A Competition and Consumer Protection (CCP) tribunal sitting in Abuja has adjourned a suit challenging the price increase by MultiChoice Nigeria Limited.
Multichoice is the owner of the satellite television services, DStv and GOtv — popular subscription-based platforms in Nigeria.
Festus Onifade, a legal practitioner, had sued the company on behalf of himself and the coalition of Nigerian consumers.
While MultiChoice Nigeria Limited is the first defendant, the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) is the second respondent.
Onifade had prayed the tribunal for an order restraining the firm from hiking subscription fees for its services and other products on April 1, pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice dated and filed on March 29.
The tribunal had granted an ex parte motion, directing parties to maintain “status quo antebellum” (to maintain the situation as it existed before).
ISSUE OF JURISDICTION
MultiChoice had written an application dated July 13 but filed July 15, challenging the tribunal’s jurisdiction to entertain the suit.
Moving the application on Thursday, Jamiu Agoro, counsel to MultiChioce, said the claimant failed to fulfil the jurisdiction prerequisite before bringing the matter to the tribunal.
He said the claimant ought to have gotten the decision of the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) before filing an appeal at the tribunal.
“Before this matter can come, section 47(2) of the act that governs this tribunal states that the matter must have gone through the commission (FCCPC). So the matter can only come to the tribunal if they are not satisfied with the decision of the commission,” Agoro said.
The claimant is jumping the gun by approaching the tribunal without first going to the commission. This action is not an appeal against the decision of the commission.
He further stated that the claimant (in paragraph 2.06 of their affidavit) admitted that the commission is yet to resolve their petition.
Thus, Agoro prayed the court to decline jurisdiction to entertain the suit.
Responding, Onifade said the petition had been lodged at the FCCPC in May 2020 when the company increased its tariff.
He said apart tariffs, other issues such as recycled contents and pay-as-you-use were also raised.
“Where the commission refuses to act, the tribunal has powers to assume jurisdiction,” he said.
CONTEMPT OF COURT
The claimant also raised the issue of contempt, accusing the 1st defendant of disobeying the tribunal order of March 20, 2022, which restrained them from going ahead with the price increase.
He prayed the court to command MultiChioce directors to appear before the tribunal and “show cause why they should not be committed to prison for willful disobedience of the order of this honourable tribunal granted on March 30 2022.
And an order for them “to show cause why MultiChoice should not be made to pay 10% of its annual turnover for contravention or failure to, comply with an interim order of this honourable tribunal.”
However, Agoro submitted that his client did not disobey the tribunal.
He argued that MultiChoice had already configured all their devices for the increase in tariff to take effect before the tribunal made its order.
“It is our submission that this application is grossly incompetent. The laws are explicit on how contempt proceedings should be initiated,” he said.
“The instant application has not fulfilled the legal conditions for the initiation of Contempt proceedings. Prior to the filing of a motion for Contempt, the alleged contemnor must have been personally served with forms 48 and Form 49. These conditions have not been met prior to the filing of the instant application.”
In another application, the 1st defendant’s counsel prayed the court to vacate the order made on March 30.
But Onifade, in his response, described the application as “an affront to the inherent powers of this tribunal.”
TRIBUNAL FINES MULTICHOICE
A three-member tribunal presided over by Thomas Okosun issued a fine against MultiChoice for failing to file processes in response to the substantive suit.
Although Agoro had argued that the tribunal ought to settle the issue of jurisdiction before delving into the substantive suit, Okosun held that he had, on the last adjourned date, specifically directed them to file their response within 21 days.
Agoro then prayed the tribunal for a 24-hour adjournment to enable him to file his response.
The tribunal adjourned the matter to July 25 and ordered the company to pay N100,000 to the tribunal.