The scheduled arraignment of British American Tobacco Nigeria Limited (BATN) and one of its official, Austin Okonji before a Lagos Federal High Court over alleged perversion of cause of justice, suffered a setback due to the absence of BATN’s legal representative.
Consequently, Justice Lewis Allagoa, has fixed October 9, 2021, for their arraignment of both BATN and Okonji.
Both BATN and it’s risk manager, Okonji were charged before the court by Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) for obstructing and impeding the Police and PCCPC’s 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.
FCCPC had alleged that both the BATN and Okonji, committed the alleged offences at their Lagos office, located at 2, Olumegbon Close Ikoyi.
Both BATN and Okonji were slammed with a three-count charge of Conspiracy and perversion cause of justice.
The offences which are contrary to 28(5), 110 of the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Act, 2018 and punishable under the same Act. And section 32(4) of the National Tobacco Control Act, 2015, and punishable under Section 34 (1) and (2)(b) of the same Act.
At the scheduled arraignment of BATN and Okonji, the prosecutor, Tam Tamuno Koibiya, told the court that the business of the day is the arrangement of the defendants, but that since the first defendant (BATN) is not present in court, he would be applying that a not- guilty plea be entered for the for the first defendant, while the second take his plea.
But Professor Taiwo Oshipitan (SAN), coumsel to the second defendant, (Okonji), in his submission told the court the charge is yet to be served on his counsel. Adding that both BATN and the Federal government are negotiating so as to find an amicable resolution of the matter.
The submission which was not opposed prosecutor, as he told the court that there is an ongoing negotiation, but that this does not remove the criminal aspect.
“Crime has been committed my Lord, the negotiation does not affect the criminal trial in any way”, the prosecutor said.
In a Bench ruling, Justice Allagoa said; “since the first defendant is not around there is no way the arrangement could proceed”, he therefore adjourned the matter till October 9, for their arraignment.
The charges against the Defendants read: Count One: “That you British American Tabacco Nigeria Limited and Austin Okonji ‘M’ on Olumegbon Close Ikoyi Lagos State within about the 25th day of January 2021, at No. 2, Olumegbon Close, Ikoyi, Lagos, within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court, did obstruct and impede access to the Authorised Officers of the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission in the execution of a search warrant issued by an Order of the Federal High Court, Abuja Judicial Division made in Suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/1662/2020 on 29th December 2020 and renewed on 5th January 2021, which Warrant was issued pursuant to Sections 2 and 29 of the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Act. 2018 and thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 28(5) of the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Act, 2018 and punishable under the same Act.
Count Two: “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 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.
Count Three: “that you British American Tobacco 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 Authorised 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 committed 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”.