Justice Ibrahim Buba of the Federal High Court, Lagos, has asked the Nigerian Communications Commission to pay All Progressives Congress N500 million for shutting down its campaign platform but the Commission has gone to Court of Appeal, Lagos, to vacate the ruling
| By Anayo Ezugwu | Apr. 6, 2015 @ 01:00 GMT |
THE Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, is contesting the ruling of the Federal High Court on the case the All Progressives Party brought against it. Justice Ibrahim Buba, who presided over the case, on Tuesday, March 24, held that the shutting down of APC presidential campaign platform by the NCC was unlawful and constituted an infringement on the party’s fundamental right. The other affected telecom operators includes, Etisalat, MTN Nigeria Limited, Globacom Limited, Airtel Nigeria Limited and Visafone Communications Limited. In determining the case, Buba dismissed the respondents’ objection to APC’s claim, but instead of N25 billion damages sought by the political party, the judge awarded N500 million against all the defendants.
However, Paul Usoro (SAN), counsel to NCC, has filed an application to the Court of Appeal in Lagos, asking the court to set aside the entire judgment including the monetary award. Usoro, in the notice of appeal, said that the trial court misdirected itself in law and fact when it held that the suit as constituted fell under the context of chapter IV of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended and not rooted in contract. He said in the notice of appeal that: “The trial court erred in law and occasioned grave miscarriage of justice when it held that the first respondent has seemingly complained of discrimination by the appellant. The trial judge erred in law when he also held that the appellant has indeed discriminated against the 1st respondent when it granted the Goodluck/Sambo Presidential Campaign Organisation in 2011 the right to use short codes for campaign and did not allow the first respondent same right in 2015.”
According to him, part of the notice of appeal is that the judge erred in law when it invalidated the appellants’ directive contained in its letter of January19, 2015. Usoro said in the NCC appeal that the learned trial judge also misdirected itself in law and on facts when it awarded N500 million as damages and compensation for 1stst respondent, adding, the award of damages and compensation to APC is against the weight of evidence and submissions before the trial court which are a very good ground for its appeal.
It should be recalled that APC through its lawyer, Kola Awodein had sued the respondents, claiming N25 billion in damages for banning its presidential campaign fund-raising platform. The party had, on January 28, 2015, secured an interim order of the court compelling the respondents to immediately lift the embargo on the applicant’s fund-raising platform pending the determination of the suit.
APC had accused the NCC of instructing the 2nd to 6th respondents to discontinue an Short Messaging Service, SMS, platform it created for the purpose of getting donations from willing members of the public for its presidential campaign. The party claimed that it initiated the participatory fund-raising platform as a way of getting members of the general public to contribute N100 to its presidential campaign fund each time they sent APC as an SMS to 35350.
It, however, said that NCC, by a letter dated January 19, 2015, instructed the other respondents to shut down the platform, warning them to avoid running political advertisement/promotions that would portray them as being partisans. The commission was also said to have threatened to sanction any of the telecommunications service providers which failed to comply with the order.
APC considered the NCC’s instruction and the consequent shutting down of its fund-raising platform as both discriminatory and an infringement on its fundamental right protected by Section 39 of the Constitution and Articles 9 (1) (2) and 19 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act, Cap. A9, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.
It argued that the NCC did not give the same instruction to the other respondents when the Peoples Democratic Party set up the short codes designated 6661, 662, 6663 and 6664, being managed by one Wagitel Communications Limited to raise funds for the campaign of President Goodluck Jonathan and his vice, Namadi Sambo, in 2010.
In an 18-paragragh affidavit deposed to by one Ademola Sodiq, the deponent averred that APC’s strategy was borne out of its commitment to raising fund for its presidential campaign in a transparent and accountable manner. According to Sodiq, within few hours of launching the strategy, APC was getting about four to five text messages per minute and had received a total of 5,400 SMS before the NCC directed the telecommunications service providers to discontinue the scheme.
Sequel to this, the NCC had on January 27 justified its action for shutting down the SMS code. The commission said the action of the mobile network operators in running a political advertisement for the APC wasn’t in compliance with the provisions of the NCC guidelines on the use of shot codes in Nigeria. Tony Ojobo, director public affairs, NCC, who made the clarification, said the commission did not erred in shutting down the SMS platform, given that the mobile network operator in question went against section three (3) of the NCC’s guidelines, by not applying officially to the commission for approval in accordance with section three (3) of the NCC’s Act.
The section reads: “The Commission shall receive written notification from the licensees for all advertisements for goods and services within a minimum of seven days of the proposed or planned publication of an advertisement, in order to ensure such advertisements meet the minimum standards and requires.”