CPC vs. Coca-Cola: Court Adjourns ‎Ruling for 3rd February, 2015

By Melvin Awolowo

A Federal High Court in Abuja has adjourned ruling on whether the fiat issued by the Attorney General of the Federation Mohammed Adoke, SAN to Chief Bayo Ojo, SAN‎ to prosecute Coca-Cola Nigeria Limited, its Managing Director, Mr Adeola Adetunji, and the Chief Executive of Nigerian Bottling Company, Ben Langat ‎for alleged breach of the Consumers Protection Council Act was proper to February 3rd, 2015 for.

Langat and Adetunji appeared in court as a mark of respect for the court and in line with the directive of the court.‎ Langat flew in from Nairobi, Kenya to attend the proceeding.

Ruling was adjourned in spite of the presence of the executives. The trial judge's ruling on the preliminary hearing on the legality of the fiat to prosecute the company was not ready. ‎Justice Elvis Chukwu had fixed 18th of December, 2014 for ruling to decide the competence and authority of Ojo to prosecute the case. The court registrar informed counsel and parties in the matter that the ruling was not ready. The court consequently fixed February 3, 2015 for the ruling.

‎They are also challenging the competence of the charge and the jurisdiction of the court to entertain the charge. ‎At the last adjourned date, counsel to the accused persons , Gbolahan Elias SAN for Coca-Cola and its Chief Executive and Oluseyi Ope Santa, SAN for NBC and its Chief Executive were about to move their application objecting to the suit when the prosecution counsel, informed the court that the accused persons were not present in court.

The office of the Attorney General of the Federation had instituted two separate criminal suits against Coca-Cola, NBC alongside their Chief Executives over alleged ‎violation of CPC Act.

The defendants are challenging the mandate given to Bayo Ojo, SAN by the Attorney General of the Federation to prosecute them for alleged violation of the Consumers Protection Council Act.

Counsel to the accused persons contended that the accused persons needed not to be in court since they were challenging the mandate to prosecute the case and the competence of the charge.

But the prosecution counsel, Chief Bayo Ojo, SAN told the court that criminal trial could not commence without ‎the presence of the accused persons. He also reminded the court that the order to paste the charges on the front wall of the accused offices had been complied with and that the accused ought to be in court.

The trial judge however insisted that the accused persons must appear in court before he would hear the objections.

Moving their applications, both Elias and Opesanya prayed the court to disqualify Ojo from prosecuting the matter on ground that he is the counsel to CPC in a matter pending before a Lagos High Court where NBC is seeking judicial review of CPC's decision on the subject matter.

‎Meanwhile, Nigerian judiciary has been urged to stick to the finest principles of adjudication in the suit between the Consumer Protection Council and Coca Cola Nigeria Limited.

Speaking in Abuja, the co-ordinator of the Society for Social Development and Good Leadership, Ikenna Agu stated 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.

"Falana went on to pronounce Coca Cola guilty even when he is fully aware that there is a subsisting case in court. Making such statements is tantamount to attempting to sway the judiciary and make the CPC's case better than it is. Falana should allow the parties that are already in court continue with the judicial process without seeking to unduly influence its outcome,” Agu added.

The CPC is currently embroiled in a legal battle with Coca Cola and its bottler, the Nigerian Bottling Company, over a consumer complaint which bothers on a manufacturing defect on the filling of two cans of Sprite soft. The CPC thereafter slammed a fine of N100million on both Coca Cola and NBC, a matter which the beverage companies are contesting in court. According to the CPC, N60million is for investigating the two half-filled cans of Sprite and the balance N40million as civil penalties. The consumer will be paid N50,000.

“Rather than hound companies operating in Nigeria, government agencies such as the CPC should strive to ensure that businesses meet their obligations while ensuring that the interest of the consumer is protected. This can be done without going overboard, as it is with CPC requiring Coca Cola to pay N100million for a manufacturing defect on filling of two cans of Sprite out of a massive production batch,” said Agu.