A court punishes Airtel for barring a subscriber’s phone line, serving notice that Nigerians can now challenge some of the illegal actions of telecoms in the country and obtain justice.
A Nigerian court has awarded a N10 million damage against Airtel Nigeria for illegally blocking the line of one of its subscribers, in a judgment that might open a floodgate of litigations against telecoms operator in the country notorious for shoddy treatment of subscribers and poor service delivery.
Telecoms operators have for a long time treated subscribers with levity, a situation which has resulted in a myriad of complaints all over the country.
The abuses committed by the operators include but not restricted to illegal blocking of lines, illegal charges, and invasion of privacy, drop calls, poor connectivity and poor voice quality.
But a High Court in Itu, Akwa Ibom State, has served notice that subscribers could challenge illegal blocking of their lines.
Godwin Abraham of the Akwa Ibom State High Court, Itu, found Airtel Nigeria guilty of illegally blocking the line of Okon Imerh, former Director of Protocol, DOP, to the former governor of the state, Victor Attah.
Mr. Imerh had sued the telecommunications company in 2011 following the blockage of his line for 23 days without reasonable excuse.
In suit No: HU/86/211, the plaintiff had prayed the court to declare the action of the telecommunications firm as illegal and demanded the sum of N215 million in damages.
While giving evidence, Mr. Imerh had told the court how Airtel barred his GSM line for more than three weeks and would not heed his appeals to unbar the line or offer reasonable explanation for the action.
The plaintiff, a public relations consultant, said he approached the telecommunications firm and demanded an apology and N10m compensation for the stress and damages he suffered within the period.
According to him, Airtel officials insisted that he had an accumulated bill of more than N4 million in overdue charges.
But Mr. Imerh told the court in his Evidence in Chief that he had a pre-paid credit balance of over N3, 000 standing to his account at the time the telecommunications firm blocked his line.
The South-South representative of the telecom firm, who gave his name simply as Tete, appeared in court and gave evidence.
While testifying before the court, Mr Tete, admitted the plaintiff’s line was moved into the account of Davoize Nigeria Ltd, one of its resell contractors.
He also admitted during cross examination that the N4 million overdue charges were owed by Davoize Nigeria Ltd, adding that it blocked all the lines linked to the defaulting resell firm including that of the plaintiff.
Mr. Tete noted that his company neither informed Mr. Imerh nor sought his consent before transferring his (plaintiff) line to the account of the sub-contractor.
While delivering judgment in the case on January 27, the court held that the action of the telecommunications firm was illegal.
The court observed that while the plaintiff bought the GSM line in 2001, Davoize Nigeria Ltd was registered in 2010, the year the line was barred.
After considering the positions of the two parties, the court concluded that Mr. Imerh had convinced the court that he suffered general damages when the network provider barred his line for 23 days from November 4, 2010 without reasonable excuse.
Consequently, the court awarded N10 million to the plaintiff but his claims for specific damages were thrown out.
Justice Abraham was of the view that the plaintiff failed to prove specific damages in its strictest requirement.
Shortly after obtaining the ruling, Mr. Imerh again approached the court and obtained Order NissiI (an initial order for payment), just as Airtel approached the Appeal Court, Calabar in an attempt to quash the ruling.
The telecommunications firm also filed a motion for stay of execution on the ruling pending the determination of its appeal at the appellate court.
In its reaction, the court directed the company to pay the damages as contained in its ruling through the chief registrar of the court, pending the determination of the appeal.
But in a 14-paragraph affidavit in support of the motion on notice, Airtel told the court that if the money is paid to the plaintiff, it might not be possible to retrieve it should its appeal succeeds at the appeal court in Calabar.
However, the plaintiff, through his counsel, Anselem Eyo, replied with a 12-paragraph affidavit, praying the court to prevail on Airtel to pay the judgment debt into an interest yielding account in any bank of its choice pending the determination of the appeal.
While ruling on the application, the court held that the judgment debt be paid into the court’s account without any interest.