A Federal Competition and Consumer Protection (FCCPC) Tribunal sitting in Abuja, on Monday, directed MultiChoice Nigeria Limited, the operators of DStv and Gotv, to maintain status quo of its March 30 order pending the hearing and determination of the substantive matter.
The three-member tribunal headed by Thomas Okosun gave the order following an oral application for adjournment moved by counsel for the firm, Jamiu Agoro, to enable him respond to counter affidavit and written address, including the contempt charge, filed against his client.
The claimants; Festus Onifade, a legal practitioner, and Coalition of Nigeria Consumers, on behalf of himself and others, had sued the company and Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) as 1st and 2nd respondents respectively.
They had prayed the tribunal for an order, restraining the firm from increasing its services and other products on April 1, pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice dated and filed on March 30, and the tribunal granted the ex-parte motion, directing parties to maintain status quo ante bellum.
When the matter was called, Onfifade informed that the matter was slated for the hearing of the motion on notice, seeking a perpetual restraining order against the firm pending the determination of the suit.
He said he filed a counter affidavit against a motion filed by the company challenging the jurisdiction of the tribunal to hear their application.
Besides, the lawyer said they filed a written address and contempt proceedings against the Managing Director of MultiChoice, John Ugbe, and its directors for them to show cause why they should not be committed to prison for alleged disregard of panel’s order made on March 30.
Counsel for MultiChoice, Jamiu Agoro, acknowledged the receipt of all the processes filed by the claimants.
“On behalf of the 1st defendant/respondent, we filed an application praying this honourable court for an order staying execution of that order made by this honourable tribunal on March 30,” he said.
The panel head, Okosun, told Agoro that since the tribunal was not a regular court, he would not entertain issues that could determine the subject matter.
“It is necessary we do this so that we can dispense with this case as mush as possible,” he said.
The tribunal, who said since the lawyer acknowledged receipt of claimants’ applications, it said: “Have you obeyed, if you have not, why?”
But Agoro said: “As a tribunal, I just want to read out a prayer which will lead us to other issues.”
He said counter affidavit and written address by the claimants in response to their counter were just served on them today.
He had made some denials and allegations which we would have to respond to.
He said the contempt proceeding was also served on him this morning and he also intended to respond.
Agoro said he had filed an application challenging the jurisdiction of the tribunal to hear the matter.
Okosun further asked the lawyer if the firm disobeyed the order made.
Responding, Agoro said: ” as much as the questions which the tribunal has posed, the issue has been where there is an order of court and an aggrieved party who had either applied to set aside that order or had exercise its rights of appeal against that order, such party cannot be held to be in contempt of that order.”
He cited previous cases to back his arguments.
“So on that basis, as contained in this authorities and avalanche of others, we submit that we are not in contempt of order of this honourable tribunal,” he said.
He said in view of his application challenging the jurisdiction of the tribunal, “this court is to first inquire whether it has the jurisdiction to determine the application.”
He argued that the only jurisdiction the tribunal had was to hear and determine his application challenging the jurisdiction, ciiting previous cases.
He restated that where there were several applications pending before the court, the application on jurisdiction should be taken first.
“On this basis, I humbly urge my lord to afford us time to react to their counter affidavit and written address so that we can react appropriate.
“My application before this honourable tribunal is premised on the decision of the court of appeal, that in view of the counter affidavit and written address that I have just been served on behalf of the claimants and considering the assertions and defences contained in same process, we will be forced to ask for an adjournment, particularly to enable us file a reply against these processes,” he said.
Lawyer to the 2nd respondent (FCCPC), Tam Tamuno, also indicated his intention to file a counter affidavit in response to the claimants’ motions.
Tanumo said though his client was sued as a nominal defendant, “as a result, there is no prayer against the 2nd defendant in the originating process.
“We are therefore concerned that justice is done in this matter. That is what we own our teaming consumers by this honourable tribunal,” he said.
He said he had received all the processes filed, including the application by the firm challenging the jurisdiction of the tribunal.
“Today, as cousel for the claimants has said, we received the motion to show cause and the counter affidavit.
“In view of the fact that we have plethora of motions, we will like to express our intention to file a counter affidavit,” he said.
“Finally, I spoke about housekeeping when I started and I think it is important for this tribunal to decide this motion challenging jurisdiction first,” he said.
Tanumo, who urged the tribunal to take jurisdiction motion first, submitted “that in taking that decision, the 1st defendant should also be cautioned pending the hearing of the motion on jurisdiction and my learner’s friend motion to show cause that nothing should be done to distort the status quo. I so submit.
”As it is, the status quo is as it is today. Until this court finds why they are in contempt and that they have not shown cause,” he said.
Okosun then asked Tanumo: “If an order is giving that they should not do anything, assuming they have gone ahead to do that, are we going to maintain a status quo in defiance of order of the court?”
The lawyer responded this: “I mean the status quo as at March 30 and that this court should look into it first whether contempt has been established.”
However, Onifade said Tanumo was double speaking.
He noted that the agency (2nd defendant) had filed a memorandum of appearance.
He asked if Tanumo would withdraw this to file a counter affidavit.
“There very last submission shows they are double speaking which shows double standard.
“What is the status quo as at today? They have not furnish the court with the position. And I don’t think it is the 2nd defendant that is in position to furnish the court with this; it is the 1st respondent,” he said.
According to him, the counsel doubles speak when he says the status quo be maintained as at today,
“Clearly speaking if it is maintained, this honourable panel will be in no need to continue sitting because they have completely overreached the panel,” he said.
Onifade described the move as an act to set aside the order of tribunal through the back door.
The lawyer also described the action of MultiChoice “as reprehensible, dangerous and tending towards anarchy because any society where there is no obedience to the law and order will not progress.”
“In response to 1st respondent, we submit that they are invariably arguing their motion which they said they want to file,” he said.
However, Agoro disagreed with him.
“What is the status quo as at today,” the tribunal asked again.
Responding, Onifade said: “The position is clear and we are demonstrating that the 1st respondent has completely disregard and dare the honourable tribunal.
“The status quo to be maintained is status quo ante bellum. But the position has changed.
“The 1st defendant has gone ahead in defiance of this honourable court’s order to increase its tariffs,” he said.
In a short ruling, Okosun ordered that the status quo be maintained ante bellum, pending the hearing and determination of the matter.
“Having listened to arguments of counsel to parties and upon argument of counsel to 1st defendant and 2nd defendant for adjournment to enable them file their processes, this matter shall be adjourned.
“Therefore, an order of March 30 still subsists and parties shall maintain status quo anta bellum,” he ruled.
He adjourned the matter until May 5 for hearing.