SIM Deactivations: Hearing of N200m Suit against MTN, Airtel, Others fixed

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A Lagos Federal High Court, has fixed April 28, 2022, for the hearing of N200 million suit filed by a lawyer, against two telecommunication firms, MTN Nigeria Communication Limited and Airtel Network Nigeria Limited, and two others, over alleged illegal SIMs deactivation

The plaintiff, Mr. Olukoya Ogungbeje, a lawyer cum activist, had dragged the four respondents before the court over alleged illegal deactivation of his and about 72 million Nigerians’ SIM cards.

Others joined as respondents alongside MTN Nigeria Limited and Airtel Network Nigeria Limited, in the suit numbered FHC/L/CS/677/2022 are; Federal government of Nigeria and Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister for Justice.

Ogungbeje had asked the court for an order compelling all the respondents to jointly and severally to pay him the sum of N200 million, as general and exemplary damages for  the inconvenience, damages and injury caused him and other affected Nigerian citizens. While also asked the court to compel the respondents to tender a public apology to him and other affected Nigerian Citizens.

He is also asked for an order compelling the respondents, jointly and severally, to immediately activate, debar, unlock, unblock, unfreeze and open his phone lines/sim cards and that of over 72 million affected Nigerian citizens, for the purpose of out-going calls and other connected purposes forthwith.

At the resumed hearing of the matter on Thursday, both MTN Nigeria Limited and Airtel Network Nigeria, were conspicuously absent and they were not represented by any legal team.

But counsel to FGN and AGF, Mrs. Abosede Ade-Obayomi, told the court that they were served with the hearing notice and that she had equally filed a counter to the suit.

However, all efforts by the plaintiff for court to hear the suit, was not accepted by the presiding judge, Justice Abimbola Awogboro, who after perusing the court file that Court’s hearing notice was not issued to the two firms.

Responding, the plaintiff, Ogungbeje told the court that he issued the hearing notice to all the respondents, as directed by Justice Tijjani Ringim, who first presided over the matter as the Vacation judge.

However, Justice Awogboro while adjourning the matter to April 28, for hearing, ordered that a hearing notice be issued and served on MTN and Airtel Network Nigeria Limited.

In the suit, the lawyer is also asking the court for an order setting aside the directive and all its consequential effects in connection with the subject matter of this suit issued by the first and second respondents to the telecommunication firms, having been made in violation of due process of law.

He also asks the court for an order of perpetual injunction restraining the telecommunication firms, jointly and severally, whether by themselves, their-agents, officers, officials, members, servants, Ministers, organs, agencies or privies or anybody deriving authority from them by whatever name called from barring, blocking and or freezing the Applicant’s and other affected Nigerian citizens Phones Lines/sim curds or taking any step, action, further step or action or untoward action or proceeding against the Applicant and other affected Nigerian citizens on any fact connected with or related to the facts of this case.

He also asks the court for the following declarations: “that the barring, blockage, restriction, deactivation and freezing of the Applicant’s MTN Phone line/sim card wiith Phone number (09139128873) and Airtel Phone line/sim carcl property with Phone number (08027208563) by the two telecommunication firms, upon the directive of the FGN and AGF from April 4, 2022 tli date for having not linked or connected to the Nationai identification Number (NIN) without any valid order of court or due process of law is wrongful, oppressive, illegal, unlawful, unconstitutional, null and void as it violates the Applicant’s and other affected Nigerian citizens fundamental rights to own Property, as enshrined under Sections 43 and 44 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

“A declaration that the barring, blockage, restriction, deactivation and freezing of his MTN Phone line/sim card, with Phone number (69139128873) and Airtel Phone line/sim card with Phone number (08027208563) by the two firms upon the directive of the FGN and AGF, from April 4, 2022 till date, for having not linked or connected to the National identity Number (NIN) despite a pending court action/case and during the pendency and subsistence of a lawsuit on the subject matter against the Respondents in Suit No: FHC/L/CS/87/2021, between Chief Malcolm E. Omirhiobo Vs Federal Government of Nigeria & 10 Ors pending before the Federal High Court of Nigeria, Lagos Judicial Division is wrongful, prejudicial, illegal, unlawful, undemocratic and unconstitutional as it violates the applicant’s and other affected Nigerian citizens fundamental rights to fair hearing and right to own property as guaranteed under Sections 36 and 43 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (As Amended).”

But the Federal government of Nigeria and the Attorney-General of the Federation, who were listed as first and second respondents in the suit, in a six paragraphs counter affidavit deposed to by Cosmos Ubani, a litigation Clerk in the Federal Ministry of Justice, stated that first and second respondents are not telcoms service providers, do not render such services and have at no point provided same to the applicant.

The deponet also stated that the two respondents never barred, deactivated, blocked or restricted the sim cards of the applicant as alleged as the 1st and 2nd respondents do not provide such service. Adding that the two respondents are not in possession of any property belonging to the Applicant and neither was same compulsorily acquired at any time by the two respondents.

The deponet stated that sometime in 2020, the Federal Government of Nigeria through the Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy introduced a National Identity Policy for Sim Card registration, and that the policy relates to the security and social policies of the government. And that the deadline for compliance with SIM-NIN Linkage has been extended multiple times.

He also averred that the applicant’s line could have been barred as alleged for many other reasons save from SIM-NIN Linkage. And that the applicant has not shown any facts to justify the reliefs claimed against the first and second respondents.

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