Appeal Court Upholds N4.8bn Judgment Debt Against Airtel

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The Court of Appeal, Lagos Division, has upheld an October 4, 2016 judgment of the Lagos State High Court, which ordered Airtel Networks Limited to pay a debt of N4,888,434,208.92 to a telephony products and services distributor, Plus Limited.

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

In the July 24, 2020 judgment, a copy of which our correspondent obtained on Wednesday, the Court of Appeal dismissed Airtel’s contention that the suit, marked LD/487/2012, which Plus Limited filed to recover the N4.8bn debt, was statute-barred.

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

As explained in the judgment by Justice Ogbuinya, Airtel, in 2001, engaged and appointed Plus Limited as a trade partner and distributor of its pre-paid products.

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

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

But Airtel, in defence by its lawyer, A.A. Olatunji (SAN), contended, among other things, that the suit was statute-barred, citing 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 in upholding the lower court’s verdict, the Court of Appeal noted that the cause of action arose on May 25, 2011, with a letter from Airtel terminating its contract with Plus Limited, 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.”

Chiding Airtel’s lawyer, Justice Ogbuinya added, “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.”

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