A Federal High Court, Lagos, on Thursday said that Digital Satellite Television (DStv) had the right to increase its subscription rate as it did last month.

Justice Chukwujekwu Aneke then struck out a suit filed by some aggrieved subscribers challenging the company’s recent 20 per cent increment on subscription.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that DStv is being operated by Multi-Choice Nigeria Ltd.

The aggrieved subscribers: Messrs Osasuyi Adebayo and Oluyinka Oyeniji, who are also lawyers, had filed the class action on behalf of themselves and all other DStv subscribers across the country.

The plaintiffs had sought an order of the court restraining Multi-Choice from implementing the 20 per cent increment on DStv subscription rate which began on April 1.

Justice Chukwujekwu Aneke, in a ruling, upheld the preliminary objection filed by Multi-Choice, and ruled that the suit amounted to an abuse of court process.

The judge rejected an argument by the plaintiffs that Multi-Choice should not to be given right of audience having failed to abide by an earlier ex-parte order of the court restraining the company from implementing the increment.

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Aneke said the court was bound to entertain arguments from all parties before it, irrespective of the alleged violation of the court order.

He further ruled that the suit disclosed no reasonable cause of action, as the plaintiffs were not under any obligation to continue to subscribe to the services of Multi-Choice in the face of the increment.

Meanwhile, the judge upheld Multi-Choice’s argument that the suit failed to comply with mandatory provisions of Sections 97 and 98 of the Sherrifs and Civil Processes Act.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the sections stipulate that a writ to be served outside jurisdiction must be concurrently issued.

The plaintiffs, through their counsel, Mr Yemi Salma, had urged the court to discountenance such argument, as Section 19 of the Federal High Court Act, had clearly defined the jurisdiction of the court to be one within Nigeria.

Salma had further urged the court not to punish any irregularity in the issuance of the writ on the plaintiffs, as such emanated from the court.

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He also stated that such irregularity could be corrected by the court in doing substantial justice.

However, the judge rejected the plaintiffs’ argument, and upheld the objection.

He was also silent on an argument by the plaintiffs that the objection should be treated as a demurrer, which has been abolished from the rules of court.

Demurrer is an attempt by a defendant to get dismissal of a suit without filing any process to the substantive issues.

In the instant suit, Multi-Choice only filed preliminary objection, and did not file any process against the substantive suit.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the judge had earlier rejected an attempt by a human rights lawyer, Mr Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, to opt out of the suit.

Adegboruwa had filed an application to be joined as a co-plaintiff, but later filed an application to opt out.

Aneke, however, said he was persuaded by a Supreme Court decision which stated that once an objection was raised challenging jurisdiction, the court was duty bound to first determine the objection before entertaining any other application.

According to the suit, the plaintiffs had sought an order of the court compelling the NBC to regulate the activities of Multi-Choice so as to prevent what they described as an arbitrary increment in subscription rates.

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They specifically urged the court to impress it on the NBC to be alive to its statutory responsibility by ensuring that Multi-Choice is compelled to implement the pay-per-view scheme in Nigeria.

They said that with that subscribers would only pay for programmes they watched, as was done in other parts of the world where Multi-Choice operated.

But Multi-Choice, through its lawyer, Moyosore Onigbanjo, argued that the plaintiffs had no cause of action, adding that a court did not have the power to regulate the price of services that a business was offering to its customers.

It said that neither the government nor the court could regulate prices in Nigeria, being a country that operates a free-market economy.

Multi Choice also said that under its conditions of agreement, especially clauses 40 and 41, it was free to change the fees payable by subscribers for the services it was offering them.

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