Nigerian Bottling Company, producers of Coca Cola, Fanta, Sprite and various other non-alcoholic drinks, is in for a shocker should the court decide to penalize it for contempt, a reliable source told Global Excellence magazine.
The bone of contention is the order given by a Lagos high court few weeks ago asking the NBC to henceforth paste warning tag on bottles of Fanta and Sprite to the effect that the content in the two drinks cannot be taken with Vitamin C as it becomes poisonous if taken together.
Although, the NBC had filed an application before the court seeking a stay of execution on the order which mandated the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) to forthwith mandate the Nigeria Bottling Company to paste on bottles of Fanta and Sprite a warning that taken them with Vitamin C is poisonous, the court swiftly dismissed the NBC application.
The NBC serves with its non-alcoholic brands approximately 200 million people being one of the biggest companies in the non-alcoholic beverage industry in the country. Since the court ruling, however, Global Excellence magazine’s source said that the NBC was yet to carry out the order, thereby amounting to contempt of court. And this, the source added, may require the judge to impose fines on the organization.
The source told this magazine that, to forestall being fined, the NBC had through a lawyer, T.A. Busari (SAN) filed an application urging the court to stay the execution of the judgment of the court on the ground that, the order made by the court if not stayed will adversely affect the operation of the company. Therefore, the NBC is praying the court to delay execution pending the outcome of its (NBC’s) appeal.
However, in opposition, Barrister Abiodun Onidare, who is the counsel to the claimants, Dr Emmanuel Fijabi Adebo and his company, Fijabi Adebo Holdings, argued that the paramount interest of the public was what mattered most and not the business policy and reputation of the NBC, asking the court to execute its order, failing which, the lawyer argued could cause a return to status quo should if Nigeria bottling company’s appeal at the court of appeal succeeds. “It is beyond argument that if the application for stay is granted and human health is consequently adversely affected, it is most unlikely that there can indeed be a return to status quo.
It is imperative to add the resultant effect of the order sought to be stayed is the preservation of human life, the business interest of Nigeria bottling company cannot in my respected view take precedent over public health. The importance of public health is clearly demonstrated and under scored by the constitutional provision in section 45 thereof,” argued Barrister Onidare.
The ongoing case against the NBC was as a result of a suit filed by a Lagos businessman, Dr. Emmanuel Fijabi Adebo and his company, Fijabi Adebo Holdings Limited against the NBC and NAFDAC urging the court to declare that the NBC was negligent and it breached the duty of care owed to their valued customers and consumers in the production of contaminated Fanta and Sprite drinks with excessive “benzoic acid and sunset ” addictive. Dr. Fijabi also urged the court to direct NAFDAC to conduct and carry out routine laboratory tests of all the soft drinks and allied products of the company to ensure and guarantee the safety of the consumable products, produced from the Nigeria Bottling Company factory.
Sometimes in March, 2007, Fijabi Adebo Holdings reportedly purchased from the Nigeria Bottling Company Plc large quantities of Coca-Cola, Fanta Orange, Sprite, Fanta Lemon, Fanta Pineapple and Soda Water for export to the United Kingdom for retail purposes and supply to their customers in the United Kingdom. When the consignment of the soft drinks arrived in the United Kingdom, alleged the claimants, fundamental health related matters were raised on the contents and composition of the Fanta and Sprite products by the United Kingdom Health Authorities, specifically the Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council’s Trading Standard Department of Environment and Economy Directorate.
The findings of the said United Kingdom were also corroborated by the Coca-Cola European Union and product were found to have excessive levels of “Sunset Yellow and Benzoic Acid “which are unsafe for human consumption. So, due to the irregularities and harmful content of the soft drinks which can cause cancer to the consumer, the claimants could not sell the Fanta and Sprite products resulting in appreciable losses, as they were certified unsuitable for consumption and were seized and destroyed by the United Kingdom health authorities.