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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Kano accuses tobacco firms of delay tactics over suit

- Adamu Abuh

KANO State Government yesterday accused a consortium of tobacco firms of applying delay tactics to avoid punishment over the harm their products inflict on the citizenry.

The state government had taken a cue from Lagos State by initiating a N1.6 trillion compensation suit against British-American Tobacco (BAT) Nigeria Limited, International Tobacco Limited and four others for health hazards resulting from cigarette smoking in the most populous northern state.

Kano State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Aliyu Umar, had in the suit named other defendants to include British-American Tobacco Plc, British-American Tobacco (Investment) Limited, Phillip Morris International and Tobacco Institute.

When the matter came up yesterday before a Kano High Court Judge, Wada Rano, an attorney to the state government, Mr. Babatunde Iruekera, accused the tobacco firms of applying various technicalities to stall proceedings on the matter.

Iruekera specifically opposed an oral application seeking the replacement of Phillip Morris International with Phillip Morris International Management as the fifth defendant in the suit.

Irukera wondered why counsel to the tobacco firms who were supposed to address pending issues on the suit chose to come up with a new strategy of causing delay in hearing the case.

"I have said that you cannot abuse the legal process. You also cannot exploit the legal process. You cannot hijack court process for the purpose of gaining undue advantage over an adversary. The court is here to do substantial justice and there must be a level-playing field for all parties.

"Each time the plaintiffs respond, what they do is to withdraw back to the ground zero and initiate another process," Iruekera argued while urging the Judge to check the antics of the tobacco firms' counsel.

Lead counsel to the tobacco firms, E.O. Sofunde, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), argued that the move to substitute the fifth defendant is in line with the wishes of his client.

Citing Njemanje vs Shell BP Port Harcourt, 1966, Nigerian Law Report, he asserted that the initiative is anti-thetical to the provision of the law.

Justice Rano thereby adjourned the matter to July 23 for ruling and continuation of proceedings.