…Orders shipping firms to refund over N1trn
BY UCHE USIM
A Federal High Court in Lagos yesterday affirmed the appointment of the Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC) as the economic regulator of all seaports in Nigeria.
Trial Judge, Justice Ibrahim Buba, arrived at the decision while delivering judgment in two suits filed by some shipping companies and terminal operators in Nigeria to contest the power of the NSC to regulate port activities and impose certain charges.
The suits included those filed against the NSC by Alraine Shipping Agencies Nigeria Limited and others, and Apapa Bulk Terminal Limited and others.
Justice Buba, in a landmark judgment, dismissed the claims of shipping companies and the terminal operators, and ordered them to refund over N1 trillion, which they had hitherto collected.
The judge held that the Shipping Line Agency Charges (SLAC) levied and collected from Nigerian shippers by the shipping companies since 2006 was illegal and that the shipping companies should account and pay to NSC all monies or fees charged and collected since 2006 as SLAC from shippers or users of shipping/port-related services from 2006 to date, which runs into trillions of naira.
Pursuant to the appointment of NSC as the regulator of Nigerian ports by President Goodluck Jonathan, in line with his executive powers in February 2014, the NSC issued notices to both the shipping companies and terminal operators to reverse all illegal charges levied on Nigerian shippers.
Dissatisfied, the shipping companies and the terminal operators, mostly foreign-owned, filed the suits to invalidate the actions of NSC.
The NSC, represented by Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), had objected the suits as well as counter claim.
In the counter claim, the NSC sought a declaration that by virtue of the provisions of Clause 2(a) and (b) of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between providers and users of shipping/port and related services dated March 28, 2001, the plaintiffs do not have the powers or rights to unilaterally introduce and impose SLAC.
The NSC also sought a declaration that the unilateral introduction and imposition of SLAC by the plaintiffs and collection of same from shippers or users of shipping/port-related services from 2006 to date was illegal, ultra vires, and therefore null and void.
Besides, the NSC had urged the court to issue an order directing the plaintiffs to immediately stop collection of SLAC from users of shipping/port and related services, and another order directing the plaintiffs to account for and pay to the defendant (NSC), with interests at the rate of 21 per cent per annum, all monies or fees collected by the plaintiffs as SLAC from shippers or users of shipping/port-related service from 2006 to date.
In his judgment, Justice Buba dismissed the claims of the shipping companies and terminal operators and upheld the counter claim of NSC.
Source : SunOnline