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Court dismisses 13-year malicious prosecution case against NCC

A movie producer who alleged that NCC maliciously prosecuted him for offences he did not commit.

Court dismisses 13-year malicious prosecution case against NCC

The case was filed by a movie producer, Charles Ayiga, who alleged that NCC maliciously prosecuted him for offences he did not commit.

Specifically, he said the commission maliciously prosecuted him for a purported obstruction of its officer in the course of carrying out his official duties and unlawful possession of Federal Government documents.

Ayiga who filed the case after he had been discharged and acquitted of the charges brought against him by NCC, sought ₦200 million general damages for being subjected to the rigours of criminal trial, for over three years, without reasonable justification.

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The plaintiff also sought another ₦300 million, in damages for the loss he claimed he had suffered from his business as a result of the malicious prosecution embarked upon by the defendant.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the case, with a checkered history, commenced in 2011, and was heard by no fewer than five different judges, two of whom had died before a judgment was delivered by Justice Olukayode Adeniyi.

The two Judges, of blessed memory, who had entertained the case were the late Justice Adamu Abdu-Kafarati a former Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, and late Justice Jude Okeke of the FCT High Court.

Delivering his judgment, Justice Adeniyi held that the offences for which Ayika was charged, tried and acquitted were known to law. He said, though, the plaintiff was discharged and acquitted of the charges in question, but he failed to provide credible evidence to establish the liability of the Commission for a tort of malicious prosecution.

The court also held that, by the provisions of section 38(4) of the NCC Act, the Defendant was lawfully authorised to apprehend the plaintiff and charge him to court.

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“I fail to see how the Defendant’s prosecution of the Claimant for the offence of obstructing a Copyright Officer in the performance of his statutory duties was actuated by malice or driven by vindictiveness or malevolence,” he held.

On the damages claimed by Ayika, the court described it as a “phantom project, deliberately crafted by the Claimant to reap where he did not sow”.

NAN reports that the case commenced in 2011, when Ayika wrote a petition to the NCC alleging that a television station with the name, MYTV, had, without his consent, broadcast his movie titled, “Arrows of Love”.

The Commission investigated the petition and concluded that there was no prima facie case of criminal copyright infringement. Hence, he was advised to seek redress by way of a civil suit against the suspect.

Unsatisfied with the decision of the Commission, Ayika petitioned the Presidency as well as the Minister of Justice/Attorney General of the Federation who directed the Commission to re-investigate the matter.

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On the strength of the ministerial directives, the Commission assigned a new Copyright Inspector, Caleb Daniel, to re-investigate the petition. In the course of debriefing the petitioners, the NCC Inspector, Daniel, had alleged that Ayika became violent and assaulted him.

Specifically, Daniel had said that Ayika became violent when confronted with the question of how he obtained official documents from the Commission which he attached to his petition. Ayika was subsequently detained for the offence of obstruction and thereafter granted administrative bail.

Consequently, Ayika instituted a Fundamental Rights action against the Commission while the Commission filed a charge against him for obstructing a Copyright Inspector in the course of carrying out his official duties under Section 38(4) of the Copyright Act, Cap C28, Laws of the Federation, 2004.

After hearing the arguments of the parties, the court dismissed the Fundamental Rights matter on the ground that the action was premature because of the pending criminal matter against Ayika.

Meanwhile, the obstruction charge went on. After proceedings, the Claimant, Ayika was discharged and acquitted. Subsequently, Ayika filed a suit against the Commission for malicious prosecution at the Federal High Court, Abuja.

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The court presided over late Justice Abdu-Kafarati declined jurisdiction to hear the suit on the ground that the action was founded on the tort of malicious prosecution and transferred it to the FCT High Court.

The matter upon being transferred to the High Court of the FCT, went to full trial under late Justice Jude Okeke. Okeke had reserved judgment in the suit but sadly passed on before the reserved date.

The case was then re-assigned to Justice Adeniyi before whom the matter started de novo (afresh).

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