A Federal High Court in Lagos on Thursday struck out a suit filed by some aggrieved subscribers challenging the recent 20% increment on subscription rate of Digital Satellite Television (DSTV) being operated by Multichoice Nigeria Limited.
The aggrieved subscribers, Osasuyi Adebayo and Oluyinka Oyeniji, who are also lawyers, had filed the class action on behalf of themselves and all other DSTV subscribers across the country.
The plaintiffs had sought an order of the court restraining Multi-Choice from implementing the 20% increment on DSTV subscription rate which began on April 1, 2015.
Justice Chukwujeku Aneke, in a ruling, upheld the preliminary objection filed by Multichoice, and ruled that the suit amounted to 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 increment.
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.
Besides, Justice Aneke 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.
The sections 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 had 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 plantiffs’ argument, and upheld the objection.
Justice Aneke was also silent on an argument by the plaintiffs that the objection should be treated as a demurrer, which has been abolished from the rules of court.
Demurrer is an attempt by a defendant to get dismissal of a suit without filing any process to the substantive issues.
In the instant suit, Multichoice only filed preliminary objection, and did not file any process against the substantive suit.
Besides, Justice Aneke, earlier in the proceedings, rejected an 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 increment 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 operated.
But Multichoice, through its lawyer, Moyosore Onigbanjo argued that the plaintiffs had no cause of action, adding that 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.