The National Broadcasting Commission has revoked the licences of AIT/Ray Power FM, Silverbird TV Network and 50 other broadcast stations over N2.6bn debt.
The Director-General, NBC, Malam Balarabe Ilelah, who made the disclosure at a news conference on Friday in Abuja, ordered the affected stations to shut down in the next 24 hours.
Ilelah directed offices of the NBC nationwide to collaborate with security agencies to ensure immediate compliance with the order.
He explained that in May, the commission published in national dailies the list of licensees that were indebted to the NBC, granted them two weeks to renew their licences and pay their debts or consider the licences revoked and the frequencies withdrawn.
He stated, “Three months after the publication, some licensees are yet to pay their outstanding debts in contravention of the NBC Act CAP N11, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, particularly Section 10 (a) of the third schedule of the Act.
“In view of this development, the continued operation of the debtor stations is illegal and constitutes a threat to national security.
“Therefore, after due consideration, the NBC hereby announces the revocation of the licences of the under-listed stations and gives them 24 hours to shut down their operations.”
The DG listed the affected stations to include Splash FM, Ibadan; Rock City FM, Abeokuta; Zuma FM, Suleja, Niger State; Bomay Broadcasting Service Limited; and Kogi, Kwara, Niger, Gombe, Lagos, Osun, Ogun, Ondo and Rivers states broadcasting corporations and stations.
Others are the Katsina Broadcasting Corporation, Kaduna State Broadcasting Corporation, Jigawa Broadcasting Corporation, Kebbi State Broadcasting Corporation, Zamfara State Broadcasting Corporation and Yobe State Broadcasting Corporation.
Similarly, Ilelah said Imo State Broadcasting Corporation, Anambra State Broadcasting Corporation, Cross River State Broadcasting Corporation, Bayelsa State Broadcasting Corporation, Borno State Broadcasting Corporation and Crowther FM Abuja were among the affected stations.
He urged all broadcast stations, which had not renewed their licences for the current period to do so within the next 30 days to avoid sanctions.
He also called on all Internet Protocol Television and other broadcast stations that were streaming online to register with the commission to avoid disconnection
In 2020, the Federal Government approved 60 per cent debt forgiveness for broadcast stations to cushion the effects of COVID-19 on the industry.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, had stated that many Nigerian radio and television stations remained indebted to the government to the tune of N7.8bn and that they were faced with the reality that their licences would not be renewed in view of their indebtedness.
Mohammed, however, said the criterion for enjoying the debt forgiveness was for debtor stations to pay 40 per cent of their existing debt within three months
In its reaction to the revocation of the licences, the Nigeria Union of Journalists described the decision of the NBC as hasty.
The union, in a statement by the National President, Chris Isiguzo, stated that although the NBC director-general claimed that the sanction had no political motives, the action was ill-timed and reckless.
He said, “It should be noted that this wholesale revocation of licences at this critical time of insecurity in the country appears to be a decision taken without careful prior deliberation, consultation or counsel.
“While we regret the inability of these broadcast stations to fulfil their obligations to the NBC in view of dwindling resources, we caution against such large-scale clampdown on broadcast stations in disregard of security issues and the attendant consequences. We cannot afford the unpleasant outcome of such a media blackout at this time.”
Similarly, the Nigerian Guild of Editors expressed concern over the order to shut down the broadcast stations.
In a statement by its President, Mustapha Isah, and the General Secretary, Iyobosa Uwugiaren, the NGE said the action, if not reversed, would lead to the loss of thousands of jobs in a country where jobs were scarce.
The statement read in part, “The NGE is worried because media houses, which played and continue to play a key role in the nurturing and development of democracy can’t just be off air no matter the reasons.
“While the Guild is not against broadcast stations fulfilling their financial obligations to the NBC, we note that the current harsh operating environment that has crippled every sector in our nation was not taken into account by the NBC before its action.
“Currently, it is difficult for private stations to import broadcast equipment due to the high exchange rate. We are all aware of the high operational cost, including the cost of diesel to power their generating sets.”
In his reaction, the National Coordinator of Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria, Emmanuel Onwubiko, stated that the plot against media houses had been a long-time agenda of the regime of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.).
The Media Rights Agenda condemned the revocation and withdrawal of the broadcast licences of 52 broadcast stations across the country.
In a statement on Friday issued by the Head of its Legal Department, Obioma Okonkwo, the organisation viewed the action as “ill-advised, insensitive and antithetical to the interests of the Nigerian public.”
By the revocation of the broadcast licences of so many stations for alleged non-payment of their licence fees, the NBC, according to the MRA, “is prioritising its desire to make money off the broadcasters over the interest of citizens.”
It noted that the ultimate effect of the action was to deprive millions of Nigerians access to information as well as their rights and ability to freely express themselves through the affected stations.
“The fact that so many broadcasting stations have been unable to pay the license fees raises serious questions about the fairness and appropriateness of the fees being imposed on broadcasters by the NBC in such a challenging economic environment,” the MRA added.
Similarly, the International Press Centre, Nigeria, condemned the revocation of licences of the alleged debtor broadcast stations by the NBC.
In a statement by its officer, Melody Lawal, the IPC urged the NBC to “exercise caution” and “exhaust engagement channels” before executing the order. It also warned the agency not to usurp the powers of the President and National Assembly, and to desist from serving as a revenue generation agency instead of its statutory role as a regulatory one.
The statement read in part, “The IPC holds that the sweeping revocation confirms its concern that the NBC exercises its powers arbitrarily without recourse to the public interest.
“It also confirms our worry that the NBC continuously constitutes itself as the accuser, the prosecutor and the judge in its own case.
“In this particular instance, the NBC has not only ordered the revocation of licences of many TV and radio stations, it has gone further to usurp the authority of the President and Commander-In-Chief and the National Assembly by directing security agents to move in and effect its order.
“The IPC calls on the NBC to exercise caution and ensure that it exhausts engagement channels before wielding a stick that may not only lead to thousands of job losses, but also shrink the information dissemination space.”
A lawyer, Kunle Adegoke, said the broadcasting industry was regulated by law, and was therefore required to be protected by the government to allow for freedom of expression.
He added that payment for licences could not be waived as long as it was a requirement of the broadcast stations by law, but added that where the clampdown on the stations was arbitrary, it was condemnable and unconstitutional.
Another lawyer, Afam Osigwe, said the NBC was wrong to revoke the licences of broadcast stations over non-payment of licence fees without prior notice, adding that revoking multiple licences at the same time was not democratic.