By Prince Osuagwu & Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA —A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, Thursday, nullified the sale of telecommunication firm, Etisalat International Nigeria Limited (9mobile) to Teleology Nigeria Limited.
Trial judge, Justice Binta Nyako, invalidated all steps taken with respect to the exchange of ownership of the defunct Etisalat.
Justice Nyako held that such steps amounted to a nullity since they were taken despite an express order of the court that directed parties to maintain status quo, pending the determination of legal dispute involving investors and other stakeholders in the company.
The judge said there was evidence before the court that parties were aware of the existence of the suit, noting that the defendants were duly served with relevant court processes between April 24 and 27, 2018.
She observed that according to a motion by the plaintiffs on November 16, 2018, change of ownership of the telecommunications company was effected after the parties were notified that the court was already seized of the facts of the matter.
“Any action that had been taken concerning the res (subject matter) of this litigation from April 25, which is earlier in time, should revert to the position, as of the res, to April 25, 2018,” Justice Nyako held.
The ruling followed the suit by two major investors in Etisalat, Afdin Ventures Limited and Dirbia Nigeria Limited.
Afdin and Dirbia, whose investments in Etisalat was estimated at $43,033,950, had sued to retrieve their investments on the premise that they were aggrieved, having been excluded from the decision making process of the company.
Defendants in the matter were Karington Telecommunication Ltd, Premium Telecommunications Holdings NV, First Bank of Nigeria Plc, Central Bank of Nigeria, Etisalat International Nigeria Ltd and Nigeria Communication Commission, NCC.
Meanwhile, reacting to the judgment, 9Mobile dismissing it as misrepresentation of facts.
The company’s Secretary/ Legal Adviser, Ore Olajide, said the news that the court had nullified the sale of 9mobile to Teleology Nigeria Limited were incorrect, misleading, mischievous and a total falsehood.
She said: “The Federal High Court, Abuja did not nullify the sale of 9mobile. The court on April 1, 2019 made an order for parties to maintain status quo as at April 25, 2018. As at the said date, Emerging Markets Telecommunications Service, EMTS, trading as 9mobile was not a party in the suit before the court. The action before Justice Nyako was not about the sale of 9mobile rather, the transfer of the license even without locus standi.
“9mobile has however, appealed the order and also sought an injunction pending appeal at the Court of Appeal.”
She urged 9mobile subscribers and all stakeholders to remain calm, claiming that matters are under control as the company’s team of counsel had promised to follow through the case as deemed necessary.
Also, a reliable source at the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, said the commission was yet to see or know the details of the judgment and therefore, cannot make any informed comment.
According to the source, “NCC cannot make any comment on the issue now because we are yet to see the judgment. Our comment will be informed by the details of the judgment.”
Telecom operators react
Also, the umbrella body of telecom operators in Nigeria, the Association of Telecom Operators in Nigeria, ALTON, declined comment on the issue, saying it was yet to be briefed by its member, 9mobile.
The association’s chairman, Engr Gbenga Adebayo said: “We are waiting for the details of the judgment and also to hear from our member, 9Mobile, before we could make any statement on the issue.
“However, as an advocacy group, it is in our interest to see that 9Mobile continues to operate as a profit oriented service provider. We will do all in our interest to support the telcom to continue providing services to Nigerians.”
In the suit at the court, in their supporting affidavit, the plaintiffs, had told the court that they resorted to legal action to void the sale of Etisalat, upon learning that the defendants had proceeded to conclude the transfer of ownership of the firm, despite restraining orders that were earlier issued by the court.