By Our Reporter
The Federal High Court in Ikoyi, Lagos, on Wednesday, gave a novel, landmark ruling in the suit presented by fiery human rights lawyer and activist, Femi Falana, SAN. The application sought to compel Federal Government to fix prices of basic petroleum products, including essential goods in the face of hardships Nigerians are currently facing, amidst rising prices of basic commodities.
The court ordered the federal government to fix the prices of some basic goods and petroleum products within seven days, amid rapidly increasing prices of goods and services in the country.
In the ruling widely hailed as revolutionary, the court specifically ordered the government to control the prices of milk, flour, salt, sugar, bicycles and their spare parts, matches, motorcycles and their spare parts, motor vehicles and their spare parts and petroleum products.
Petroleum products itemized by the court for price control are: diesel, petrol motor spirit (PMS), widely known as petrol, and kerosene.
The judge, Ambose Lewis-Allagoa, gave the price control ruling after listening to an application by Femi Falana.
The judge observed that the representatives of the federal government sued in the suit by Mr Falana did not make any objection to the applicant’s prayers despite being served with the suit.
“I have had the applicant Femi Falana, SAN, in a suit No. FHC/L/CS/869/2023 and I have also discovered that despite the service of the originating motion on the respondents namely Attorney-General of the Federation and the Price Control Board, no opposition to it by way of counter-affidavit, which is law that all the facts deposed in the affidavit attached to the originating motion are all deemed admitted.
“Consequently, all prayers that are sought for in the motion papers are hereby granted as prayed,” the court ruled.
The ruling did not specify the modalities the government is expected to adopt in fixing and controlling prices of the listed items given Nigeria’s fast-paced inflation.
It’s yet unclear if the court wants the government to reverse its deregulation policy on petrol which was responsible for the government’s removal of subsidy on the petroleum product last year.
Many Nigerians have welcomed the ruling, but whether the federal government will obey to the letter is another matter.
Ever since the removal of subsidy on petrol, Nigerians have experienced unprecedented hardships, and there have been sporadic protests in parts of the country over rising prices and increasing hardships.
The petrol subsidy removal coupled with a new forex policy announced by the government turned out to be a pivotal twin policy that immediately shot up the prices of food as well as other goods and services.
As part of the fallouts of the removal of subsidy, Nigeria’s annual inflation rate rose to 28.92 per cent in December 2023 from 28.20 per cent in November, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said in January.
According to NBS, the December 2023 headline inflation rate was a signature showing of an increase of 0.72 per cent points when compared to the November 2023 headline inflation rate.
Worried about the impact of the inflation-driven high cost of living in the country, Falana approached the Federal High Court in Lagos to throw up a novel legal question rooted in the hardly referenced Price Control Act.
The fiery lawyer implored the court to determine “whether by virtue of Section 4 of the Price Control Act, the first defendant is carrying out its duty to impose a price on any goods that are of the kind specified in the First Schedule to the Price Control Act.”
He consequently implored the court to answer in the affirmative, Falana urged the court to declare that “by virtue of Section 4 of the Price Control Act Cap, the defendants are under a legal obligation to fix the prices of bicycles and spare parts; flour; matches; milk; motorcycles and spare parts; motor vehicles and spare parts; salt; sugar and petroleum products including diesel, petrol motor spirit and kerosene.”
He also wanted the court to give order directing the federal government, through the Attorney-General of the Federation and the Price Control Board, to fix the prices of listed items within seven days.
Mr Falana’s prayers read: “A declaration that the failure or refusal of the Defendants to fix the prices of bicycles and spare parts; flour; matches; milk; motorcycles and spare parts; motor vehicles and spare parts; salt; sugar and petroleum products including diesel, petrol motor spirit and kerosene is illegal as it offends the provision of Section 4 of the Price Control Act, Cap…., Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.
“An order directing the defendants to fix the prices of bicycles and spare parts; flour; matches; milk; motorcycles and spare parts; motor vehicles and spare parts; salt; sugar and petroleum products including diesel, petrol motor spirit and kerosene not later than 7 days after the delivery of the Judgment of this Honourable Court.”