It was an anti-climax at the Federal High Court in Abuja yesterday, as the presiding judge in the criminal charges filed by the Consumer Protection Council (CPC) through the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) against Nigerian Bottling Company Limited and Coca-Cola Nigeria Limited and their respective managing directors was absent in court for undisclosed reasons, resulting in an adjournment to December 1, 2014.

The courtroom was already filled as early as 8.00am 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 morning, the prosecutor had still not effected service of the summons on either Mr. 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 carryout substituted service on the two accused persons by pasting the summons on their last known residential addresses.

The prosecutor’s seeming unwillingness to effect service on the two accused persons raises more questions on an already very controversial case. It would be recalled that following its investigation of a consumer complaint involving “two short-filled cans of Sprite”, the CPC had in February 2014 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.

However, both companies disagreed with the investigation report and the consequent orders and therefore applied to the federal high court for 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 and the council has since followed up the action with extensive media publicity.  

There was much expectation that yesterday’s scheduled hearing will kick-start this landmark case which, it is hoped, would decide the interesting question as to whether an appeal for judicial review of CPC’s “order in council” amounted to a criminal violation or disobedience of such orders. 

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.