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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Tariff hike: Tribunal orders substituted service of interim order on MultiChoice

A Competition and Consumer Protection Tribunal (CCPT) sitting in Abuja has granted an application for substituted service of the interim order, restraining Multi-Choice Nigeria Limited from its plan to increase tariffs on DStv and Gotv packages beginning From May 1.

The three-member tribunal, presided over by Saratu Shafii, granted the applicant’s motion following allegations that officers of the pay-TV firm in Abuja office refused to receive service of the order and other court documents.

The applicant, Festus Onifade, told News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Wednesday that the CCPT bailiff alleged that one of the company’s top managers at the Abuja office said the documents be channelled through their Lagos office, which is the headquarters.

The tribunal, therefore, gave the order of substituted service pursuant to Section 48 of the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Act (FCCPA), 2018; and Part N, Order 14 Rule 11(1) of the CCPT Rule, 2021.

In the certified true copy of the order of substituted service, Shaffi directed that the ex-parte order in suit number: CCPT/OP/2/2024, be pasted at the corporate headquarters or any known address of the branches of the Multi-Choice Nigeria Limited across Nigeria.

She also ordered that the documents be sent to the company’s “known email address, social media handles and any means of communication publicly known for Multi-Choice and shall also be pasted in the CCPT communication outlet.

The documents had since been pasted at the Multi-Choice Abuja office located at Wuse II.

NAN reports that the tribunal had, on Monday, stopped MultiChoice from increasing its tariffs and cost of products and services scheduled to begin today.

The panel, who gave the order following an ex-parte motion moved by Ejiro Awaritoma, counsel for the applicant, restrained the firm from going ahead with impending price increase pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice filed before it.

Onifade, in the suit marked: CCPT/OP/2/2024, had dragged Multi-Choice Nigeria Ltd and Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) before the tribunal.

In the suit filed on April 29, Onifade, also a legal practitioner, sought two orders.

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These include, “an order of interim injunction of this honourable tribunal restraining the 1st defendant whether by themselves, her privies, assigns by whatsoever name called from going ahead with impending price increase schedule to take effect from 1st May, 2024, pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice.

“An order restraining the 1st defendant from taking any step(s) that may negatively affect the rights of the claimant and other consumers in respect of the suit pending the hearing and determination of the Motion on Notice.”

Multi-choice had recently announced a price increment across its DStv and GOtv packages effective May 1, 2024.

The pay-TV company claimed the price hike was due to the cost of business operations in Nigeria.

NAN reports that the company had, on April 1, 2022, hike the prices of all its packages despite public outcry.

Prior to the effective date, Onifade filed a suit before Thomas Okosun-led CCPT, seeking an order restraining Multi-Choice from going ahead with planned increase, pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice dated and filed on March 30, 2022.

Although the tribunal granted the ex-parte motion, directing parties to maintain status quo ante bellum, the company went ahead with the price increase on DStv and Gotv subscriptions and other products on the said date.

The claimant, however, raised the issue of contempt, accusing MultiChoice of disobeying the tribunal order which restrained them from going ahead with the price increase.

He accused the company of having penchant for disregard to court order.

And on April 11, 2022, after the arguments by counsel for the parties, the tribunal again ordered MultiChoice to revert back to the old prices by maintaining status quo of its March 30, 2022 order, pending the hearing and determination of the substantive matter.

But this was all to no avail as counsel for MultiChoice, Jamiu Agoro, challenged the jurisdiction of the tribunal to hear the matter as the claimant lacked the locus to institute the action.

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Agoro had argued that the order of the tribunal made on April 11, 2022, asking MultiChoice to revert to old rates was made against a completed act, the firm, having increased its tariffs on April 1, 2022.

The lawyer argued that MultiChoice had already configured all their devices for the increase in tariff to take effect before the tribunal made its order.

Agoro added that there was no evidence presented before the tribunal of damage that the claimant had suffered.

The Thomas Okosun-led tribunal, on Sept 6, 2022, consequently dismissed Onifade’s suit, saying the power to regulate prices of goods and services does not reside in the FCCPC, the regulatory agency.

According to the tribunal, the power to regulate prices of goods and services only resides in the president.

However, the judgement, which had been appealed against, is presently before the Court of Appeal in Abuja..

Onifade, in the instant suit, is contesting that Multi-Choice had failed to follow due process of law in accordance with Section 128 of FCCPA, 2018, in its announcement of the price hike on the grounds of short notice given to customers.(NAN)

Taiye Agbaje
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