By Ramon Oladimeji
A Federal High Court in Lagos has ordered the Nigerian Communications Commission and five others to pay the All Progressives Congress a sum of N500m over unlawful shutting down of its presidential campaign fund-raising platform.
Apart from NCC, the other judgment debtors are Etisalat, MTN Nigeria Limited, Globacom Limited, Airtel Nigeria Limited and Visafone Communications Limited.
The monetary cost was awarded against the six respondents severally and jointly on Tuesday by Justice Ibrahim Buba, who held that the shutting down of APC presidential campaign platform by the respondent was unlawful and constituted an infringement on the party’s fundamental right.
The party, through its lawyer, Chief Kola Awodein (SAN), had sued the respondents, claiming N25bn in damages for banning its presidential campaign fund-raising platform.
APC had accused the NCC of instructing the 2nd to 6th respondents to discontinue an SMS platform it created for the purpose of getting donations from willing members of the public for its presidential campaign.
The party claimed that it initiated the participatory fund-raising platform as a way of getting members of the general public to contribute N100 to its presidential campaign fund each time they sent APC as an SMS to 35350.
It, however, said that NCC, by a letter dated January 19, 2015, instructed the other respondents to shut down the platform, warning them “to avoid running political advertisement/promotions that will portray them as being partisan.”
The commission was also said to have threatened to sanction any of the telecommunications service providers which failed to comply with the order.
But APC considered the NCC’s instruction and the consequent shutting down of its fund-raising platform as both discriminatory and an infringement on its fundamental right protected by Section 39 of the Constitution and Articles 9 (1) (2) and 19 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act, Cap. A9, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.
It argued that the NCC did not give the same instruction to the other respondents when the Peoples Democratic Party set up the short codes designated 6661, 662, 6663 and 6664, being managed by one Wagitel Communications Limited to raise funds for the campaign of President Goodluck Jonathan and his vice, Namadi Sambo, in 2010.
In an 18-paragragh affidavit deposed to by one Ademola Sodiq, the deponent averred that APC’s strategy was borne out of its commitment to raising fund for its presidential campaign in a “transparent and accountable manner.”
According to Sodiq, within few hours of launching the strategy, APC was getting about four to five text messages per minute and had received a total of 5,400 SMS before the NCC directed the telecommunications service providers to discontinue the scheme.
The party had, on January 28, 2015, secured an interim order of the court compelling the respondents to immediately lift the embargo on the applicant’s fund-raising platform pending the determination of the suit.
In determining the case on Tuesday, Buba dismissed the respondents’ objection to APC’s claim, but instead of N25bn damages sought by the political party, the judge awarded N500m against all the defendants.
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