Breaking: Court Stops MTN, Airtel Others From Deactivating Subscribers’ Lines Over NIN

A Lagos Federal High Court, has restrained telecom operators in Nigeria, from deactivating or barring any line or sim whose user did not linked to the National Identification Number (NIN).

Justice Ambrose Lewis-Allagoa, restrained the telecom operators from taking such action, on February 22, 2024, while ruling on a motion for the restrain orders, filed by a lawyer cum human rights activist, Olukoya Ogungbeje.

Ogungbeje had in a suit numbered FHC/L/CS/667/23, dragged the Federal Government of Nigeria; Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice; MTN Nigeria Communications Plc and Airtel Networks Nigeria Limited, before the court for the order.

Specifically, Ogungbeje had asked 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 anyway 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 this Honourable Court delivered on May 8, 2023. 

Ogungbeje informed the court 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 

He listed 10 grounds for seeking of 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 matter 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 application of this nature in the interest of Justice.”

He also supported the motion with a 23 paragraph-affidavit with a written address.

At the hearing of the matter on February 22, 2024, none of the respondents filed any counter to the motion, despite been served.

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

The application which was vehemently opposed by the applicant, on the ground that all parties were served with all the processes and the hearing notice in the matter, but failed to filed counters.

The 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 after perusing the court file and satisfied and confirmed that all the respondents were duly served, 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 stated for 28 of February 2024.

Justice Lewis-Allagoa also ruled that his order subsists till the hearing and determination of the appeal filed by the lawyer.