February 20, 2016 (Abuja, Nigeria) — A Federal High Court in Abuja, presided by Justice Nnamdi Dimgba, will make its Ruling on March 3 on whether or not the case instituted by the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC) against MTN Nigeria and its Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Mr. Ferdi Moolman (the Accused Persons), for alleged copyright infringement, will proceed to Trial.
Justice Nnamdi Dimgba fixed the date during the hearing on Thursday, February 18. The charge was filed against the Accused Persons over alleged infringement of copies of the musical works of an Abuja based musician, Dovie Omenuwoma-Eniwo (a.k.a. Baba 2010). Last year, the NCC filed the two-count-charge in Case No. FHC/ABJ/CR/379/2015 against the Accused Persons, sequel to a petition filed by Baba 2010. However, following a report of out of court settlement between MTN and Baba 2010 over the infringement, counsels to the musician, Mena Ajakpoui and Rockson Igelige had respectively asked for the withdrawal of the charge by NCC. The NCC notwithstanding the settlement filed the charges on grounds that the crime had been committed and the restitution provided by the the Accused Persons was not a barrier to prosecution.
During the hearing of the case, Igelige moved an application seeking the court order permitting his client (Baba 2010) to withdraw his complaint against the Accused Persons. He contended that he filed a civil suit against MTN in another Federal High Court upon which his client amicably and satisfactorily settled with MTN. He said the NCC did not inform his client before going ahead to file the criminal charge against MTN and its CEO. Igelige also argued that he did not make any complaint against the Second Accused Person in the petition written to NCC. He argued that with the combined reading of sections 17, 355 (1) and 494 (1) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, his client has the right to withdraw his complaint which would in turn terminate the trial.
Counsel to the Copyright Commission, Mr. Kohol opposed the application contending that “it is misconceived, frivolous and not known to law’’. He said besides the fact that the applicant did not seek the leave of court before filing the application the statutory parties to criminal trial are the Prosecution (NCC) and the Accused Persons. He argued that the applicant, like any other informant of a prosecuting agency, could not withdraw a criminal charge he did not file in court. Citing section 24 of the NCC establishment Act, he stated that both criminal and civil actions are permitted to be filed and heard simultaneously in copyright infringement cases. He therefore urged the court to hold that the Accused Persons had already committed the crime and the restitution made to Baba 2010 cannot assuage their prosecution.
The court adjourned to March 3 to decide whether or not the compensation paid to Baba 2010 by the Accused Persons over the alleged infringement was adequate to stop the NCC from further prosecution.