A Lagos Division of the Federal High Court on Tuesday rejected a preliminary objection filed by the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami, seeking to dismiss the N3 billion suit filed by mobile telecommunications giant, MTN, against the Nigerian government.
At the last hearing in March, Tijani Gazali, counsel to the AGF, sought a dismissal of the suit, arguing that the failure of MTN to file the suit within three months of the cause of action had robbed the court the jurisdiction to entertain the matter.
According to the AGF, the plaintiff (MTN) instituted the suit in disregard to Section 2 of the Public Officers Protection Act – which provides that any action against a public officer must be made within three months from the commencement of the cause of action.
But Wole Olanipekun, counsel to MTN, urged the judge to dismiss the AGF’s objection for being frivolous.
Olanipekun, a SAN, says the AGF’s preliminary objection was filed out of time and, therefore, null and void since he did not apply for an extension of time.
In his ruling, the judge notes that using “a simple calculation” from when the AGF wrote the final letter in August and September 2018, it cannot be said that MTN filed the suit outside the three months prescribed by law.
“Subsequently, the preliminary objection is misconceived and accordingly dismissed with no order as to cost.”
The judge adjourns till June 26 for the hearing of the substantive case.
MTN had filed a suit last year challenging the AGF’s claims of unpaid import duties and withholding taxes between 2007 and 2017 amounting to N242 billion and $1.3 billion.
The South Africa-based firm demanded N3 billion as general and exemplary damages and legal costs.
Last January, the company and the Nigerian government had agreed to an out-of-court settlement in a separate suit in which the government accused the company of illegally repatriating $8.1 billion out of the country.