Lagos – A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja on Monday restrained MultiChoice Nigeria Limited, operators of Digital Satellite Television (DSTV), from proceeding with its recent decision to increase subscription for cable television service.
The restraining order was issued in respect of suit no FHC/ABJ/CS/894/18 filed by the Consumer Protection Council (CPC) in the light of the issue of public interest raised in the application.
The Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, had granted the council authorisation to initiate the suit under sections 10 and 16 of the CPC Act, Cap c25, LFN 2004.
In his ruling, trial judge, Justice Nnamdi Dimgba, said the interim order restrains MultiChoice or its agents and representatives from continuing the implementation of any increase in subscription rates or price review policy that imposes increased charges and costs on the consumers pending the determination of the motion on notice.
The court also restrained DSTV from further carrying on or continuing any conduct or activity which interferes with or has effect of circumventing the outcome of ongoing investigations by the CPC into the company’s compliance or non-compliance with the February 16, 2016 order pending the determination of the motion on notice.
In July, MultiChoice Nigeria had announced new monthly subscription rates for the DSTV premium package from N14,700 to N15,800 (about 7.5 percent); Compact Plus from N9,900 to N10,650; Compact bouquet from N6,300 to N6,800; Family from N3,800 to N4,000, and Access from N1,900 to N2,000.
The new rates took effect from August 1 this month.
The application was filed by the CPC on behalf of the Federal Government. Babatunde Irukera, Director General of the Council, led other concerned Nigerians to appear in court as claimants in the suit.
The application was accompanied with a nine-paragraph statement of claim on oath jointly signed by Messrs Irukera, Abimbola Ojenike, Eme David-Ojugo, Moray Adebayo, Teniola Medupin and Florence Abebe.
The CPC said in the statement that it has constitutional responsibility to protect the welfare and interest of consumers in Nigeria through the instrumentality of the council.
In the exercise of its statutory mandate, the council said it was conducting an investigation into DSTV’s compliance with its orders of February 16, 2016 over alleged unfairness, arbitrariness and excessiveness of pricing and billing systems.
Besides, the council said it was also reviewing other emergent issues relating to whether DSTV‘s business practices and specific conducts were in violation of the law with respect to the rights of consumers in Nigeria.
The council noted that in the course of its investigation and consultative engagement with the MultiChoice Nigeria, DSTV “preemptively and surreptitiously introduced a subscription regime which imposes increased charges and costs on Nigerian consumers of digital satellite television service with effect from 1st August, 2018”.
The CPC argued that unless the court restrained MultiChoice Nigeria, it was afraid DSTV or its representative would continue the implementation of the increased subscription rate.
The action, it pointed out, was capable of “rendering ineffective and nugatory the on-going regulatory investigation which seeks to prevent continuing exploitation of Nigerian consumers through obnoxious and exploitative billing systems and pricing regimes”.
In his ruling, Dimgba granted, “An order of interim injunction restraining the defendant/respondent by itself, agents, representatives, affiliates, officers or privies, howsoever described from continuing the implementation of any increased subscription rate or price review policy imposing increased charges and costs on the consumers of defendant/respondent’s services pending the determination of the plaintiff/applicant’s motion on notice for interlocutory injunction filed in this suit.”
The CPC had asked the court to accord the matter accelerated hearing so that the substantive issues raised would be determined and settled definitively and expeditiously.
Consequently, the court adjourned hearing in the matter to Tuesday, August 28.
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