HOW MTN CUSTOMER TRIED TO MAKE A WINDFALL FOR ALLEGED LINE DISRUPTION BUT FAILED: LESSONS

The Nigerian Communications Commission Act (NCCA) was passed to protect the rights and interests of service providers and consumers within Nigeria. The NCCA created the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) as a regulatory agency with the mandate to protect and promote the interests of consumers against unfair practices including but not limited to matters relating to tariffs and charges for and the availability and quality of communications service, equipment and facilities.

The NCC issued the Consumer Code Practice Regulations containing extensive provisions for complaint handling processes and procedure, where consumers are dissatisfied/aggrieved with services provided by a service provider (licensee). In addition, there are also provisions for escalation to the NCC where the service provider fails to address the written complaint of a customer. In effect, a customer is expected to first of all resort to a domestic resolution of the complaint through the mechanism of the NCC before approaching the courts.

Even when the dispute is taken to court by the consumer, supplying evidence in proof of the allegations is paramount. In other words, it is not enough to merely show evidence of complaints lodged. More so, any random claim for monetary compensation without concrete proof would be roundly refused. This was the situation in a recently decided case of Obe v. MTN Nigeria Communications Ltd. [2021] 18 NWLR (Pt. 1809) 415 where a customer of MTN claimed a whopping sum of 100 Million Naira as damages from MTN. A brief account of the story is narrated below.

Obe v. MTN

Mr. Alechenu Ad’Obe Obe was a post-paid customer of MTN with a credit limit of N140,605.39. He lodged complaints with MTN about the alleged disruption or blocking of his mobile line. He eventually filed an action in court claiming 100 Million Naira as damages for the alleged losses he suffered. According to him, he lost over 2,000 contacts which he built in almost a decade; loss of contact with his family and colleagues both in Nigeria and in the UK (because the line was his only means of communication); loss of business, arising from his inability to reach or be reached by his professional business and family associates which he built as Special Adviser to the President since 1999. He also claimed that MTN did considerable damage and incalculable harm to his family, business and official life as a result of the disruption of his line.

Mr. Obe’s case failed at the trial Court, Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. He was left in the cold to rue his attempt to make a windfall from the telecom giant without any legal basis. At page 444 of the report, Oseji, JSC was emphatic:

…The Appellant [Mr. Alechenu Ad’Obe Obe] did not adduce any evidence to prove the fact that his line was actually disrupted or blocked by the Respondent [MTN]. No call logs were produced to show the absence of use of his number during the period he complained about, neither did he show that any notice to produce same was served on the Respondent. The Appellant’s complaint that he could not use his roaming facility while abroad was not also supported by any evidence in proof thereof by way of flight tickets or his international passport. There was no iota of evidence in proof of his allegation that the Respondent did considerable and incalculable harm to his family, business, and official life as a result of the disruption of his telephone line. No single witness was called to testify on the efforts made in reaching the Appellant either for business, family or official transactions and which failed efforts caused any damage to the Appellant, either financially or emotionally. The same goes for the 2,000 phone contacts he alleged to have lost because of the disruption or blocking of his line.

In his opinion, Abubakar, JSC stated (at page 459):

Where Appellant’s claim in an action is adjudged to be a sham and firmly rooted in a calculated design to embark on gold-digging, such claim must be dismissed with speed.

Accordingly, the Supreme Court had no difficulty in unanimously dismissing the Appellant’s appeal with speed.



Stephen Azubuike
Author: Stephen Azubuike
Stephen is a lawyer with expertise in Commercial Dispute Resolution and Technology Law practice. He is a Partner at Infusion Lawyers. He has successfully argued cases from the High Courts of various jurisdictions to the Appellate Courts on behalf of financial institutions, other corporate bodies and multinationals. He has advised a number of both established and startup tech companies. He tweets @siazubuike.

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09079024002 stephenlegalblog@gmail.com info@stephenlegal.ng

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