A Federal High Court in Lagos yesterday struck out the suit filed by MTN Nigeria Communications Limited challenging the N1.04trillion fine imposed on it by Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC).
The court headed by Justice Mohammed Idris struck out the suit following a notice of discontinuance filed by the telecommunication outfit seeking to withdraw the suit, a development which, LEADERSHIP Weekend gathered, learnt that MTN and NCC have yielded to the option of settling their differences out of court.
The Federal Government through the NCC had in October 2015 imposed the fine on MTN over its failure to deactivate 5.2 million unregistered cards on its network.
On February 24th, 2016, MTN had announced its plan to withdrawal case and also made an initial payment of N50 billion. This payment was made on the basis that it would be applied towards a settlement when one is arrived at.
MTN had in December, 2015 filed the suit through it lawyers led by Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN) arguing that the 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.
It 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, the Attorney General in his reply to the suit insisted that NCC is justified to the imposed fine, and that it is his duty, as the chief law enforcement officer in the country, to ensure that all the laws made by the National Assembly are obeyed.
Also the NCC has urged the court in a motion on notice filed through its lawyers, Ahmed Raji (SAN) and Mahmud Magaji (SAN) to dismiss or decline to hear the suit for want of jurisdiction or send it to Abuja.
The commission argued that the suit was wrongly filed in Lagos, noting that the subject of the dispute took place in Abuja, while the two respondents in the suit, NCC and the Attorney General of the Federation, are also based in Abuja.
At the last sitting of the court, Chief Olanipekun had informed the court that parties are already discussing on how to resolve the matter amicably.
The lawyer then asked for a 60-day period from the court to allow for the discussions.
But counsel to to NCC, Yusuf Alli (SAN) urged the court to go ahead with the hearing of the matter as he is not aware of any on going discussion for settlement among parties.
He also submitted that the court’s discretion is limited to the rules of court which allows for just 21 days to file and serve written addresses.
On his part, lawyer to the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Oladipo Okpeseyi (SAN), also expressed reservations on the application for adjournment.
He disclosed that the telecommunication outfit has not been consistent in its call for an out of court settlement of the matter.
“This is a matter of national importance. There has been concessions in the past and nothing happened”, he said.
But Justice Idris, in a short ruling had adjourned the matter till March 18, for report of settlement or for hearing.
MTN also alleged 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.
It contended that the sanction imposed on it by NCC was within 24 hours of its written submission on the disconnection exercise and the impractical nature of the NCC deadline.
It stated that the deadline of seven days to disconnect 5.2 million subscribers was grossly inadequate and impracticable. This it was argued ran contrary to the requirement to give adequate notice to the subscribers and all operators.
It accused the regulatory agency of acting as a legislator, executor, accuser, prosecutor, judge and beneficiary of the penalty imposed and that the sanction (N200,000 per SIM) imposed on it was excessive.
It stated that the fine imposed on it, till date, is the highest fine ever imposed on a telecommunications company in the world, wondering if the fine is truly commensurate to the purported breach and if would not this frustrate the business of the company in Nigeria.