A Federal High Court in Lagos has ordered all the major telecommunication service providers in the country to appear before it on September 17, 2015, to justify the disconnection of mobile lines of certain subscribers in the country.
The National Communications Commission had reportedly given a seven-day ultimatum, starting from August 4, 2015, to the major telecoms operators in the country to deactivate unregistered lines with invalidity status.
The order was reportedly hinged on intelligence reports that several attacks carried out by the Boko Haram insurgents in the North-East and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, were coordinated with the use of unregistered mobile lines.
The deactivation directive had followed a meeting of the Office of the National Security Adviser, the Department of State Services and the NCC to examine the security threats posed by unregistered Subscriber Identification Modules.
But on Wednesday, Justice Mohammed Yunusa ordered the appearance of the telecoms companies after declining granting an ex parte application seeking the immediate reactivation of all deactivated mobile lines.
The nine applicants in the suit, including a Lagos-based lawyer, Olayinka Oyeniyi, said they instituted the action on behalf of themselves and all other subscribers in the country who had been subjected to inconvenience following the deactivation of their lines.
The applicants claimed that they had suffered extreme anguish, having been rendered incommunicado to their loved ones and business interests.
They also claimed that their rights to dignity of human person had been injured following automated voice message left on their lines informing callers that they had been barred for incomplete registration.
The applicants, who claimed to have dutifully registered their lines by furnishing the telecoms service providers with their complete biodata few years ago when they purchased the SIMs, contended that it was unjust and unwarranted for their lines to be so deactivated without any prior notice.
They said their lines were deactivated in spite of the fact that over the years, the telecoms companies had continued to give out their particulars to marketing companies which inundated them with unsolicited calls and text messages, while the telecoms companies made profit without respecting the applicants’ rights to privacy.
They prayed for an order mandating the respondents to immediately reconnect and restore their lines, in addition to an interim injunction restraining them from further barring the lines pending the determination of their suit.
They urged the court to prohibit the telecoms companies from broadcasting unsolicited SMS and short codes to the applicants’ mobile phones in violation of their rights to privacy.
Besides, the applicants want the court to compel the management of the telecoms companies to give the details of the income generated through bulk SMS, short codes and other related SMS-based services from 2012 till date in accordance with Order 44, Rule 4 of the Civil Procedure Rules 2009.
But rather than grant the prayers sought by the applicants, Justice Yunusa said it was in the interest of justice to give the telecoms companies the opportunity to justify their actions.
The judge ordered that hearing notices should be issued on the respondents, while he adjourned till September 17, 2015 for them to appear.
The respondents in the suit are Airtel Nigeria Limited, MTN Nigeria Communications Limited, Etisalat Nigeria and Globacom Limited.