Tribunal dismisses Multi-Choice’s motion, awards a month-free subscription to DSTV, GOTV subscribers

● Slams N150m administrative penalty on company



The Competition and Consumer Protection Tribunal has fined prominent Pay-TV operator Multichoice Nigeria N150 million administrative charges for challenging the jurisdiction of a court sitting in Abuja that recently restrained it from increasing the prices of its DStv and GOtv packages.

The verdict delivered by three of the panel members led by Thomas Okosu on Friday also ordered Multichoice to give Nigerians a one-month free subscription on DSTV and GOTV.

The Tribunal had restrained MultiChoice from increasing its subscription rates pending the hearing and determination of a motion on notice filed by Barrister Festus Onifade.

Onifade, who sued Multi-Choice Nigeria Ltd. and the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC), accused Pay TV of unjustly increasing subscription fees without one-month notice to customers and leveraging it to seek interim orders against Pay TV.

A three-member tribunal chaired by Saratu Shafii had ruled in favour of Onifade by restraining Multichoice in the interim, in the suit marked CCPT/OP/2/2024, restraining Pay TV from going ahead with the impending price increase scheduled to take effect on May 1, 2024, pending the hearing and determination of the Motion on Notice.

But Multichoice’s lawyer, Moyosore J. Onibanjo (SAN), filed a preliminary objection, urging the court to decline jurisdiction on the suit filed by Festus Onifade and strike it out because such a price dispute case had been decided before in favour of his client.

Onibanjo also tendered and adopted the previous judgement of the tribunal in suit no. CCPT/OP/1/2022 (Exhibit A), alongside his application, saying that when a court has determined an issue between the same parties on the same subject matter before, that matter cannot be re-litigated again by any tribunal or court.

He averred that the power to regulate prices was vested in the president of Nigeria, adding that the Tribunal was not the forum where the claimant could come to seek to regulate the prices and services offered by Multichoice.

On his part, Onifade argued that the issue he placed before the court was whether Multichoice Nigeria gave adequate notice in respect of the May 1, 2024 price TV subscription increase, and not price regulation or increase.

“It is our submission that the 8-day notice issued by Multichoice Nigeria is insufficient in law. A monthly subscriber should be given at least a month.

“Dismiss this application (by Multichoice) for being a waste of time for the court,” Onifade prayed.

Onifade also asked the Tribunal to direct Multi-choice Nigeria Limited to pay the sum of N1,000,000,000.00 (one billion naira only) or any amount the Tribunal may deem fit or appropriate in this circumstance for “deliberately disobeying, contravening, and failing to comply with the Interim Order of this Honourable Tribunal granted on April 29, 2024.”

Counsel for the FCCPC, Nikiomari Abeke, told the CCPT that he was not opposing the application of Multichoice Nigeria but would abide by the direction of the tribunal regarding all the processes before it.

On Friday, the three-man panel chaired by Justice Thomas Okosu held that Section 39(2) of the FCCPC Act states that the tribunal shall have jurisdiction throughout the federation and on all commercial activities aimed at making a profit.

“The jurisdiction of this tribunal extends to all business activities within Nigeria,” Okosu said.

He said he looked at relevant provisions cited by parties and did not find where an aggrieved consumer who sought to enforce his rights was required to file a complaint to the President of Nigeria or the Price Control Board.

The judge also observed that the claimant wrote letters to the FCCPC before filing his case.

“I have come to the conclusion that this tribunal has the jurisdiction to preside over consumer rights as in the instant case, and I resolve this issue against Multichoice,” the judge said.

Besides, the tribunal held that the claimant’s instant suit was not questioning the multichoice price hike as claimed by Onibanjo but the illegality of his client’s 8-day notice to the customers.

The Tribunal noted that Multichoice had already disobeyed its interim orders, adding that its action of hiking DSTV and GOTV prices was condemnable and must not be condoned by the Tribunal.

The tribunal dismissed Multichoice’s preliminary objection for disobeying its interim orders.

Subsequently, the Tribunal imposed an administrative penalty on Multichoice for failing to comply with an order of the tribunal

“The first defendant is hereby mandated to pay N150 million penalty.

“Multichoice is hereby ordered to give Nigerians one month free subscription.”

Recall that Multichoice announced new price adjustments on DStv and GOtv packages on Wednesday, April 24, 2024.

The email message to subscribers read, “On Wednesday, May 1, 2024, we will adjust our prices across all our packages on DStv and GOtv. We understand the impact this change may have on you, our valued customer, but the rise in the cost of business operations, has led us to make this difficult decision. It remains our mission to provide the best entertainment and viewing experience to you and are committed to continue to deliver high-quality content and unparalleled service.”

The development had resulted in a 25% to 26% increase across Multichoice packages.

But amid the subsisting ruling, the popular Pay TV provider, proceeded with the upward adjustment of its prices for DStv and GOtv subscribers.

On the part of the commission, it said it would review the reasons identified by Multichoice, noting that the agency could involve regulatory bodies such as the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC)

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