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Appeal court affirms N4.888b judgment against Airtel

Tue, 13 Oct 2020 Source: The Nation

The Court of Appeal, Lagos, has upheld the judgment of a Lagos State High Court, which ordered Airtel Networks Limited to pay N4,888,434,208.92 to a telephony products and services distributor, Plus Limited.

In a lead judgment delivered by Justice Festus Obande Ogbuinya, the appellate court dismissed Airtel’s three grounds of appeal against the lower court judgment delivered by Justice O.A. Williams of the Lagos High Court.

Justice Ogbuinya’s judgment was consented to by Justices Ugochukwu Ogakwu and Balkisu Aliyu, who were also on the panel.

In the July 24, 2020 judgment, a copy of which was recently obtained, the appellate court dismissed Airtel’s contention that the suit, marked LD/487/2012, which Plus Limited filed to recover the N4.8billion debt, was statute-barred.

The appellate court also disagreed with Airtel that the Lagos High Court judge perverted justice in the matter.

Justice Ogbuinya, in the judgment, agreed that Airtel, in 2001, engaged and appointed Plus Limited as a trade partner and distributor of its telecommunication services, i.e. Airtel’s pre-paid products.

Plus claimed that it discharged the obligation as required and was entitled to N4.8billion in commissions, bonuses and incentives, among others, as determined by a forensic audit it carried out.

It later sued Airtel, through its lawyer, Dotun Oduwobi, seeking the recovery of the N4.8billion claim, following the termination of the contract with it by Airtel.

In its defence, Airtel, through its counsel, A. A. Olatunji (SAN), contended that the suit was statute-barred and cited Section 8 of the Limitation Law of Lagos State, which stipulated that a suit must be filed within six years of the cause of action.

But the Court of Appeal, while upholding the lower court’s decision, noted that the cause of action arose on May 25, 2011, with a letter from Airtel terminating its contract with Plus, while the suit was filed on March 2012.

Justice Ogbuinya held: “By the Gregorian calendar computation, from May 2011 to March 2012 is a period of 10 months. It cannot be gainsaid that the period of 10 months is far less than the six years time frame decreed by the provision of Section 8 of the Limitation Law of Lagos State.”

Justice Ogbuinya said: “The foregoing dissection, with due reverence, exposes the poverty of the learned appellant’s senior counsel’s dazzling argument on the stubborn issue. It is lame and cannot fly.”

The upper court dismissed the contention of Airtel that Justice William’s judgment was perverse.

Justice Ogbuinya said: “The judgment of the lower court, which is submissive to comprehension, is not antithetical to the pleadings and evidence presented before it by the feuding parties.

“At the same time, the lower court did not import alien/foreign matters into the judgment. It utilised the evidence the parties presented before it. The finding does not, in the least, smell of any charge of perversity levelled against it by the appellant.”

Dismissing the entire pleadings in the appeal filed by Airtel, Justice Ogbuinya said: “Having resolved the three issues against the appellant, the destiny of the appeal is obvious. It is devoid of any morsel of merit and deserves the penalty of dismissal. Consequently, I dismiss this appeal. I affirm the judgment of the lower court delivered on 4th October 2016.”

Unsatisfied with the Court of Appeal’s decision, Airtel has appealed at the Supreme Court.

Source: The Nation