THE Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) and Distribution Companies (DISCOs) yesterday prayed a federal high court in Lagos to hear its application for stay of further proceedings in the suit filed against electricity tariff hike as well as the contempt action initiated against them by a Lagos lawyer.
Counsel to the agencies, Chief Anthony Idigbe (SAN), said since the respondents had lodged an appeal against the decision of the court, which ordered a temporary suspension of the hike pending the determination of the suit, the court should stay further action on the matter.
Idigbe said the application for stay of proceedings should take precedence since an appeal had been lodged.But the applicant, Toluwani Adebiyi, said his contempt application should be heard first since NERC had undermined the court’s authority by going ahead to increase the tariff not minding the subsisting court order.
He said he had filed contempt action against NERC chairman and discos’ managing directors for disobeying the court’s orders, praying the court to commit the alleged contemnors to prison.
In his ruling, the trial judge, Justice Mohammed Idris, who adjourned till Friday for hearing of the application for stay of proceedings, 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 applicant 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, according to him, 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.
“I understand it to be the law that contempt proceedings are criminal in nature and should therefore 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”, he said.
“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.”
The judge also warned the respondents against disobeying subsisting court orders on electricity tariff. He said the government must not act in a way that shows disdain for the court in a constitutional democracy.