(Lukman Olabiyi, LAGOS)
A Federal High Court (Lagos Division) has warned the Federal Government and Distribution Companies (DISCOs) not to do anything that would amount to disobedience to a court order on the issue of increase in electricity tariff.
Justice Mohammed Idris gave the warning Monday at the resumed hearing of the suit filed by human rights activist Toluwani Adebiyi against the the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission(NERC).
The court warned that the government must not act in a way that shows disdain for the court in a constitutional democracy.
Last year Adebiyi filed the suit seeking a perpetual injunction restraining NERC from implementing any upward review of electricity tariffs without significant improvement in power supply for at least 18 hours a day.
Then, Justice Idris made an order directing parties in the case to maintain status quo.
But, while the suit was pending, NERC announced the tariff hike, disobeying subsisting court orders on electricity tariff.
On Monday Adebiyi informed the court that he has initiated contempt proceedings against NERC chairman and DISCOs’ Managing Directors for disobeying the court’s orders.
The lawyer is praying the court to commit the alleged contemnors to prison.
But NERC’s lawyer, Chief Anthony Idigbe, said he had filed an appeal against the order of the court.
He said he also had a pending application for stay of proceedings pending determination of the appeal.
Reacting, Adebiyi said the contempt charge should be heard first since NERC had undermined the court’s authority.
But Idigbe said the application for stay of proceedings should take precedence since an appeal has been lodged.
Ruling, Justice Idris said after a careful examination of the records of court, there were a number of pending applications to be dispensed with.
Among them is the Form 49 filed by the plaintiff and a motion for leave to serve the purported contemnors through their counsel.
He said there is also an application by second to 12th defendants to set aside the Form 49, as well as an application by NERC challenging the motion on notice for committal.
Also pending is an application to stay further proceedings pending the hearing and determination of the appeal to the Court of Appeal against the orders made on July 23, 2015.
Justice Idris said:
“I understand it to be the law that contempt proceedings are criminal in nature and should therefore ordinarily in the context of our jurisprudence be first dealt with either by the court trying the case when the alleged contempt took place or by another court.
“The purpose of taking contempt proceedings first is to demonstrate to the public that the court being the creation of the Constitution to decide cases between all manners of litigants vide Section 6 of the Constitution should protect its dignity and will neither allow a citizen nor any other arm of government to brazenly do an act that will diminish the powers duly invested by the Constitution and the common law in the administration of justice.
“On the other hand, the basis upon which the contempt application is premised, which is the order that parties maintain status quo ante-bellum, is on appeal, and there is a motion for stay of proceedings in this suit pending appeal.
“It is in the interest of justice, therefore, that this application to stay further proceedings be heard and determined.
“Until then, no further proceedings should go on. I will, therefore, take arguments on the application to stay further proceedings in this suit.”
Justice Idris adjourned till Friday for hearing of the application for stay of proceedings.