Law News
Electricity Tariffs: Court Warns NERC against Disobeying Order

Justice Mohammed Idris of the Federal High Court in Lagos yesterday warned the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) and Distribution Companies (Discos) against disobeying subsisting court orders on electricity tariffs.

He said the NERC must not act in a way that  whould show disdain for the court in a constitutional democracy.
Justice Idris said: “The point must be made that obedience to the rule of law by all citizens but more particularly those who publicly take the oath of office to protect and preserve the constitution is decideratum to good governance and respect for rule of law. In a constitutional democratic society like ours, this is meant to be the norm.

“It is an act of apostasy for government to ignore the provisions of the law and the necessary rules meant to regulate matters.
“I must say it loud and clear that the government of this country shall be a government of laws and not of men.”
Protests by labour unions had trailed the new power tariff approved by the NERC.

An activist and lawyer, Toluwani Adebiyi, had last year filed a suit seeking a perpetual injunction restraining the NERC from implementing any upward review of electricity tariff without significant improvement in power supply for at least 18 hours a day.
Justice Idris made an order directing the parties in the suit to maintain status quo.

But, while the suit was pending, the NERC announced a hike in tariffs.
Yesterday, Adebiyi informed the court that he had initiated contempt proceedings against NERC chairman and the DISCOs’ Managing Directors for disobeying the court’s orders.

The lawyer prayed the court to commit the alleged contemnors to prison.
But NERC’s lawyer, Chief Anthony Idigbe (SAN), said he had filed an appeal against the order by Justice Idris.
He said he also had a pending application for stay of proceedings pending  the determination of the appeal.

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 had been lodged.
In his 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 was the Form 49 filed by the plaintiff and a motion for leave to serve the purported contemnors through their counsel.
He said there was also an application by the 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 was 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 a 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 arms 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.

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