A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, yesterday, nullified the sale of telecommunication firm, Etisalat International Nigeria Limited (9mobile) to Teleology Nigeria Limited, with the judge, Justice Binta Nyako, invalidating all steps taken with respect to the exchange of ownership of the defunct Etisalat.
Justice Nyako held that such steps amounted to a nullity since they were taken despite an express order of the court that directed parties to maintain status quo, pending the determination of legal dispute involving investors and other stakeholders in the company.
The judge said there was evidence before the court that parties were aware of the existence of the suit, noting that the defendants were duly served with relevant court processes between April 24 and 27, 2018.
She observed that according to a motion by the plaintiffs on November 16, 2018, change of ownership of the telecommunications company was effected after the parties were notified that the court was already seized of the facts of the matter.
“Any action that had been taken concerning the res(subject matter) of this litigation from April 25, which is earlier in time, should revert to the position, as of the res, to April 25, 2018,” Justice Nyako held.
The ruling followed the suit by two major investors in Etisalat, Afdin Ventures Limited and Dirbia Nigeria Limited.
Afdin and Dirbia, whose investments in Etisalat was estimated at $43,033,950, had sued to retrieve their investments on the premise that they were aggrieved, having been excluded from the decision-making process of the company.
In their supporting affidavit, the plaintiffs, told the court that they resorted to legal action to void the sale of Etisalat, upon learning that the defendants had proceeded to conclude the transfer of ownership of the firm, despite restraining orders that were earlier issued by the court.
According to them, “in 2009, the plaintiffs/applicants purchased a total of 4,303,391 class “A” shares from the 1st, 2nd and 5th defendants (Karlingtton, Premium Telecommunication and Etisalat International) at the rate of $43,033,950 only, and were issued with share certificates.
“In 2010, the defendants rebranded Etisalat Nigeria Limited to 9mobile and entered into negotiations with Smile.com and Glo Network to transfer its licence without recourse to the plaintiffs.
“When the plaintiffs became aware of the purported transaction, they filed this suit along with two applications namely: motion ex-parte and motion on notice, seeking for an order of injunction to restrain the defendants from going ahead with the transaction.
“When this suit came up for hearing on April 17, 2018, this honourable court ordered parties to maintain status quo pending the determination of the motion on notice.
“Notwithstanding the aforementioned order, the defendants continued negotiations with Smile.com and Glo Network in defiance to the subsisting order of this court.
“When the plaintiffs/applicants discovered that the defendants were bent on selling Etisalat Nigeria Limited “rebranded 9moile” despite the subsisting order of court, they instructed their Counsel Mahmud A. Magaii (SAN) to write and caution the defendants of the implications of their actions.
“Upon receipt of the above letters, the 3rd and 4rd respondents (First Bank and Central Bank), through their counsel Olaniwun Aiayi wrote to the applicants, through their counsel on August 24 and August 31, 2018, denying the existing of the order of status quo made by this honourable court on April 17, 2018 and August 13, 2018.
“When this matter come up on October 10, 2018, counsel to the plaintiff Okechukwu Edeze, informed the court of the attempts made by the defendants to sell Etisalat Nigeria Limited.
“Consequently, this honourable court made another order of status quo, directing parties to refrain from tampering with the subject matter of the suit.
“Despite the orders of this honourable court made in October 10, 2018, the defendants went ahead and sold Etisalat Nigeria Limited, rebranded 9moible to Teleology Nigeria Limited with impunity.
“It will be in the interest of justice to set aside the sale of Etisalat Nigeria limited rebranded 9mobile to Teleology Nigeria Limited and commit the defendants to prison for disobeying the lawful orders of the court.”