Again! Court Fixes Feb. 21, For Further Hearing Of Criminal Charges Against British America Tobacco, Other

Justice Ambrose Lewis-Allagoa of a Lagos Federal High Court, has further adjourned till February 21, 2023, further  hearing of Criminal charges filed against the British American Tobacco Nigeria Limited (BATN) and one of its official, Austin Okonji.

Justice Lewis-Allagoa fixed the new date, today, after Professor Taiwo Osipitan (SAN), counsel to BATN and his official, told the court that parties are still looking for way of settling the matter amicably.
 BATN and Okonji were dragged before the court by the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) on a three count-charge of Conspiracy and perversion cause of justice.

FCCPC had accused the defendants of alleged obstructing and impeding the Police and its officials from executing a search warrant issued by an Abuja division of the Court, in a suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/1662/2020 issued on December 29, 2020 and renewed on January 5, 2021. 

They were alleged to have committed the alleged offences at their Lagos offices , located at 2, Olumegbon Close Ikoyi.

The offences according to the prosecution contravened 28(5), 110 of the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Act, 2018 and punishable under the same Act. 

FCCPC also said the offence contravened section 32(4) of the National Tobacco Control Act, 2015, and punishable under Section 34 (1) and (2)(b) of the same Act. 

At today’s hearing of the charge, Professor Osipitan (SAN), pleaded with the court for a short adjournment, saying that the prosecutor and his clients are exploring means of settling the matter amicably.

Osipitan (SAN) informed the judge that parties were at the tail end of settlement talks.

But Justice Lewis-Allagoa sought to know whether the lawyer meant plea bargain rather than settlement.

When the lawyer assured him that it was settlement talks, the judge wondered how parties in a criminal matter could be said to settling the same issue, when settlement talks are for civil matters

Though, there was no legal representation from the prosecution, but Justice who expressed displeasure with the development, grudgingly acceded to the counsel Professor’s request

The judge consequently adjourned the matter till February 21, 2023, for further hearing.

Since 2021, when the charge was before the court, both BATN and it’s official are yet to take their plea.

The three counts charge against BATN and his official read: “That you British American Tobacco Nigeria Limited and Austin Okonji ‘M’ on or about the 25th day of January 2021, at No. 2, Olumegbon Close Ikoyi, Lagos State within the jurisdiction of this honourable Court did impede und obstruct Investigation by the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission when execution of a search, warrant issued by an Order of the Federal High Court, Abuja Judicial Division made in Suit No. FHC/AB/CS/1662/2020 on 23 December 2020 and renewed on 5 January 2021, which Warrant was issued pursuant to Sections 27, 28, and 29 of the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection on Act, 2018 and thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 110 of the Federal Competition Consumer Protection and punishable under Section 110 of the Act. 

That you British American Tobacen Nigeria Limlted and Austin Okonji, on or about the 25th day of January 5 2021, at No.2 Olumeghon Close Ikoyi, Lagos State, within the Jurisdiction of this Honourable Court having a business and being an employee in the tobacco industry did hinder the police and Authorized Officers of the Federal Competition end Consumer Protection Commission under Section 20 (1)(a) and (f) of the National Tabacco Regulation, 20 9 in the course of carrying out their duties and thereby commun tted an offence contrary to Sections 32(4) of the National Tobacco Control Act, 2015, and punishable under Section 34 (1) and (2)(b) of the same Act.”