Nigerian court declines bench warrant against Coca cola chiefs

Nnamdi Felix / Abuja

A federal high court in Abuja on Tuesday refused the request made by the Nigerian government to issue bench warrants against chief executive officers of Nigerian Bottling Company and Coca-Cola Nigeria Limited following their non-appearance before the court.

The Managing Director of Coca-Cola Nigeria Limited, Chief Adeola Adetunji and the Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Bottling Company, Mr. Ben Langat, were yet to be served with their charges personally as required by the law in criminal trials but their respective companies had been served. They were expected to represent their respective companies in the suit but both failed to show up on the ground that they are yet to receive copies of their alleged crimes.

Following their non appearance in court, the prosecutor, Chief Bayo Ojo, a senior advocate of Nigeria and former Attorney General of the federation who was hired by the federal government to prosecute the case, applied that a bench warrant be issued against Adetunji and Langat to compel their appearance and described their absence as disobedience and disrespect for the court.

Counsel to the accused persons however objected to the issuance of bench warrant since their clients had not been personally served with the charges. Mr. Gabriel Elias who represented Coca-Cola told the court that the application for bench warrant was premature and that his clients had filed a preliminary objection challenging the jurisdiction of the court to try the case.

Mr. Oluseye Opasanya, a senior advicate of Nigeria, who represented NBC informed the court that he’s challenging the appearance of Bayo Ojo, a private prosecutor in the case since the charge against his client was signed by the Director of Public Prosecution in the Federal Ministry of Justice.

The trial judge, Justice Evoh Stephen Chukwu, declined to issue bench warrant against the chief executives but ordered that the charge be pasted in the premises of the two companies to enable the chief executives to become aware of the charges against them. He subsequently adjourned further hearing on the matter to 10th November, when the accused persons would have been served with the charges as directed.

The chief executives, alongside their companies are facing charges which bordered on infraction of the Consumer Protection Council Act. They were alleged 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.