Judiciary News

Court Refrains MTN, Airtel, Others From Deactivating Subscribers’ Lines Over NIN

Justice Ambrose Lewis-Allagoa of Federal High Court, Ikoyi, Lagos, has restrained telecom operators in Nigeria, from deactivating or barring any line or SIM whose user was not linked to the National Identification Number (NIN).

The court issued the restraining order on February 22, 2024, while ruling on a motion for the restraining orders, instituted by a lawyer and rights activist, Olukoya Ogungbeje.

Ogungbeje had in a legal action designated FHC/L/CS/667/23, dragged the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN), Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, MTN Nigeria Communications Plc and Airtel Networks Nigeria Limited, to secure the order.

In specific terms, the human rights lawyer had prayed to the court for an injunction pending appeal, restraining all the Respondents jointly or severally, whether by themselves, their agents. Outlets, agencies, privies, officials, servants, men, parastatals, units, organs, or anybody or person however so called, from taking any step or action capable of enforcing the judgment in any way and from further outright barring, deactivating and or restricting any SIM cards or his phone lines, or of any Nigerian citizen, slated for February 28, 2024, or any other scheduled date, pending the hearing and determination of his appeal at the Court of Appeal of Nigeria, against the judgment of the court delivered on May 8, 2023.

Ogungbeje informed the judge that his motion on notice is premised and pursuant to Order 26 Rule 1, of the Federal High Court (Civil Procedure) Rules 2019, Section 36 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), Section 6 (6)(B) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and under the court’s inherent jurisdiction.

The lawyer listed 10 grounds for seeking the application which include; “That sometimes in April 2022, the Appellant/Applicant herein took out an Originating Summons against the Respondents challenging the action of the Respondents in undermining the judicial powers of the court and the Nigerian legal system and thus infringing on the Applicant’s fundamental rights.

“That this Honourable Court in a well-considered judgment delivered on the 8th of May 2023 dismissed the Appellant/Applicant Originating Summons.

“That the Appellant/Applicant being dissatisfied with the judgment has exercised his constitutional right of appeal by lodging a Notice of Appeal against the judgment of this Honourable Court on the 26th of July 2023 by the lower court.

“That the Appellant/Applicant’s appeal is against the whole decision contained in the judgment of this Honourable Court

“That the Respondents are aware of the Appellant/Applicant’s appeal to the Court of Appeal of Nigeria, as the Respondents have since been duly served with the Appellant/Applicant’s Notice of Appeal.

“That despite the pendency of the Appellant/Applicant’s appeal, efforts are in top gear by the Respondents specifically on the 28th of February 2024, to ensure further and outright barring, deactivating and restricting of SIM cards and phone lines of the Applicant and that of Nigerian citizens.

“That the Appellant/Applicant appeal to the Court of Appeal of Nigeria has a high degree of success against the Respondents.

“There is the need to preserve the ‘res’ subject of the appeal pending the hearing and determination of the Appellant/Applicant appeal at the Court of Appeal of Nigeria.

“That the Appellant/Applicant is desirously interested in diligently pursuing the instant appeal that has raised a novel and recondite issue substantially jurisprudential constituting an exceptional circumstance in which this Honourable Court can grant an application of this nature.

“That the court has the power and jurisdiction to grant an application of this nature in the interest of Justice.”

During the resumption of the hearing of the case on February 22, 2024, none of the Respondents filed any counter to the motion, despite being served.

But, after the Applicant had moved his application, a lawyer from the Federal Ministry of Justice, pleaded with the court that he needed more time to respond to the motion.

However, the application for additional time was opposed because all parties were served with all the processes and the hearing notice in the matter, but failed to file counters.

Even two telecom operators named as third and fourth Respondents in the suit, MTN and Airtel, were not represented by any counsel.

Justice Lewis-Allagoa in his ruling, acceded to the lawyer’s request and restrained the telecom operators in the country from barring, deactivating and or restricting any SIM cards or his phone lines, or of any Nigerian citizen slated for February 28, 2024.

The judge equally ruled that his order subsists until the hearing and determination of the appeal filed by Ogungbeje.

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