.

Tinubu said he was optimistic that through the newly launched project, Nigeria will expedite cargo movement and optimise inter-African trade.

He added that the initiative is a testament to his administration’s commitment to regional integration and collaboration.

His words, “Today, marks the beginning of a new era of unyielding commitment to prosperity, efficiency and endless possibilities. The National Single Window is not just a project. This initiative is not just a policy but a bold statement of our commitment to progress, prosperity, and the well-being of every Nigerian.

“It is a symbol of our determination to build a better future for ourselves and generations to come.

“The benefit of this initiative is immense paperless trade alone, which is estimated to bring an annual economic benefit of around 2.7 billion US dollars.

“Countries like Singapore, Korea, Kenya and Saudi Arabia have already seen significant improvements in trade efficiency. After implementing a single window system. It is time for Nigeria to join the ranks and reap the reward of a streamlined, digitised trade process. We cannot afford to lose an estimated $4 billion annually to red tape, bureaucracy, delays and corruption at our ports,” he said.

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Presidential Conditional Grant: We have commenced disbursement of N200bn grant to beneficiaries — Minister

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The Minister of Trade, Industry and Investment, Dr Doris Uzoka-Anite has revealed that the Federal Government has commenced the disbursement process for the Presidential Conditional Grant scheme.

The scheme, which targets nanobusinesses — enterprises with one or two workers and an annual turnover of less than N3 million aims to provide each beneficiary with N50,000.

In a statement released on Tuesday, the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade, and Investment declared, “We are pleased to inform you that the disbursement process for the Presidential Conditional Grant Programme has officially commenced. A number of beneficiaries have already received their grants, marking the beginning of our phased disbursement strategy.”

The ministry further explained, “In collaboration with telecommunications providers, we have successfully resolved the initial delays in sending out shortcodes for NIN verification and application continuation.

“By Friday, 19th April 2024, a significant disbursement will be made to a substantial number of verified applicants. It is essential to understand that disbursements are ongoing, and not all applicants will receive their grants on this initial date.”

The Presidential Conditional Grant Programme was launched last year to alleviate economic hardship following the removal of fuel subsidies in the country.

It is expected to reach one million small businesses across the 774 local government areas and the six council areas in the Federal Capital Territory.

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Dangote Refinery crashes Diesel price to N1,000

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In an unprecedented move, Dangote Petroleum Refinery has announced a further reduction of the price of diesel from N1,200 to N1,000 per litre.

While rolling out the products, the refinery supplied at a substantially reduced price of N1,200 per litre three weeks ago, representing over 30 percent reduction from the previous market price of about N1,600 per litre.

This significant reduction in the price of diesel, at Dangote Petroleum Refinery, is expected to positively affect all the spheres of the economy and ultimately reduce the high inflation rate in the country.

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