Court stops MTN, ATC from congesting environment with radio base stations

In a victory for environmental activists, a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos, has restrained a Nigerian telecommunications giant, MTN Nigeria Communications Plc and its associate, the ATC Nigeria Wireless Infrastructure Ltd, a fully owned subsidiary of the US based American Tower, from overcrowding the environment with base stations pending the determination of the motion on notice for interlocutory injunction.

Trial judge, Justice Y Bogoro initially issued the order on November 21, 2023, and reaffirmed it on December 7, 2023, when the case of HEDA vs FMEEM & 4 Ors, with suit number FHC/L/CS/2359/2023, came up for hearing.

HEDA Resource Centre, a Nigerian civil society group active in promoting sustainable development and protection of the environment, in what it termed a public interest case, had gone to the court, praying for an injunction to stop MTN Nigeria and ATC Nigeria from siting new base stations where there are already existing base stations in close proximity, citing health and environmental concerns.

At the hearing in the matter, the judge upheld the prayers of the plaintiff/applicant, the Incorporated Trustees of the HEDA Resource Centre and ordered the 4th and 5th defendants, ATC Nigeria and MTN respectively, together with their “servants, agents, privies and/or assigns from commencing, continuing or completing the construction or erection or installation of any base trans-receiver stations/towers/masts (BTS) within close proximity to IHS’ existing BTS or operating any BTS within close proximity to IHS’ existing BTS pending the determination of the motion on notice for interlocutory injunction.”

The judge also ordered the “5th defendant, (MTN) whether by its servants, agents, privies and/or assigns from moving, relocating, transferring any of its telecommunication equipment to any BTS site being or has been constructed, erected or built by the 4th defendant (ATC), which is in close proximity to the IHS’ existing BTS pending the determination of the motion on notice for interlocutory injunction.”

This effectively puts on hold the implementation of the relocation of 2,500 towers project from IHS to ATC announced by MTN recently until the judge further hears from the parties on February 14, 2024.

During the proceedings, the counsel to MTN Nigeria, Prof. Fabian Ajogwu, SAN, moved his motion to set aside the ex parte order and filed a further affidavit and Rrply to HEDA’s counter-affidavit.

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Also, the counsel to ATC Nigeria, Nicholas Okafor sought to move his preliminary objection, which he filed the previous day but the court did not hear it as there was no proof that the said motion was served on the plaintiff/applicant or any other party in the suit.

Mr Kunle Adegoke, SAN, representing HEDA urged the court to direct parties to the dispute to maintain status quo ante pending the rulings of the court.

The granted the prayer and directed counsel to all the other parties to prevail on their clients on the need to maintain status quo.

Responding, Prof Ajogwu argued that he is law abiding but HEDA’s counsel responded that the concern was not with counsel but their clients, MTN and ATC, who the NGO suspects was proceeding with work despite the injunctive order.

The hearing was subsequently adjourned till February 14, 2024, for further consideration.
According to Adegoke, SAN, the ruling of the court was in favour of people’s health and environmental sustainability.

He noted that these were the major reasons the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, and the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency, NESREA, were set up a set of guidelines for the location of base stations by telecommunication operators and infrastructure companies.

He explained that, going by the ruling, the ex parte injunctions subsist, at least, till February 14, 2024, when the court is expected to rule on the motions pending before it.

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