Airtel alleged illegal lottery: Court joins NCC as defendant

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By Innocent Anaba

LAGOS — A Federal High Court in Lagos has joined the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, as a defendant in a suit seeking to revoke the operating licence of Airtel Nigeria Limited for allegedly operating an illegal lottery.

Trial judge, Justice Saliu Saidu, in a ruling on a motion filed by the initiator of the suit, Benjamin Owiadolor, also joined the National Lottery Regulation Commission, NLRC; Consumer Protection Council, CPC, and Secure Electronic Technology Plc, all as defendants to the suit.

Justice Saidu equally ordered Airtel to provide the call logs of Owiadolor in court.

Owiadolor, who is a lawyer, had filed the suit urging the court to mandate Airtel to refund all sums expended by subscribers who participated in the competition known as “wake up a millionaire promo” by way of credit, which should be done under the supervision of the NCC.

The plaintiff (Owiadolor) is further asking the court to declare that the promo embarked upon by Airtel without first obtaining the requisite licence from the NLRC is illegal and a contravention of the provisions of the NLRC Act and Lotteries and Pools Betting Laws of Lagos State.

He is also arguing that the Airtel’s promo is a breach of the conditions of the telecoms licence granted Airtel by the NCC in accordance with the NCC Act.

Besides, the plaintiff is seeking N1 million special and general damages against Airtel for the considerable harm, mental and physical disturbances and untold trauma he suffered as a result of the invasion of his privacy through the sending of unwarranted text messages by Airtel.

According to the statement of claim, the plaintiff stated that sometime in April 2009, Airtel embarked on a promo wherein it solicited and encouraged subscribers to make telephone calls to other subscribers on Airtel network and enjoy free one minute call for every one minute call.

He added that on April 25, 2009, he had very important commercial transactions with business associates and friends which required lengthy telephone conversations and at about 12 noon, he made a number of telephone calls which were all truncated at exactly 1.01 minutes.

Owiadolor stressed that a continued repetition of truncation of his calls occasioned deep frustration to him and cost him to loss business transaction running into millions, alleging that the defendant deliberately programmed its system to truncate calls at the commencement of the subsequent minute to ensure that customers would not enjoy the free one minute call that should ordinarily follow the initial one minute paid for by the subscriber.

The plaintiff also stated that he addressed a letter to Airtel where he warned that no unsolicited text messages should further be sent to him, but that to his surprise, he was further bombarded with over 200 inciting, inducing and nerve-racking promotional text messages out of which some were received at very odd hours.

Besides, the plaintiff stressed that the ‘wake up a millionaire promo” consists of the three elements of lottery and by nature, the promo falls under the definition of lottery under the NLRC Act, and that a promo should ordinarily be ancillary to the actual business of the organizer and irrespective of winning a prize or otherwise; the customer must get value for the product or service for which the consideration is offered.

He revealed that the N100 per SMS charged by Airtel were not credited to his account for the purposes of enjoying telecom service, but instead, the money was deducted by Airtel only for the purpose of participating in a draw in which prize could be awarded contrary to essence and meaning of promo.

He further stated that he had incurred huge cost in participating in the promo, and that he had also suffered untold psychological and physical hardship from the repeated bombardment of inducing and nerve-racking promotional text messages forwarded to him by the defendant contrary to his demand not to be sent promotional messages relating to the purported promo.

But Airtel in its statement of defence, insisted that the “wake up a millionaire promo” was not illegally organized as necessary regulatory approvals were secured from the NLRC before it embarked on the competition, adding that the promo was not intended to mislead, defraud or rip-off the plaintiff or any other participant of their money.

It added that the suit is vexatious, frivolous, gold-digging and an abuse of court process, and therefore urged the court to dismiss it with substantial cost.

On deliberate truncation of calls, Airtel explained that its network experienced limited connectivity between its subscribers and connectivity with other networks in some areas and locations on that fateful day.

It denied allegation of deliberate truncation of calls, saying it actually makes more money with calls without hitches.

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