Justice Mohammed Idris of the Federal High Court in Lagos yesterday refused to grant an application of mareva injunction filed by the federal government seeking to stop MTN Nigeria Communications Ltd from moving funds in its accounts in 21 commercial banks out of Nigeria, according to a media report on Monday.
The Leadership newspaper said the Nigerian court held that the federal government failed to place enough material before the court to prove that MTN was about to empty its bank accounts and move its funds out of the country.
The government had filed the application to prevent MTN from boycotting the payment of the N1.04tn fine imposed on it by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) for its failure to deactivate its unregistered subscribers.
The government had specifically urged the court for an order directing all the 21 banks to open a special interest-yielding account in the name of the Chief Registrar of the Federal High Court and move N1.04tn out of whatever funds that were standing to MTN’s credit in their possession.
The government, in an affidavit attached to the application, expressed the fear that MTN could move all its funds out of the country before the N1.04tn fine could be enforced.
The Leadership newspaper reported that the Justice head declined to grant the application, holding that the case was a very sensitive one and of public interest, so he would rather urgently hear the case filed by MTN to challenge the fine and give a judgment within a short time.
But before he adjourned the case to January 22, 2016 for hearing the judge made an order for the parties to maintain status quo ante bellum pending the determination of the suit.
MTN was given a December 31 deadline to pay the fine for its failure to disconnect 5.2 million subscribers who did not register their SIM cards. The payment deadline has expired.
The South African-based telco has hired seven Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN) to fight the R59 billion ($3.9 billion) fine in the Federal High Court in Lagos. The initial fine was $5.2 billion and was in December reduced to $3.9 billion.
MTN through its lawyers led by Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN) is challenging the NCC’s powers to impose the fine. It argued that NCC being a regulator cannot assume all the functions of the state. It is seeking the appropriate reliefs.