Lagos - The Nigerian Bottling Company Limited and Coca-Cola Nigeria Limited appeared to make a mockery of the handling of a criminal probe the Consumer Protection Council (CPC) has filed against them at the Federal High Court in Abuja.
A statement described the probe as an “anticlimax” as the presiding judge in the criminal charges was absent in court for undisclosed reasons, resulting in an adjournment to December 1.
According to reports, earlier this week, the courtroom was filled by various interested parties, including the media and industry representatives as well as an array of high profile lawyers, among them, a former Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Chief Bayo Ojo, who is both a counsel to CPC and also holding brief for the AGF as prosecutor in the case.
“In another surprising twist, as at yesterday (Monday) morning, the prosecutor had still not effected service of the summons on either Adeola Adetunji, Managing Director of Coca-Cola Nigeria Limited or Mr Ben Langat, Managing Director of Nigerian Bottling Company Limited, despite the order given by the presiding judge, Justice S.O. Chukwu when the matter first came up for hearing on November 3, directing the prosecutor to carry out substituted service on the two accused persons by pasting the summons on their last known residential addresses,” the accused firms said in a statement.
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“The prosecutor’s seeming unwillingness to effect service on the two accused persons raises more questions on an already very controversial case,” read a statement.
Following its investigation of a consumer complaint involving “two short-filled cans of Sprite”, the CPC had in February this year ordered both companies to subject their manufacturing processes to its inspection over a period of 12 months and also pay amounts totaling more than N100 million as fines, cost of investigation and compensation to the aggrieved consumer.
“In an unusual move, the report of the investigation and the orders issued by the CPC were publicized by the council at a press conference shortly after the investigation.”
Both companies disagreed with the investigation report and the consequent orders and therefore applied to the Federal High Court judicial review of the CPC orders.
“This move appeared to have rankled the CPC which, in turn, slammed criminal charges about four weeks ago on the two companies and their respective managing directors, alleging violation of the council’s orders,” read a statement.
There was much expectation this week’s scheduled hearing would kick-start this landmark case which, it is hoped, would decide as to whether an appeal for judicial review of CPC’s “order in council” amounted to a criminal violation or disobedience.
“It would appear that both the CPC and the prosecutor have started this case on a wrong footing by their apparent preference for ‘jankara’ tactics of ambush prosecution. If the court had sat on the matter yesterday, it would have been interesting to hear the prosecutor’s reason for the failure to serve the two managing directors with the summons, nearly one month after the case was filed and despite the express orders to that effect by the presiding judge more than a week ago,” a statement in possession of this publication, made available by the brewer and the bottling company, read.
– CAJ News