By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – The Abuja Division of the Federal High Court has nullified the sale of telecommunication firm, Etisalat International Nigeria Limited (9mobile) to Teleology Nigeria Limited.
The court, in a judgment by Justice Binta Nyako, invalidated all steps that were 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 all the 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 all the parties were aware of the existence of the suit, noting that the defendants were duly served with the relevant court processes between April 24 and 27, 2018.
She observed that according to a motion that was filed 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 has been taken concerning the Res of this litigation from the 25th day of April, which is earlier in time, should revert to the position, as of the Res, to its 25th day of April 2018”, Justice Nyako held.
The ruling followed a suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/288/2018, which was filed on April 6, 2018, 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.
Cited as 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).
In their supporting affidavit, the plaintiffs, 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 l restraining orders that were earlier issued by the court.
According to them, “In 2009, the plaintiffs/applicants purchased a total of 4,303,391 class “A” shares from the 1st, 2nd and 5th defendants (Karlingtton, Premium Telecommunication and Etisalat International) at the rate of $43,033,950 only, and were issued with share certificates.
“In 2010, the defendants rebranded Etisalat Nigeria Limited to 9mobile and entered into negotiations with Smile.com and Glo Network to transfer its licence without recourse to the plaintiffs.
“When the plaintiffs became aware of the purported transaction, they filed this suit along with two applications namely: motion ex-parte and motion on notice, seeking for an order of injunction to restrain the defendants from going ahead with the transaction.
“When this suit came up for hearing on the 17th of April, 2018, this honourable court ordered parties to maintain status quo-pending the determination of the motion on notice.
“Notwithstanding the aforementioned order, the defendants continued negotiations with Smile.com and Glo Network in defiance to the subsisting order of this court.
“When the plaintiffs/applicants discovered that the defendants were bent on selling Etisalat Nigeria Limited “rebranded 9moile” despite the subsisting order of court, they instructed their Counsel Mahmud A. Magaii (SAN) to write and caution the defendants of the implications of their actions.
“Upon receipt of the above letters, the 3rd and 4rd respondents (First Bank and Central Bank), through their counsel Olaniwun Aiayi wrote to the applicants, through their counsel on the 24th August, 2018 and 31th August, 2018, denying the existing of the order of status quo made by this honourable court on the 17th April, 2018 and 31th August, 2018.
“When this matter come up on the 10th of October, 2018, counsel to the plaintiff Okechukwu Edeze, informed the court of the attempts mode by the defendants to sell Etisalat Nigeria Limited.
“Consequently, this honourable court made another order of status quo, directing parties to refrain from tampering with the subject matter of the suit.
“Despite the orders of this honourable court made on the 10th of October, 2018, the defendants went ahead and sold Etisalat Nigeria limited, rebranded 9moible to Teleology Nigeria Limited with impunity.
“It will be in the interest of justice to set aside the sale of Etisalat Nigeria limited rebranded 9moible to Teleology Nigeria Limited and commit the defendants to prison for disobeying the lawful orders of the court”, they averred.