Abuse of court process: NBC/Coca Cola Challenge CPC

By Melvin Awolowo

There are strong indications that the duo of the Nigerian Bottling Company and Coca Cola Nigeria may have challenged the recent court case instituted by the office of the Attorney General of the Federation against both companies, on the grounds that it amounts to an abuse of court process. The court case is apparently on the prompting of the Consumer Protection Council which alleged that the companies violated orders which it issued to the companies last February. Both companies have however asserted that they had last February applied for a judicial review of the CPC's orders. The said judicial review is still pending in the courts.

Documents obtained from the Federal High Court in Abuja reveal that both companies filed an injunction this week, asking the court to restrain the Attorney General of the Federation and his agents from further pressing the charges proffered against both companies.

Last February, the Consumer Protection Council had addressed an elaborate press conference, where it informed the media that it had received customer complaints of two short-filled cans of Sprite. On the basis of this, it excoriated the Coca Cola Company and its bottlers and made sundry accusations against them. Thereafter, it issued a long list of orders including asking the companies to subject their manufacturing processes to its oversight for a specified period of time.

Interestingly, food and beverage manufacturing, the industrial sector to which both companies belong, is already actively regulated by the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, NAFDAC and the Standards Organization of Nigeria, SON, among others. None of these core regulators, both of which have functional laboratories with which to make definitive conclusions on product quality, have raised any complaint whatsoever on the quality of the products churned out by the Coca Cola companies.

Many perceptive observers have also lamented what they perceive to be a “storm in a tea cup” over an otherwise simple issue of two cans of soft drink which were not sufficiently full. Alani Ojo, a soap producer in Ota, stated that anyone familiar with manufacturing knows that for a factory producing possibly more than 10,000 cans of soft drink every hour, it is not impossible for one or two cans to be short-filled or over-filled.

The two companies proceeded to court to seek a judicial review of the CPC's orders, in the aftermath of the CPC pronouncement last February.

However, while the courts are yet to make a ruling on the said judicial review, the CPC, issued a press statement over the weekend in which it stated that the AGF had charged both companies and their Managing Directors to court. The two companies were to release a joint press statement to indicate that as at the time the CPC press statements were running in the media, they had yet to be served with the necessary court summons.

Feelers from the Federal High Court in Abuja indicate that the two companies proceeded to file an injunction restraining the AGF from proceeding with the case, on the basis of the newspaper publications, even though they had yet to be served with the court papers.

Called to comment on the matter, the spokespeople of NBC and CCNL, the head of communications of NBC and the head of corporate communications of Coca Cola Company, declined comments on the pretext that it is the subject of a court case.

It is not clear whether the court case will go ahead on November 4 as announced or whether the courts will grant the injunction sought by Nigerian Bottling Company and Coca Cola Company Nigeria, requesting that the case be put on hold until the judicial review of the CPC orders issued last February, is undertaken and finalized.