Monday, February 29, 2016 8:57 pm
A Federal High Court in Lagos on Monday, dismissed a contempt suit against the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) over alleged disobedience of its order.
A lawyer and human rights activist, Mr Toluwani Adebiyi, had filed the suit, challenging the hike in electricity tariff.
He had sought an order of court, committing NERC’s Chairman and the Chief Executive Officers of the Distribution Companies (Discos) to prison for allegedly flouting a subsisting order of the court.
Justice Mohammed Idris had on May 28, 2015, directed NERC to suspend all actions relating to any increment in electricity tariff pending the determination of a suit filed by Adebiyi.
Adebiyi had argued that despite the subsisting order, NERC in conjunction with the Electricity Distribution Companies commenced the implementation of the new electricity tariff on Feb.1, 2016.
He said the implementation of the new tariff by the defendants indicated that the substantive suit meant nothing to them.
Delivering his ruling on Monday, Justice Idris held that the procedure for committing a party for contempt outside the face of the court must be strictly adhered.
“Before a party can be committed for contempt it must be shown that he is aware of the order or judgment because a person cannot be said to be in contempt of an order he is not aware of.
“The best way to notify the alleged contemnor of the pending order or judgment is to serve him with the order personally.
“In the light of the law, it is clear in this case that the purported service of form 49 without service of form 48 is premature.
“In the circumstances, I hold that the defendant’s objection have merit. The form 49 and the motion for order for committal are hereby set aside,’’ he said
Idris held that he set aside the contempt proceeding due to procedural irregularities.
“However, let me warn that where the disciplinary jurisdiction of this court is properly invoked, anyone found to have neglected the order of court will be dealt with.
“Those who intend to take the judicial system for a ride should think twice and those who have done so should retrace their steps.
“To be fore warned, is to be fore armed; this is the ruling of the court,’’ he said
Idris then adjourned the case to March 15 for hearing.
Adebiyi, in the substantive suit, is seeking an order restraining NERC from implementing any upward review of electricity tariff without a significant improvement in power supply.
He also wants an order restraining NERC from foisting compulsory service charge on pre-paid meters, until the meters are designed to read charges per second of consumption.