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Court rules on NPAN case against APCON today

The Federal High Court, Lagos, will Thursday rule on the appropriateness of the suit filed by the Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria (NPAN), challenging the constitutionality of some provisions of the Nigerian Code of Advertising Practice and Sales Promotion, as they affect newspaper houses.

The ruling had twice been shifted to allow for other official schedules of the Presiding Judge, Justice Musa Kurya. The court was initially scheduled to deliver its ruling on December 13, 2012, but this had to be adjourned to December 19, 2012, as the judge was away in Abuja for the Judges Conference. However, it was again adjourned till today for similar reason.

In instituting the suit, NPAN had dragged the Advertising Practitioners’ Council of Nigeria (APCON), along with the Inspector General of Police before the court, arguing that the code infringed on the right of members of the association to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinion and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference

Today’s ruling is sequel to the preliminary objection to the suit as raised by APCON and which the lead counsel to NPAN, Mr. Tayo Oyetibo, had urged the court to dismiss. With Oyetibo is Mr. Labi Lawal.

Oyetibo had argued that NPAN had sufficient interest to institute the suit since the APCON’s regulation which, he described as unconstitutional, adversely affect owners of media houses.

He noted that contrary to the argument of APCON that the suit was to fight for the employees of newspaper houses who were harassed by the council and the police; he said that the suit was filed to challenge the control of newspaper houses by APCON.

“Articles 21 and 137 (a) of the Nigerian Code of Advertising Practice and Sales Promotion expressly mentioned media houses and media houses are the targets of the provision.”

Oyetibo submitted even as he re-emphasised, “this is a case being fought on behalf of members of the association who in any case had sufficient interest to do so. “

He thus urged the court to hold that the association had locus standi in instituting the case and dismiss the objection of APCON.

Counsel to APCON, Chief Anthony Idigbe, had urged the court to dismiss the suit on the ground that the association lacked the competence to institute the suit.

He had likened the case of NPAN in this matter to that of an organisation that hired an accountant which turns around to challenge the regulatory role of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria over such employee.

NPAN, in instituting the case, wanted the court to determine

• whether having regard to the provision of Section 1(d) of the Advertising Practitioners (Registration, etc) Act CAP A7, LFN 204, Articles 21 and 137 (a) of the Nigerian Code of Advertising Practice and Sales Promotion are not ultra vires the Advertising Practioners’ Council of Nigeria (APCON) in so far as the provisions of the Articles affect media houses who do not engage in the practice of advertising.

• whether the provisions of Articles 21 and 137(a) of the Nigerian Code of Advertising Practice and Sales Promotion are not inconsistent with the provisions of Section 39 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 which guarantees the freedom of expression including the freedom to hold opinion, and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference, and

• whether having regard to the provision of Section 4 of the Constitution of the Federal of Nigeria 1999, it is competent for the Advertising Practitioners’ Council of Nigeria to create offenses and impose penalties as done in the Nigerian Code of Advertising Practice and Sales Promotion.

The association therefore sought three declarations that provisions of Articles 21 and 137(a) of the Code is ultra vires as it affects members of the plaintiff’s association; that Article 21 that requires all advertisements except public notices, goodwill messages, obituaries and vacancies to be vetted by the Advertising Standard Panel before publication is inconsistent with the provisions of Section 39 of the Constitution.

It, therefore, sought three declarations among which are that the manner APCON created criminal offenses and impose penalties as done in Articles 137 (a) (b) and (c) of the Code and the Article 137, is unconstitutional, null and void; a perpetual injunction restraining APCON (the first defendant) from continuing to treat Articles 21 and 137 as valid Articles of the Code and a perpetual injunction restraining the defendants, whether by themselves, servants or agents and or representatives from implementing or otherwise applying provisions of Articles 21 and 137 (a) , (b) and (c) of the Code against any of the members of the plaintiff’s association or their servants.

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