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AIT/RayPower back after court overruled NBC, fixed June 13 for hearing

ABUJA – African Independent Television (AIT) and Raypower radio are back on air after a Federal High Court in Abuja, on Friday, granted an ex-parte order that restored the operating licenses suspended by the National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) over alleged failure to abide by broadcasting code.

But the chairman and founder of DAAR Communications Plc, Aleogho Dokpesi had described the NBC’s action as efforts by the All Progressive Congress, APC, led Federal Government to gag the med and suppress free speech.

He said in a statement on Thursday that ‘AIT and RayPower have not violated any code of broadcasting as alleged by the National Broadcasting Commission, NBC.

‘The National Broadcasting Commission, NBC, and the government in power are not comfortable with the broadcast industry because of its courageous and dogged stance in informing Nigerians on happenings in the country. ‘We are in a Democracy and must all rise to defend Nigeria from anti-democratic forces

But the Federal High Court in Abuja, on Friday, had granted an ex-parte order that restored the operating license of DAAR Communications Plc, owners of African Independent Television, AIT, and Ray Power FM, which was earlier suspended by the National Broadcasting Commission, NBC. The court ordered both DAAR Communications Plc and NBC to revert to the status quo that was in existence as at May 30, pending the hearing and determination of the substantive suit before it. The order followed a suit the media establishment lodged to challenge the suspension of its operating licence on Thursday by the NBC. The NBC had based its action on allegation that the media outfit breached its rules and regulations. Meanwhile, cited as Respondents in the suit the plaintiff filed through its lawyer, Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, were the NBC, the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture (FMIC) and the Attorney General of the Federation, AGF. The plaintiff equally filed an affidavit of urgency, wherein it urged the court to quickly intervene in the matter. Out of three principal reliefs that DAAR Communications Plc sought in its motion ex-parte, the court declined to grant two of them. Specifically, the plaintiff had sought to restrain the Respondents, its agents or privies, from interfering with its operations in any manner whatsoever, pending the determination of its application for injunctive reliefs. However, in his ruling, Justice Inyang Ekwo, said he was minded to grant the alternative relief to restore the status quo that was in existence as at when the matter was brought before the court for adjudication. The court therefore issued, “An order for the maintenance of status quo ante bellum as at 30th of May, 2019, pending the hearing and final determination of the motion on notice filed along with this application”. Justice Ekwo said he would not hesitate to sanction the plaintiff, if the court is later convinced that the order was made in error. More so, the court ordered all the Respondents to appear before it on June 13, “to show cause why the prayers in the applicant’s motion should not be granted”. DAAR Communications Plc had in its affidavit of urgency that was deposed to by one Mr. Kelly Elisha, prayed the court to wade into the matter that led to NBC’s sanction against it. “The timeous intervention by this Honourable Court is necessary to prevent irreparable damage from being done to the Plaintiff, thus foisting a situation of complete helplessness on this Honourable Court”, it pleaded. In the motion, the embattled media organisation sought for, “An order of interlocutory Injunction in favour of DAAR Communication Plc, the Plaintiff/Applicant (operators of African Independent Television (AIT), RAYPOWER 100.5 FM, FAJI FM and DARSAT), restraining the Defendants, whether by themselves, their agents, operatives, servants and/or privies, howsoever called, from blocking, jamming, stopping, removing from air and/or interfering with the air waves of the Plaintiff/Applicant in any way and manner howsoever, in its broadcast and airing of news, views, documentaries, or any other legitimate broadcast material that is usually associated with television, radio or social media broadcast pending the hearing and determination of the substantive suit. As well as, “An order of interlocutory Injunction in favour of DAAR Communication Plc, the Plaintiff/Applicant (African Independent Television (AIT), RAYPOWER 100.5 FM, FAJI FM and DARSAT), restraining the Defendants, whether by themselves, their agents, operatives, servants and/or privies, howsoever called from invading the premises of the Plaintiff/Applicant, or closing down, viet armis, the said premises, its operations or broadcast services, pending the hearing and determination of the substantive suit”. As part of its grounds for making the application, the Plaintiff/Applicant, told the court that it was the first privately owned Independent Broadcasting Organisation in Nigeria, having been licensed to broadcast on television and radio since 1996. “The Plaintiff/Applicant has in the best tenets and tradition of broadcast and in compliance with section 22 of 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as altered, carried out its duties legally, legitimately, morally and nationalistically, in informing, educating and entertaining Nigerians both at home and in the diaspora on sundry matters, which activities have energized and contributed to national development and also nurtured, widened, deepened and strengthened democracy, rule of law, human rights and anti-corruption in Nigeria. “Since the emergence of the present government, the Plaintiff/Applicant has been under its close surveillance and undue monitoring of its operations by the present government which wrongly believes that the Plaintiff/Applicant had been too supportive of the immediate past government. “That sometimes on 16th April, 2019, agents of the Federal Government represented by the 1st Defendant, in a Gestapo- like- manner, attacked and pulled down the two gates leading to the Plaintiff/Applicant’s operational Headquarters which damage and destruction run into of hundreds of millions of naira. “The Defendants and their agents have been writing series of letters with which they harassed and intimidated the Plaintiff over the contents of their broadcast, particularly of late, concerning its social media segment of its morning flagship broadcast show called KAKAKI (the African Voice). “Credible information just reaching the Plaintiff has it that the Defendants have