Lagos asks court to restore its power to register, license cinemas

The Lagos State Government has asked the Court of Appeal in Lagos to restore its power to register and license cinemas.

It filed an appeal challenging a March 18, 2020 Federal High Court judgment which held that only the Federal Government can exercise such power.

The state also filed a stay of execution of the judgment.

The lower court decision was delivered by Justice Chuka Obiozor, a Professor of Law, in Suit No. FHC/L/CS/1502/2016, Harris & Annis Limited v Attorney-General of Lagos State & 3 Ors.

The judge held that the Lagos State Government cannot exercise regulatory powers to register and license cinema exhibition centres under the Cinematograph Law of Lagos State, because a Federal Law already covers such activity.

But Director, Public Affairs of the Lagos State Ministry of Justice (MOJ), Mr Kayode Oyekanmi, told The Nation yesterday that the state had challenged the decision.

“We have, however, filed a notice of appeal and stay of application,” Oyekanmi said.

At the lower court, the plaintiff, Harris & Annis Limited, who operates ‘Dew Cinema’ in Lagos, joined the Attorney-General of Lagos State, the Lagos State Film and Video Censors Board (LSFVCB), the Attorney-General of the Federation, and the National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB) as defendants.

The plaintiff’s counsel, Chijioke Emeka, argued that the NFVCB Act 1993 and the Cinematograph Law of Lagos State 2004 having given the NFVCB and the LSFVCB powers to register and license premises for film and video exhibition, the plaintiff is brought under the registration and licensing regulation of both bodies under sections 17, 21 and 25(2) of the Federal Law and sections 23 and 24 of the State Law, a scenario unintended by the constitution.

The plaintiff further argued that because it was registered and licensed by the NFVCB and paid its annual licensing fees to the Federal Government; the LSFVCB cannot demand the same registration and annual licensing fee from it.

Counsel for the Attorney-General of Lagos State and the LSFVCB, A. O. Idowu, contended that the constitution allows both the Federal and Lagos State governments to have concurrent power to make laws which can operate side by side with each other.

Ruling, Justice Obiozor held that Item 16, Part II of the Second Schedule in the 1999 Constitution gives concurrent powers to both the Federal and State legislatures to make law creating a body to register cinema premises and collect annual license fees.

However, since the National Assembly has made a law which covered the field, the law made by the Lagos House of Assembly on the same issue “remains otiose and inoperative.

“Item 16(b) however allows the State Law to censor films and videos to be exhibited in Lagos State.”

It was held that since both laws exact registration and licensing fees, the state law is not binding.

“I have examined sections 17, 21 and 25(2) of the National Film and Video Censors Board Act and sections 23 and 24 of the Cinematograph Law Cap. C8, Laws of Lagos State and find a case of co-existence of a Federal Law and a State Law on the subject matter of registration and licensing of premises for film and video exhibition.

“To that extent therefore, the Federal Law prevails and the law of State must go into abeyance while the Federal law subsists,” the Judge said.

The Court also held that a ‘Memorandum of Understanding’, ‘Exhibit LASG 1’, entered into between the NFVCB and the LSFVCB under which both bodies cooperate to exact dual registration and licensing fees from cinema operators, is “non sequitur”.

This, the judge explained, is because the agreement hinges on a state law which is “inoperative”.

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