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By Chris Nomjov
The hopes of many aggrieved DSTV subscribers in Nigeria were dashed, Thursday, as a federal high court in Ikoyi, Lagos, struck out a suit filed by some aggrieved subscribers challenging the recent 20 per cent increase in subscription rates of the satellite television service provider.
Digital Satellite Television (DStv), is operated by MultiChoice Nigeria Limited.
The aggrieved subscribers, Osasuyi Adebayo and Oluyinka Oyeniji, who are also lawyers, filed the class action on behalf of themselves and all other DStv subscribers across the country.
The plaintiffs sought an order of the court restraining MultiChoice from implementing the new rates, which began on April 1, 2015.
But in his ruling, Justice Chukwujeku Aneke upheld the preliminary objection filed by MultiChoice, and branding the suit an abuse of court process.
The judge rejected an argument by the plaintiffs that MultiChoice deserved not 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.
Justice Aneke said the court was bound to entertain arguments from all parties before it, irrespective of the alleged violation of the court order.
The court further ruled that the suit disclosed no reasonable cause of action, as the plaintiffs were not under any obligation to continue to subscribe to the services of MultiChoice in the face of the increment.
Justice 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), which is based in Abuja, was said to have been served without compliance with the provisions of law.
The plaintiffs, through their lawyer, Yemi Salma, had urged the court to discountenance such argument, as Section 19 of the Federal High Court Act, had clearly defined the jurisdiction of the court to be one within Nigeria. Salma further urged the court not to punish any irregularity in the issuance of the writ on the plaintiffs, as such emanated from the court. He also stated that such irregularity could be corrected by the court in doing substantial justice.
However, the judge rejected the argument of the plaintiffs, instead upholding the objection. He was also silent on an argument by the plaintiffs that the objection should be treated as a demurrer (an attempt by a defendant to get dismissal of a suit without filing any process to the substantive issues), which has been abolished from the rules of court.
In the instant suit, MultiChoice only filed preliminary objection, and did not file any process against the substantive suit.
Earlier 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 filed an application to opt out.
Justice Aneke simply 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.
They 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.
However, Moyosore Onigbanjo, the Counsel to MultuChoice, 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.
The 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.