Law News
Contempt: Lawyers ask court to jail MultiChoice MD

Two Lagos-based legal practitioners, Oluyinka Oyeniji and Osasuyi Adebayo, have commenced contempt proceedings against the Managing Director of MultiChoice Nigeria Limited, Mr. John Ugbe, for allegedly violating a court order.

Ugbe, alongside the Public Relations Manager of the company, Caroline Oghuma, is liable to being jailed if found guilty of the allegation.

The lawyers had, on April 2, 2015, secured a court order of interim injunction restraining MultiChoice from giving effect to its proposed 20 per cent increment on subscription fee on the Digital Satellite Television (DStv) being operated by it.

Justice C.J. Aneke of a Federal High Court in Lagos, who made the interim order, had held that the order would subsist till the determination of a lawsuit contesting the legality of MultiChoice’s newly-introduced subscription rates on DStv.

However, at the resumed hearing on Thursday, one of the plaintiffs, Oyeniyi, informed the court that in spite of the court order, MultiChoice had not stopped its new rates, which had commenced from April 1.

“My Lord, whether wrongly or rightly, on the 2nd of April, your Lordship made an order that is bound to be obeyed. We filed a further affidavit citing the defendants for contempt of court,” Oyeniyi said.

In their motion on notice, served on the defendants along with Forms 48 and 49, the lawyers attached as exhibits copies of receipts issued by MultiChoice to certain subscribers reflecting payment of the new subscription rate of N13, 980 rather than the old rate of N11, 650 in spite of the court order.

“It is in the interest of justice to grant this application and empower the honourable court as the place of last resort to the plaintiffs in preserving the dignity of the court,” the plaintiffs pleaded as they urged the court to make an order of committal against Ugbe and Oghuma.

The other prayer contained in their motion on notice was for the court to order MultiChoice to make a refund of all excess charges to all customers who had subscribed to the new rate in the face of the subsisting court order.

The plaintiffs also asked for an order mandating MultiChoice to tender a full page public apology in four national newspapers including The Punch, ThisDay, The Guardian and The Sun, to all subscribers for violating the court order.

They also want the court to compel the company to tender televised apology on DStv as well as via text messages to all subscribers in the country.

But lawyer for MultiChoice, Mr. M.J. Onigbanjo (SAN), said the order was wrongly made.

He noted that while the order was granted on April 2, the increment that the applicants complained of took effect on April 1 and his client could, therefore, not be held for contempt of court.

But Oyeniyi maintained that the order was for a continuing action rather than a concluded action.

The plaintiffs in their substantive suit are seeking an order of the court compelling the National Broadcasting Commission to regulate the activities of MultiChoice on DStv.

They want an enforcement of the pay-per-view scheme, whereby subscribers would only pay for programmes they watched, as was being done in other parts of the world where MultiChoice operated.

But the company, through Onigbanjo, is challenging the jurisdiction of the court to entertain the suit as well as the competence of the originating summons served on it.

Onigbanjo contended that the applicants lacked the locus standi to institute the action, saying they could not dictate how MultiChoice would run and conduct its business.

The Senior Advocate of Nigeria also insisted that it was not within the authority of NBC to prevent the company from making increment in the price of services being offered to its customers.

He pointed the attention of the court to clauses 40 and 41 of the company’s terms of conditions which stated that “MultiChoice Nigeria may, from time to time, change the fees payable to MultiChoice Nigeria for the MultiChoice service by way of general amendment.”

Onigbanjo said the plaintiff had no reasonable cause of action, just as he described the suit as academic “because the act complained of has been completed.”

Besides, he argued that the originating summons served on his client was defective, as service was not compliant with Section 97 of the Sheriffs and Civil Process Act, as regards a writ that must be served outside the court’s jurisdiction.

Aneke adjourned till May 5, 2015 for further hearing.

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