POLICE PATRONAGE IN COMMERCIAL DISPUTES IN NIGERIA: BURDEN OR BENEFITS?

In my view, the 1st Respondent rightly described the NB PLC’s letter as: ‘unkind, malicious, wicked and unfounded.’ I see the regrettable action of the NB PLC as being in line with the unfortunate pervading culture of impunity sprouting energetically in this Country. – Court of Appeal’s judgement in NB PLC V. AKPERASHI & ANOR. (2019) LPELR-47267.

INTRODUCTION

Our growing culture – individually, organizationally or governmentally – of wantonly patronizing Nigerian Police and other law enforcement agents in any commercial disputes informed the Court of Appeal’s observation in year 2019 that Nigerian Brewery PLC’s (the “NB Plc”) action of wrongfully setting Nigerian Police Force against Chief John Akperashi (“Mr. Akperashi”) results from “unfortunate pervading culture of impunity sprouting energetically in this Country.”

As a result of this, our State or Federal Governments are prone to deploy officers of Department of State Security Services or Nigerian Police to wrestle dispute resolution or settlement from its vendors or suppliers in any commercial transactions.

Nigerian Police, in view of its battered image and our respective State or federal governments’ efforts to employ cosmetics at all cost instead of resorting to truth-telling contributes to the pervading culture of impunity, at all social levels, in Nigeria.

But, Nigerian Courts are consistent that anyone who sets any machinery of law enforcement in motion against a Nigerian or resident, in respect of a civil wrong is liable to compensate his victim.

In fact, the argument that the Police acted in its course of duty would not avail you in such circumstance except in the face of clear reasonable suspicion of criminal behaviour.

LAW ENFORCEMENT IN CIVIL WRONGS

In NB PLC V. AKPERASHI & ANOR. (2019) LPELR-47267, Mr. Akperashi was the applicant at Federal High Court, Makurdi, and NB PLC and the Commissioner of Police were 2nd and 1st defendants respectively.

Chiefly, Mr. Akperashi had entered into a Brand Exclusivity Agreement with NB PLC dated 23.12.2013 that required Mr. Akperashi to exclusively promote and sell NB PLC’s alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages (the “Agreement”).

NB PLC also supplied a 100KVA generator and other items to Mr. Akperashi for business use (the “Items”). Under the Agreement, NB PLC reserved right to terminate the contract in the event Mr. Akperashi breached any of its terms and Mr. Akperashi had the duty to deliver the Items to NB PLC.

The Agreement allowed NB PLC to enter into Mr. Akperashi’s business premises to recover possession of the Items. NB PLC who alleged that Mr. Akperashi breached the Agreement, terminated the Agreement in writing and Mr. Akperash challenged its ground for terminating the Agreement and reasonably requested amicable resolution.

In response to Mr. Akperashi’s request, NB PLC brokered Nigerian Police through its Commissioner of Police, Makurdi, to assist it to recover possession of the Items. NB PLC delivered to Nigerian Police, copies of the Agreement and the parties’ correspondences. – Nigerian Police invited Mr. Akperashi on suspicions of criminal Breach of Trust.

The learned trial judge who found in favour of Mr. Akperashi awarded general damages against NB PLC and Nigerian Police, jointly and severally, at the sum of 500, 000NGN. The Court of Appeal denied NB PLC’s appeal and affirmed the trial judge’s judgment.

CONCLUSION

Indeed, anyone whose fundamental rights “have been, are being or likely to be contravened has unfettered access to a High Court for redress, High Court …means Federal High Court or High Court of a State”, Nigeria’s Supreme Court in IHIM V. MADUAGWU & ANOR. (2021) LPELR-53906.

It is a burdensome legal and moral wrong for any Nigerian or resident including Nigerian governments at all its tiers to callously set law enforcement machinery, wrongfully, in motion against any person or corporate entity.

Now, we admit that the snail-like speed at which our legal system grinds, becomes a ready-made and handy justification to resort to apparently easy ways of enforcing agreements or resolving commercial disputes.

Yet, these unfortunate pervading culture of impunity that destroys the thinning fabrics of our social co-existence, makes everyone a victim. Criminologist tend to agree that justification, whether licit or illicit, precedes every crime.

Nigerian courts are consistent that there are no legal justifications for your patronizing Nigerian Police or any other law enforcement agents in commercial disputes and the Courts have not failed to punish any such behaviours as is evident in the damages awarded against Nigerian Brewery in the case cited above.

Besides, those law enforcement officers are motivated by personal gains and not justice, which they are called to protect and enforce.

 

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