By Ajibola Bello
It made the news on the 19th of August 2022 that the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) ordered the shutdown of 52 media organization in Nigeria who have failed, refused and neglected to renew their broadcast licences with the NBC. It was reported that the licences of the named organizations had expired since May 2022 upon which they were granted 2 weeks extension to renew the licences and pay their debts but after three months, the organizations failed to meet up with their obligations leading to the order for revocation of their licences.
It is instructive to mention that the directive to shutdown the media organizations for failure to renew their licences is not the type of directive that is tainted with political undertone or witch-hunting as it is glaring that the NBC has a legal and legitimate basis for ordering the closure of the organization.
The grant of operation licences to media organizations in Nigeria is regulated by the National Broadcasting Commission Act and while section 9 of the said Act confers the Commission with the power to consider application for the grant of licences, section 12 stipulates to the effect that the said grant of licence shall be subject to the terms and conditions set out in the Third Schedule of the Act. An evaluation of the Third Schedule to the Act shows clearly to all and sundry that same provides for terms regulating the licence granted and paragraph 8 (a) of the said schedule stipulates to the effect that a licence may be revoked by the Commission where the prescribed fee has not been paid on the due date. Although the word “may” is used for the directive to revoke the licence, which would ordinarily be construed as a discretion, but the Courts have it settled that when the exercise of power is coupled with a duty on the person to whom it is given to exercise it, then the word ‘may’ becomes imperative. See the cases of Adesola v. Abidoye (1999) 14 NWLR (pt 637) 28 at 56; Bakare v. Attorney General Federation (1990) 5 NWLR (pt 152) 516.
What this means is that the NBC does not have a discretion in revoking the licences of organizations that have breached the statutory terms stipulated in the Act, but the NBC is rather obligated to so act.
In the face of the foregoing clear and unambiguous position of the law, it is befuddling, the basis upon which organizations such as Guild of Editors, Media Rights Agenda and the Radio, Television, Theatre and Arts Workers Union of Nigeria (RATTAWU) have condemned the action of the NBC. While this piece is not to necessarily to hold brief for the NBC, and it is not without a consideration for the implication the shutdown of the broadcast organizations or the revocation of the licences would have on not just the right of citizens through the media but also the number of employments that would be negatively affected as a result of the revocation. Nonetheless, we must not fail to reckon that the background to the quagmire is the failure on the part of the media organization to comply with a long standing regulation.
This situation clearly shows that regulatory non-compliance can have dire consequences and it is at this juncture that it must be mentioned that there are several other regulations that require compliance for corporate entitles in Nigeria both generally and sector-based. It is accordingly imperative for corporate entities to ensure that all necessary licences and certifications are up-to-date. Rather than condemn the act of the NBC, the instant situation should serve as a wakeup call for corporate organizations in Nigeria who fail, refuse and neglect to commit to the least general regulatory compliance such as filing of Annual Returns with the Corporate Affairs Commission; enrollment of employees for pension contribution and entry with the Pension Commission (PENCOM); payment to the fund maintained by the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF) for possible employee compensation and the contribution to the Industrial Training Fund (ITF).
Laws are meant to be obeyed and there should be no sentimentality in its application especially where the law is not a ‘bad law’ nor one that demands the impossible. Regulatory compliance is a form of obedience to the law and because a stitch in time saves nine, a prompt obedience will save an organization from dire consequences such as that which is about to befall or has befallen the affected broadcast organizations.
Senior Partner, Law Corridor.