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Lawyers

Telecom Shutdown: Lawyer information N1billion swimsuit in opposition to el-Rufai, NCC, 4 community suppliers

A Kaduna State-based lawyer has filed a N1 billion suit at the Federal High Court in Abuja challenging the legality of the shutdown of telecommunication networks and internet services in some parts of the state.

Gloria Ballason, a human rights lawyer, said in the suit filed on December 8, 2021, that the shutdown was not backed by law or due process, just as she also contended that it impinges on her rights and other citizens.

Those sued as respondents in the suit include the Kaduna State governor, Nasir el-Rufai, the Attorney-General of Kaduna State, and the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).

Also sued are four major network providers in Nigeria – Airtel Networks Limited, Globacom Limited Emirates Telecommunication Group Company (Etisalat) and MTN Group Limited.

The plaintiff, who resides in Chikun Local Government Area and operates her office in Kaduna South Local Government Area, said telecommunications and internet connection went off from early September 2021 until about November 27, 2021 “and connection has been epileptic up until the time of filing this case”.

‘Security hasn’t improved despite network shutdown’

Ms Ballasson, who recalled that security reasons were cited as the reason for the shutdown, noted that the level of insecurity in the state has not reduced in any manner. “Rather, terrorists are still kidnapping, killing, collecting and impoverishing struggling families within Kaduna State”.

She cited media reports of an instance during the shutdown of telecom services in specified areas of Kaduna State when “bandits abducted 66 members of Baptist Church in Kakau area of Kaduna State and killed 2 out of the 66 abducted”.

According to her, sometime in early November, 2021, bandits also attacked Yagbak and Abuyab communities in Atyap Chiefdom in Zangaon Kataf Local Government Area of Kaduna State wherein 11 persons were killed and several houses burnt.

“This act of the Governor and Government of Kaduna State has caused agony on me, the residents of the affected areas and citizens are compelled to embrace a retrogressive lifestyle,” she said.

Impact of shutdown

She said the action “has crippled my litigation work and Radio/TV businesses as well as businesses of thousands of youths who make legitimate earnings utilizing telecommunication services as businesses that rely on telecommunications services have their means of livelihood (and those who depend on them) truncated.”

She said on a daily basis on account of the shutting down of telecommunication services, her business, economic and social life (and that of other Nigerian citizens) working and residing in the affected telecom shut down directive was seriously jeopardised.

She added that due to the telecom shutdown, House of Justice Annual Summit & Banquet with the theme, ‘Leadership, Governance & National Security,’ which was slated to hold on November 26, 2021 at Epitome Events Centre Ethiopia Road, Barnawa Kaduna had poor attendance and online participants could not connect nor have access to discussions.

“That there are no justifiable reasons for the interference with my fundamental human rights (and that of the Nigerian citizens working and residing in Kaduna state).

“That the telecommunications services shut down directive is not backed up by law or due process but was ordered vaguely,” she stated.

Prayers

Among other prayers, the plaintiff urged the court to declare that the NCC as an independent national regulatory authority failed to be firm, fair and upright when it yielded to the directive of the Governor of Kaduna state which was not backed by law.

She sought a declaration that “telecommunications shutdown of telephone services and the internet not backed by law or due process impinges on the rights of the Applicant, citizens of a democratic state, is capable of consequential usurping of adjoining or corresponding fundamental rights and is hence unconstitutional.”

Another of the plaintiff’s prayer sought an order of N100million “for arbitrary use of powers to interfere with the Rights of the applicant”.

She also sought an order for specific damages in the sum of N900 million “for loss of earnings, apprehension of safety, embarrassment, discomfort and inability to host already invited and confirmed international guests at the 2021 House of Justice Summit, the creation of a frustrating work environment and the boomerang effect for the Applicant and her clients during the time of the shutdown of telephone and internet network.”

She also asked the court to order that all monetary awards made by the court against the respondents or any of them “shall attract interest at the rate of 10 per cent interest per annum until total and final liquidation of same.”

The respondents have yet to respond to the suit.

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