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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Court throws out malicious prosecution suit against NCC in lengthy legal battle with filmmaker

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After 13 years of legal battle, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court has dismissed a case of alleged malicious prosecution filed against the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC).

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

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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.

Mr Ayiga, who filed the case after he had been discharged and acquitted of the charges brought against him by NCC, sought N200 million general damages for being subjected to the rigours of criminal trial, for over three years, without reasonable justification.

The plaintiff also sought another N300 million damages for the loss he claimed he had suffered from his business as a result of the malicious prosecution embarked upon by the defendant.

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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 the last judge, Olukayode Adeniyi.

The two deceased judges, who had entertained the case were the late Adamu Abdu Kafarati, a former Chief Judge of Federal High Court, and the late Jude Okeke of FCT High Court.

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Delivering his judgment, Mr Adeniyi held that the offences for which Mr 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.

“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 Mr Ayika, the court described it as a “phantom project, deliberately crafted by the claimant to reap where he did not sow”.

How case started in 2011

NAN reports that the case commenced in 2011, when Mr 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, Mr Ayika petitioned the Presidency as well as the the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice who directed the commission to re-investigate the matter.

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, Mr Daniel, had alleged that Mr Ayika became violent and assaulted him.

Specifically, Mr Daniel had said that Mr Ayika became violent when he was confronted with the question on how he obtained an official documents of the commission which he attached to his petition.

Mr Ayika was subsequently detained for the offence of obstruction and thereafter granted administrative bail.

Consequently, Mr 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 arguments of parties, the court dismissed the fundamental rights matter on the grounds that the action was premature because of the pending criminal matter against Mr Ayika.

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Meanwhile, the charge for obstruction went on. At the conclusion of proceedings, the claimant, Mr Ayika was discharged and acquitted.

Subsequently, Mr Ayika filed a suit against the commission for malicious prosecution at the Federal High Court, Abuja.

The court presided over by the late Abdu Kafarati declined jurisdiction to hear the suit on the grounds that the action was founded on “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 before a judge, Jude Okeke.

Mr Okeke had reserved judgment in the suit but sadly passed on before the reserved date.

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

(NAN)

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