concluded plans to invade and shut down the premises of the Plaintiff and/or part thereof, in the next few days. “Shutting down the broadcast services of the Plaintiff will deny majority of Nigerians access to information which is constitutionally guaranteed, and its teaming workers of their means of livelihood. “That it is extremely urgent to hear and grant these prayers pending the hearing of the substantive suit, so as prevent irreparable damage which cannot be compensated for on monetary terms from being inflicted on the Plaintiff/Applicant”, it added. NGE condemns suspension of DAAR communications licences, demands reversal The Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) has condemned the suspension of the licences of the African Independent Television (AIT) and Ray Power by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) and demanded its reversal. The NGE expressed its view in a statement made available to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Abuja on Friday. In the statement signed by President of the Guild, Mrs Funke Egbemode, the editors appealed to President Muhammadu Buhari, to use his good offices to call the NBC to order to revoke the suspension. The Guild demanded in clear terms the revocation of the suspension order as it runs contrary to the ideals of free speech and the fine tenets of press freedom. According to the Egbemode, this is a case of Executive highhandedness and it paints our dear country in the darkest tar of dictatorship. “The Fourth Estate of the Realm remains the watchdog of society and any attempt to gag it in any guise is an affront on democracy and the people. “The Guild is concerned about the violation of the constitutional rights of DAAR Communications and absence of media freedom in performing their roles as the watchdog of the Nigerian society. “The Guild is strongly of the opinion that the NBC, in exercising its regulatory powers, should concentrate on implementing policies that will position Nigeria’s broadcasting to compete in the global spheres. “It is to be recalled that NBC had, before the 2019 general elections, shut down Joy FM in Jos for violations of the broadcasting code. “In 2018, the NBC shut down Ekiti Radio/TV station. Shutting down stations and withdrawing licences are too extreme in the circumstance. “There must be humane and saner ways to resolve disputes bordering on violation of the Broadcasting Code, rather than engage in witch-hunting and unnecessary show of excessive force, ” NGE further stated. The president of the NGE, however, expressed concern that NBC action had thrown thousands of Nigerians into the already saturated labour market and should not be trophy for good corporate governance of a regulator. She expressed the Guild’s solidarity with DAAR communication family, urging the staff and management to remain calm as the Guild liaises with well meaning Nigerians and other media professionals to get justice. SERAP wants Buhari to prevail on NBC to lift suspension of AIT/Raypower Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has urged President Muhammadu Buhari to “prevail on the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to immediately end the suspension of the African Independent Television (AIT) and RayPower FM, and to strengthen the independence of the NBC, if the country’s constitutional and international legal commitments to freedom of expression, media freedom and access to information are not to be undermined.” NBC in a statement accused AIT/Raypower of embarking “on use of inflammatory, divisive, inciting broadcasts and media propaganda against the government” and failing “to meet financial obligations to the regulatory authority.” But SERAP in a statement today by its deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare said: “These grounds are so subjective that if allowed to stand would seriously undermine freedom of expression, media freedom and access to information in the country. The mere fact that forms of expression on AIT/Raypower are considered by NBC to be insulting is not sufficient to justify the indefinite suspension. These grounds do not meet the requirements of legality, reasonableness, due process, necessity and proportionality.” The organization said: “We are considering all the legal options to challenge this blatant illegality.” The statement read in part: “The suspension amounts to unnecessary or disproportionate interference with freedom of expression and media freedom. The NBC ought to show a greater level of independence in the exercise of its statutory powers. Without independence, the NBC cannot satisfactorily perform its duties. If allowed to stand, this suspension may be perceived as a threat to restrict the media, and open the door to limitations on expression and media operations. This would be entirely inconsistent with constitutional provisions and international law, and undermine the government’s commitment to fight grand corruption.” “The Nigerian Constitution of 1999 (as amended) and international human rights treaties to which Nigeria is a state party should provide a baseline standard for the operations of the NBC. Similar to Section 39 of the Constitution, Article 19(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Nigeria has ratified protects everyone’s right to hold opinions without interference, a right not subject to any restriction. Article 19(2) protects everyone’s right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers and through any media.” “The right to freedom of expression has long been understood to require States not only to avoid limitations on the right but also to promote an environment that is conducive to this fundamental freedom. This follows from the wording of the provision itself, which in addition to establishing an obligation to protect also establishes an obligation to promote.” “The Human Rights Committee and other mechanisms have emphasized the importance of the State promoting media pluralism and ensuring media independence, as per General Comment 34, para. 40. In accordance with Article 19(3), any restriction imposed on this right must be provided by law and be necessary and proportionate to protect the rights or reputations of others, national security or public order, or public health and morals.” “Article 20 calls for the prohibition of advocacy of national, religious or racial hatred that constitutes incitement to violence, hostility or discrimination. Nigeria is also bound by the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.” “Article 4 of the ICCPR permits derogations from Article 19(2) during declared states of emergency only where strictly necessary according to the exigencies of the situation.

