Multi-Choice is said to have disobeyed a Federal High Court order after 2 Lagos-based lawyers dragged the South African company to court in Lagos.Osasuyi Adebayo and Oluyinka Oyeniji, lawyers, on behalf of themselves and individual/corporate subscribers of DSTV and distributors, sued MultiChoice.
In March 2015, MultiChoice, owners of Digital Satellite Television (DSTV) and GoTV announced a 20 per cent price increase for all its satellite pay TV bouquets in Nigeria. The new price was to take effect on 1 April.
In the class-action suit marked Suit No. FHC/L/CS/404/2015, the plaintiffs sought an order of the Federal High Court restraining Multichoice from implementing its new rate for DSTV and GoTV subscribers. Justice Chukwujekwu Aneke on 2 April 2015 granted an order of interim injunction restraining Multichoice from enforcing its planned price increase. In part, the order reads as follows:
“That an order of interim injunction is hereby granted to the parties to maintain the status quo restraining the first defendant (Multichoice/DSTV) from giving effect or enforcing its planned increase in cost of the different classes of viewing or programmes bouquet, pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice.”
But MultiChoice is said to have disobeyed the Federal High Court’s order. MultiChoice has gone ahead to implement the new subscription rate which is the subject matter of the class action.
Multichoice, through its counsel Mr. Moyosore Onigbanjo (SAN), says it did not obey the order because of the following reasons:
1. An injunction cannot be granted in respect of a completed act. The order was made after the new price had been enforced (the order having been made on 2 April 2015 while the price increase was to take effect on 1 April 2015);
2. Multichoice was not bound to obey the order since it is already challenging the court’s jurisdiction and asking the Court to vacate the order; and
3. The order stated that “status quo” should be maintained. “Status quo” at the time the order was made meant the new subscription rates, not the old rates.
But the plaintiffs disagree, pointing out that MultiChoice ought to have stayed their action because the suit was filed before April 1:
“The order was made for a continuing action”, (not a completed act) Oluyinka Oyeniji said.
Osasuyi Adebayo and Oluyinka Oyeniji have charged the MultiChoice Managing Director John Ugbe and Public Relations Manager Caroline Oghuma for contempt. If found guilty for the alleged offence of disobeying the court order, they may be sentenced to prison.
The plaintiffs are also seeking an order mandating MultiChoice to render accounts of all excesses charged in tariffs (in contempt of court) with particulars of such subscribers and crediting their account against the next renewal and/or remitting such excesses back to the customers.
The court has adjourned the suit to 5 May.
Because it would be inappropriate to publicly comment on the case sub judice, we cannot critically discuss this case. But how the court will apply some fundamental principles that apply to this case will determine who wins and who loses between the parties. Among other principles, it would be interesting to see how Justice Aneke would:
1. distinguish between an order made for a continuing action and an order made for a completed act. Is MultiChoice’s new subscription rate a completed or continuing act?
2. determine if the Federal High Court has jurisdiction over the matter or not.
3. define “status quo”. Is “status quo” the state of things before the new subscription rate took effect (or was to take effect) OR after the new subscription rate took effect (or was to take effect).
On 5 May, Justice Aneke will hopefully do justice to the matter.