Wednesday 30 December 2015

MTN Fine: NCC challenges Court’s jurisdiction in MTN suit; ...seeks transfer to Abuja

The Federal Government through Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has challenged the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court in Lagos to entertain the suit filed by MTN Nigeria Communications Limited.

The commission asked the court to dismiss the suit filed against it by the telecoms firm over the N780 billion fine slammed against it.

The NCC, through its team of lawyers led by Dr. Wale Babalakin, Dr. Onyechi Ikpeazu, Mr. Paul Usoro, Mr. Ahmed Raji, all Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN), asked the court to decline jurisdiction in the matter.

According to the defendants’ motion on notice, the commission asked the Lagos court to set aside the purported service of the originating summons and other processes in the matter for non-compliance with the provisions of Section 143 of the commission’s Act.

It also asked the court to decline jurisdiction in the matter and transfer the case to the Abuja division of the court where the cause of action arose.

According to the affidavit in support of the 1st defendant’s motion on notice, deposed to by one Anthony Usman, a legal practitioner in the law firm of Ahmed Raji & Co., the commission said the decision of the NCC to fine the telecommunication company was taken in Abuja on October 20, 2015 outside the jurisdiction of the court in Lagos.

The defendants said the proper and convenient forum for the determination of the case should be the Abuja division of the court.

The NCC also argued that Abuja division of the court has the territorial jurisdiction to handle the case and is also where the performance of the demand of the 1st defendant on the plaintiff (MTN) is to take place.

The MTN had dragged the NCC and the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice before the court to challenge the N780 billion imposed on it by NCC for not disconnecting 5.3 million unregistered subscribers on its network.

In the suit, the firm is urging the court to quash the fine which NCC had imposed on them last October for allegedly failing to disconnect unregistered subscribers.

The initial fine of $5.2billion (N1.04 trillion), was reduced by 25 per cent to $3.9 billion (N780 billion) earlier this month, with a payment deadline set for December 31.

But MTN, through its team of lawyers comprising Chief Wole Olanipekun, Tanimola Molajo, A.B, Mahmoud , Dr. Gbolahan Elias, Oladipo Okpeseyi, Prof. Fabian Ajogwu, Dr. Oladapo Olanipekun (all SANs), through an originating summons, challenged the powers of NCC to impose such a fine.

The telecoms company argued that on the basis that NCC being a regulator, cannot assume all the functions of the state on its own, considering the fact that they made the regulation, prescribed the penalty and imposed the fine, payable to the commission and not the federal government.

The firm also claimed that it was not afforded its constitutional right of fair hearing before a court of competent jurisdiction and more importantly, it had not been found guilty of any offence that will warrant it to pay such outrageous fine.

However, with less than 24 hours to the deadline given to the telecoms asked to pay the fine, the federal government has stated that it would not succumb to any pressure from any quarter to settle the suit out-of-court.

In an interview granted ThisDay, Mr. Victor Oluwadamilare, the Special Assistant to the Minister of Communication Technology, Mr. Adebayo Shittu, said the government had lined up very senior and eminent lawyers to prosecute the case to its logical end in the interest of Nigerians and the government.
Shittu said: “Government is not considering any out-of-court settlement because it will not be right for every employer of labour in the country to flout the country’s laws and regulations because they provide jobs. The fine came as a result of a breach of the country’s extant laws and these guidelines that MTN knew from the onset.”
He said the government had however filed for an objection to the suit on diverse grounds, adding that there was nothing like an out-of-court settlement this time around.
The minister also admitted: “Though MTN has the right to go to court, what they have done by going to court is to seek redress within the arm-bit of the law. But let us see whether any court in the land will grant any company to continue to flout established known laws as regard the NCC laws.”
Shittu averred that the new administration was not a government where anything goes. 
According to him, no officials in the present administration will take money from any company through the back-door, “they are people of impeccable characters with integrity. The ministry cannot be bought over by anybody because the interests of Nigerians are paramount.”

Credit: ThisDay

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