Mobile phone operator Safaricom has been sued by some of its subscribers for charging interest on its emergency airtime service, Okoa Jahazi.In a suit filed at the High Court in Nairobi on 17th May 843 Safaricom subscribers – led by Nairobi residents Arshford Koome and Eric Kithingi – argue that the leading mobile operator is not a licensed lender and the credit facility is not regulated by any banking or financial law.
The applicants had earlier in February this year filed the petition on Safaricom and the Ministry of ICT under which mobile telecommunication operators fall.In the petition, and subsequent case, filed through Mutwiri Arimi & Company Advocates, the petitioners say the credit platform charges an interest rate of 10% of the requested “as if it’s a banking institution, literally translating into 120% p.a. interest.”
They argue that OKOA Jahazi (loosely translating to “emergency saviour”) credit is deducted from subscribers’ airtime purchases upfront contrary to banking laws.
They are seeking compensation for the illegally charged interest and breach of their consumer and constitutional rights. The other argument is that Safaricom rolled out Okoa Jahazi without published terms and conditions, thereby exposing users to indiscriminate tariff/airtime charges and other adversities.
If it goes to full hearing, it will be a precedent setting consumer case in the fast-growing mobile industry. A favourable ruling for the applications could expose Safaricom, which recently announced a net profit of Ksh45 billion, to a huge compensation bill for those of its nearly 30 million subscribers who have used the service.
They conclude that based on this, OKOA Jahazi is operating illegally. Safaricom is yet to reply to this suit.
The case seeks to have a forensic audit of OKOA Jahazi and declaration of the platform is illegal and unconscionable as well as a predatory scheme on low-income mobile consumers.
Okoa Jahazi is a service by Safaricom that lets you access airtime on credit and pay later. Considering the fact that most of us have at one point desperately needed airtime but were unable to purchase some due to one reason or the other, this service is helpful at such times.