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‘Court violation’ MultiChoice disregards FG, sanctioned over increment in DStv, GOtv tariffs

John Ugbe, CEO, MultiChoice Nigeria

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‘Court violation’ MultiChoice disregards FG, sanctioned over increment in DStv, GOtv tariffs

The Competition and Consumer Protection (CCPC) Tribunal in Abuja, on Tuesday, ordered MultiChoice to produce its audited 2021 financial report for violating the tribunal’s restraining order on tariff increase.

A lawyer, Festus Onifade, and the Coalition of Nigeria Consumers had jointly sued MultiChoice – DSTV and GOTV in Nigeria – and the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) over the pay television giant’s increase of the subscription rates for its services and other products.

The tribunal, on 30 March, granted the ex-parte application directing parties to maintain the status quo, pending the determination of the whole suit.

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But MultiChoice disregarded the restraining order by going ahead to increase the price of its products and services.

Ruling on some preliminary objections while delivering a ruling in the case, on Tuesday, a three-member panel of the tribunal chaired by Thomas Okosun, ordered Multichoice’s managing director to appear before it on 8 September with an audited financial report of the pay television for appropriate sanctions to be determined.

“The Managing Director and directors of the 1st defendant (MultiChoice) are to appear before this honourable tribunal with certified true copies of their audited financial report of year 2021,” Mr Okosun declared.

The tribunal explained that the audited financial report will “enable the tribunal determine the appropriate penalty to impose on MultiChoice for being in contempt of the orders of this honourable tribunal made on March.”

According to Section 51 of the CCPT Act, a corporate body is liable upon conviction for contempt of a fine not less than “N100 million or 10 per cent of its turnover in the preceding year.”

Request for sanction

In his application, Mr Onifade had urged the tribunal to sanction MultiChoice, saying, “MultiChoice has a history of violating court orders.”

During a sitting on April 11, the claimant said he had filed a written address and contempt proceedings against the company’s management for allegedly disregarding the tribunal’s order made on March 30.

Mr Onifade argued that the pay television giant in Nigeria breached the March 30 order of the tribunal, which asked parties to maintain the status quo ante bellum.

But Multichoice’s lawyer, Jamiu Agoro, contended that because of his application challenging the jurisdiction of the tribunal, “this court is to first inquire whether it has the jurisdiction to determine the application.”

Mr Agoro contended that the price hike arrangement had been set in motion before the March 30 order was made by the tribunal.

He challenged Mr Onifade’s procedure of instituting the contempt proceedings by failing to first serve Forms 48 and 49 on the alleged contemptnor (MultiChoice) before filing the application.

Also, the Multichoice lawyer argued that since the tribunal lacks the jurisdiction to entertain the suit, his client “cannot be held to be in contempt of an order which it had applied that this tribunal sets aside.”

Ruling

But ruling on the preliminary objection challenging the tribunal’s jurisdiction, Mr Okosun held that his panel was clothed with the “competence to entertain and determine the suit.”

Contrary to Mr Ogoro’s argument, the tribunal held that an aggrieved consumer can approach the tribunal to seek redress for the violation of their rights” without the determination of their petition by the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission.

“It is our view that there is no mandatory conditions to be fulfilled by an aggrieved Consumer before approaching the tribunal,” Mr Okosun said.

Meanwhile, judgement on the substantive matter is being read as of the time of filing this report.

Background

In the claimant’s case, Mr Onifade urged the tribunal to issue an order restraining Multichoice from increasing subscriptions for its TV services on April 1, pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice filed on March 30.

The tribunal granted the ex-parte motion, directing parties to maintain “status quo antebellum.”

The pay-TV, Multichoice Nigeria headquartered in South Africa, did an upward review of its subscriptions, while the suit was pending.

Multichoice had announced new rates for its offerings in Nigeria, the firm’s latest price increase that is bound to irk its customers.

The firm said from April 1, subscribers will pay more for all its bouquets and its premium package on DSTV will cost N21,000, no longer N18,400.

Compact Plus which cost N12,400 before will now go for N14,250, while Compact will cost N9,000 instead of N7,900.

The complainant, while arguing his case, said he resorted to the tribunal due to the refusal of the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission to hear and determine two of his complaints bordering on tariffs increase in May and June 2020.

The tribunal had in July slammed a N100, 000 fine on Multichoice’s lawyer for failure to file all necessary documents and applications in the suit.

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