Court declines to vacate judgment stopping NBC from imposing fines on broadcast stations

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A Federal High Court (FHC), Abuja, on Thursday, dismissed the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC)’s motion seeking an order setting aside its judgment restraining the commission from imposing fines on broadcast stations in the country.

Justice James Omotosho, in a judgment, dismissed all the grounds put forward by the NBC, describing same as “an afterthought.”

Justice Omotosho held that despite being served with the originating process and hearing notices in the case leading to the judgment, the commission failed to file its defence.

The judge said contrary to the NBC’s argument that it was not served with court processes that led to the judgement, “the court file shows that services were effected on the respondent applicant (NBC) but failed to file and refused to entered appearance.”

He said there was affidavit of facts deposed to by the court bailif that confirmed that court processes were served on the commission on different occasions.

“The respondent applicant cannot claim it was not serve. The objection is hereby overruled,” he said.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Justice Omotosho had, on May 10, gave an order of perpetual injunction restraining NBC from imposing fines on broadcast stations.

The judge, in a judgement, also set aside the N500,000 fines imposed, on March 1, 2019, on each of the 45 broadcast stations alleged to have violated its code.

He held that NBC, not being a court of law, had no power to impose sanctions as punishment on broadcast stations.

He further held that the NBC Code, which gives the commission the power to impose sanctions, is in conflict with Section 6 of the Constitution which vested judicial power in the court of law.

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The judgment followed a suit filed by the Incorporated Trustees of Media Rights Agenda marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/1386/2021.

In the originating motion, the group sued the NBC as sole respondent.

In the motion dated Nov. 9, 2021, by its lawyer, Noah Ajare, the group sought a declaration that the sanctions procedure applied by NBC in imposing N500,00Q fines on each of the 45 broadcast stations on March 1, 2019, was a violation of the rules of natural justice, among others.

However, after the delivery of the judgment, NBC filed a motion on notice through its lawyer, Babatunde Ogala, SAN, seeking “an order setting aside the default judgment, being a judgment reached per incuriam and without jurisdiction.”

Giving a 20-ground argument, the commission said the originating motion in the suit which birthed the judgement delivered on May 10 was not served on them.

It argued that the rights group had two un-appealed, subsisting and binding decisions of the FHC on the same issues on the parties.

It said that Justice Obiora Egwuatu delivered judgment in the suit number: FHC/ABJ/1365/2021 on March 3 in its favour.

Besides, the NBC said on April 26, 2022, Justice Nkeonye Maha delivered judgement in suit marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/1436/2020 against the group on the same subject matter submitted for consideration before Justice Omotosho.

It said rather than appeal same, the group brought a fresh suit before the court, “setting the honourable court up for a collision couse with decisions of your Learned Brothers of the Federal High Court in the same complex.”

It argued that the group failed to serve the commission with court processes because all the facts stated above would have been brought to the attention of tne court.

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The commission, which accused the group of engaging in multiplicity of action, said it was an abuse of court process.

“That having presented the issues for adjudication before a competent court of Law, the issues decided and judgement delivered, the issues are res judicata on the parties except on appeal,” it said, among others.

But the group, through its counsel, Ajare, disagreed with NBC.

He insisted that the commission was duly served but refused to appear in court, urging the court to discountenance the arguments.

He argued that the subject matters were different and the court, having delivered the judgment, was functus officio (lacked jurisdiction to re-examine its decision).

Justice Omotosho agreed with Ajare’s submission that the court lacked jurisdiction to reopen the case already decided.

The judge, who gave instances where a court can set aside its judgement, said these include when the judgement was obtained by fraud, when a party was not served to give its defence, when it was a nullity, etc.

According to him, it is clear from the above that service of process confers jurudiction on the court.

He dismissed the argument that the case was an abuse of court process as NBC failed to bring those facts before the cour but folded its arms to allow the court to decide on the matter.

According to him, equity does not aide indolence; rather, equity aides the vigilant not the indolent, citing a previous case of Supreme Court to back his decision.

“A party challenging the jurisdiction of the court must do that timeously.

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“These are facts the respondent applicant (NBC) ought to have brought before the court but did not avail itself of this opportunity.

“It is a futile attempt to get the court to set aside this judgment.

“The resoobdent applicant should bear the consequences of its own indolence.

“In the final analysis, it is an afterthought and belated. The application to set aside the judgment is hereby refused,” the judge declared.

(NAN)

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