09 July 2017, Sweetcrude, Lagos — Following the recent Court of Appeal Judgement directing foreign shipping firms operating in Nigeria to refund the sum of N4 trillion, being accruals from the illegal Shipping Lines Agency Charges (SLAC) collected from shippers from 2006 till date, the Nigerian Shippers’ Council(NSC) has been inundated with pleas for settlement by the multinational firms, who also have been throwing their weights around lobbying the .Federal Government to set aside the judgment.
Not swayed by the moves, the Council, it was gathered, had commenced the process of filling judgement to ensure full enforcement of the judgement, even as it is feared that the interpretations of some aspect of the judgement could serve as precedence to render the executive orders of Acting President Yemi Osinbajo null and void, a development capable of creating anarchy in the country.
Meanwhile, the Council has also received the backing of the Attorney General of the Federation and the Nigerian Police Force(NPF) to enforce compliance among erring service providers in the shipping industry.
The court re-established the powers of NSC to regulate and negotiate tariff in the port industry, explaining that no tariff must be fixed or collected arbitrarily in the industry without the approval of the Council.
According to the court judgment, the “ the unilateral introduction and imposition of the shipping Line Agency Charges(SLAC) by the Appellant and collection of same from shippers or users shipping/port services from 2006 to date is illegal, ultra vires and therefore null and void.”
Consequently, the shipping firms were directed to stop the collection and account for the total sum already collected for a refund with interest paid at 21 percent.
In complying with the court directive, the Council has said that the sum to be refunded by the shipping firms is N4 trillion, a figure a arrived at after a thorough calculation from the cargo throughput provided the Nigerian Ports Authority(NPA).
Reacting to the development, the Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council, NSC, Mr. Hassan Bello said that getting judgement in favour of the Council is not the issue, but ensuring that investors get returns on the their investment.
Bello told Vanguard that the most important thing is the interpretation of the law, adding that it was not about the money to the paid by anybody.
He said “We are still working with the shipping firms, we were at a meeting to with Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, on how both the Council and its stakeholders can grow the economy.
“Who won or lost the case is immaterial, the most important thing is that they have the right to go Court to seek for the interpretation of the law because they need the certainty and practicability.”
Contrary to a publication the court affirmed the regulatory powers of NSC as conferred on it by a Presidential Order in 2015, hence the powers to approve port tariff granted in the judgment but stated that the Presidential Order is in conflict with NPA Act and NSC Act.
To many lawyers and maritime practitioners, a judgment against one presidential or executive order amounts to questioning the integrity of others.
Deputy President of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport(CILT) Nigeria, Dr. Alban Igwe, who is also a lawyer, said,” Presidential order is considered as a law.
“It is called an order and it can supersede some laws if they are not fundamental laws.
“There are fundamental laws that require the National Assembly to be amended but the ease of doing business is not classified as a fundamental law.
“So, as long as it doesn’t negate or goes contrary to any existing law, it is considered as a law.
However, if it goes contrary to any existing law, it is the responsibility of the National Assembly to call the president to order.” he added