Ade Adesomoju, Abuja
The Federal High Court in Abuja, on Friday, dismissed a suit seeking an order revoking the operating licence of the telecommunication company, MTN Nigeria Communications Limited, and another compelling it to pay to the Federal Government the total sum of N1.040trn imposed on it by the Nigerian Communications Commission as fine in 2015.
The N1.04trn fine was imposed on MTN for allegedly violating section 146(1) and (2) of the Nigeria Communications Act and sections 20(1) and (2) of the NCC (Registration of Telephone Subscribers) Regulations 2011, by willfully failing to disconnect all unregistered subscribers on its network as stipulated by the Act.
The N1,040,000,000 fine was later reduced by the Federal Government to N700bn, a review which the suit challenged.
The suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/448/2016 was filed on June 24, 2016 by a member of the House of Representatives, Raphael Igbokwe, and Emmanuel Njoku.
Joined as defendants to the suit were the NCC, MTN, the Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN), and Minister of Communication Technology, Mr. Adebayo Shittu.
Delivering judgment in the suit on Friday, Justice Babatunde Quadri upheld the separate notices of preliminary objection filed against the suit by the defendants.
In specifically upholding MTN’s contention canvassed by its lawyer, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), the judge held that the suit was statute barred, as the plaintiffs failed to file the suit within three months as stipulated in law.
He held that by virtue of Exhibit 1, a letter dated December 3, 2015, it was established that the fine initially imposed on MTN was reduced about six months before the plaintiffs filed the suit in June 2017
This period was said to be clearly outside the three months within which such suit ought to be filed.
The plaintiffs were said to have failed to exhaust remedies that were provided in sections 86, 87 and 88 of the NCC Act and Order 34 of the Federal High Court (Civil Procedure) Rules.
According to the judge, the plaintiffs ought to have applied for the statement of reason from the NCC, the MTN’s request for a review of the decision of the commission within 30 days, and specify reasons why they wanted MTN to be compelled to pay the fine in full.
Justice Quadri said it was only after those conditions were fulfilled that the plaintiffs could apply to court for a judicial review of the decision.