The right to freedom of opinion is not subject to derogation in ordinary circumstances or during states of emergency, as per General Comment 34, para. 5. The Human Rights Committee has held that measures derogating from the provisions of the Covenant must be of an exceptional and temporary nature.” Shutdown of AIT, reminiscent of military dictatorship says Atiku Former Vice President , Atiku Abubakar has said the closure of the Africa Independent Television, AIT, and Raypower FM owned by the DAAR Group by the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation, NBC has a reminder of the dark days of military dictatorship, particularly Decree 4 which stifled press freedom in the country. Atiku in a statement signed by his media adviser, Paul Ibe, warned that the suspension of the licenses of the DAAR Group and shutting down of its stations revealed a dangerous dark anti-media agenda allegedly by the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government. In his reaction, the Peooles Democratic Party, PDP Presidential candidate in the 2019 election explained that the “hostility” of incumbent administration to press freedom, portend danger to the nation’s democracy.

He added that if the press is not free, the situation will inevitably lead to dictatorship and erodes democratic gains recorded in the past few years. The Wazirin Adamawa said it is impossible to love democratic values and hate free press at the same time. “Dictators want to be worshipped rather than being criticised and held accountable for performance or actions. That is why they find democratic order inconvenient to their sinister desires to kill free speech”, he noted. He said if Nigerians don’t defend free speech and press, their own freedom may be ultimately jeopardized by the government’s intolerance of criticisms. PDP condemns attacks on AIT The Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Thursday accused the federal government of plotting to cage the media, particularly the Africa Independent Television, AIT, allegedly by the National Broadcasting Commission, NBC. The party said the attack on AIT is targeted at intimidating and gaging the media, “repress constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech and stifle public opinion, particularly as related to the determination by Nigerians to retrieve the stolen Presidential mandate at the tribunal.” A statement signed by the National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan read: “The clamp down on AIT as well as earlier siege on other media houses and journalists under the All Progressives Congress, APC administration, ostensibly point to a plot to frighten and asphyxiate the media, shut down outlets perceived to hold dissenting views and ultimately foist a siege mentality on our citizenry to restrain their demand for fairness and justice in the polity.

 “The APC is mortally afraid that a free press will raise the red flag and expose its manipulations and any attempt to subvert the course of justice, especially in the Presidential petition, hence this desperation to strangulate the media and cow Nigerians from freely expressing themselves. “Moreover, the PDP invites Nigerians to note that the Director-General of the NBC, Ishaq Modibbo Kawu, is a card carrying member and frontline leader in the APC who was also an aspirant on the platform of the party for the governorship of Kwara state. “The PDP notes that there can be no democracy without a free press. To stifle the media is an invitation to fascism and a return to the era of obnoxious military Decrees 2 and 4, which must be resisted by all. “Our party therefore calls on Nigerians and the international community to unite in condemning this desperation to gag the media and repress free speech in Nigeria.

 “The PDP also charges the media to remain professional and steadfast in their constitutional role of holding government and its institutions accountable and not be intimidated by oppressive forces that seek to subjugate Nigerians.”

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