A Federal High Court in Lagos, on Thursday, dismissed the suit filed by some disaffected subscribers challenging the recent 20 per
increase in subscription rates of MultiChoice’s DStv platform. The
subscribers, Osasuyi Adebayo and Oluyinka Oyeniji, both lawyers, had
filed the class action suit on behalf of themselves and other DStv
subscribers in the country.
The plaintiffs had sought an order of
the court restraining MultiChoice from effecting the new rates, which
began on April 1, 2015. But in his ruling, Justice Chukwujeku Aneke
upheld the preliminary objection filed by MultiChoice and described the
suit an abuse of court process. The judge rejected the plaintiff’s
argument that MultiChoice did not deserve to be given right of
audience, having failed to abide by an earlier ex parte order of the
court restraining the company from implementing the rates.
Aneke said the court was bound to entertain arguments from all parties
before it, notwithstanding the alleged violation of the court order. The
court also ruled that the suit disclosed no reasonable cause of action,
given that the plaintiffs were not obliged to remain MultiChoice
subscribers on account of the hike in subscription rates.
Aneke also upheld MultiChoice’s argument that the suit failed to comply
with mandatory provisions of Sections 97 and 98 of the Sherrifs and
Civil Processes Act, which stipulate that a writ to be served outside
jurisdiction must be concurrently issued. The second defendant in the
suit, the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC), based in Abuja, was
said to have been served without compliance with the provisions of law.
plaintiffs, through their lawyer, Yemi Salma, had urged the court to
discountenance such argument, as Section 19 of the Federal High Court
Act, clearly defines the jurisdiction of the court to be one within
Salma also urged the court not to punish any irregularity
in the issuance of the writ on the plaintiffs, as such emanated from
the court, stating that such irregularity could be corrected by the
court in doing substantial justice. But the judge rejected the argument
of the plaintiffs and upheld the objection. He was also reticent on an
argument by the plaintiffs that the objection should be considered an
attempt by the defendant to get the suit dismissed without filing any
process to the substantive issues, something that has been abolished in
the rules of court.
In the instant suit, MultiChoice only filed preliminary objection, and did not file any process against the substantive suit.
in the proceedings, the judge had rejected attempt by human rights
lawyer, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, to opt out of the suit. Adegboruwa had
filed an application to be joined as a co-plaintiff, but later sought to
opt out. Justice Aneke said he was persuaded by a Supreme Court
decision, which stated that once an objection is raised challenging
jurisdiction, the court was duty-bound to first determine the objection
before entertaining any other application.
According to the suit,
the plaintiffs had sought an order of the court compelling the NBC to
regulate the activities of MultiChoice so as to prevent what they
described as arbitrary increase in subscription rates.
specifically urged the court to impress it on NBC to be alive to its
statutory responsibility by ensuring that MultiChoice is compelled to
implement the pay-per-view scheme in Nigeria, whereby subscribers would
only pay for programmes they watched, as was being done in other parts
of the world where MultiChoice operates.
But MultiChoice, through
its lawyer, Moyosore Onigbanjo, argued that the plaintiffs had no cause
of action, as a court did not have the power to regulate the price of
services that a business was offering to its customers.
company further contended that neither the government nor the court
could regulate prices in Nigeria, being a country that operates a free
market economy. The company pointed out that under its conditions or
terms of agreement, especially Clauses 40 and 41, it was at liberty to,
from time to time, change the fees payable by subscribers for the
services being offered by the company.