By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA— A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, yesterday, fixed February 3, 2015, to determine the legality of the fiat that was issued by the Attorney-General of the Federation, Mohammed Bello Adoke, for the prosecution of Coca-Cola Nigeria Limited, its Managing Director, Mr Adeola Aderunji, and the Chief Executive of Nigerian Bottling Company, Ben Langat for alleged violation of the Consumers Protection Council Act.
The accused persons had challenged the mandate the AGF gave to a private legal practitioner, Chief Bayo Ojo, to prosecute them, even as they also queried the competence of the charge and the jurisdiction of the court to entertain same.
Meantime, following a directive of the judge on the last adjourned date, Managing Director of Coca-Cola Nigeria Limited, Aderunji, appeared in court yesterday.
Justice Chukwu had insisted that all the accused persons must present themselves before the trial court regardless of the preliminary objections they raised against the charge.
The judge, who described their absence as a sign of disrespect to the court, noted that since his order to serve the charge on the accused persons by pasting the charges in front of their offices have been duly complied with by the Federal Government, “they must appear before me even if they don’t enter the dock”.
However, counsel to the accused persons, Mr. Gbolahan Elias, and Oluseye Opasanya, argued that their clients needed not to be in court since they were challenging both the mandate to prosecute the case and the competence of the charge.
On his part, the prosecutor, Chief Ojo, urged the court to issue a bench warrant against the accused persons to compel their attendance.
The Federal Government had through the office of the AGF, filed the two separate charges against the companies and their senior officials for allegedly breaching certain provisions of the Consumer Protection Council (CPC) Act.
NBC and its MD were said to have committed an offence by violating the orders of the Consumer Protection Council by “deliberately failing, refusing and/or neglecting to comply with the Council’s Orders duly made and served on you and thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 21 of the Consumer Protection Council Act, Cap C. 25, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 and punishable under the same section.”
Meantime, the Nigerian judiciary has been urged to stick to the finest principles of adjudication in the suit between CPC and Coca Cola Nigeria Limited.
Speaking in Abuja yesterday, the co-ordinator of the Society for Social Development and Good Leadership, Mr. Ikenna Agu, maintained that the judiciary had established its reputation as an impartial arbiter and will not be swayed by extra-judicial means in procuring judgments.
Agu said this in reaction to renowned lawyer, Femi Falana’s SAN letter to the global CEO of Coca Cola in which he raised several issues unrelated to the case.