Emeka Akabogu is one of the defense counsels of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council(NSC) in the case between the shipping companies and NSC. In this brief chat with MMS Plus, he explains triumph of the shippers and the council.
The Court of Appeal judgment is in two dimesions. From the Shippers’ Council point of view, one aspect is a big win while the other aspect isn’t. What is more important for the maritime industry especially for the shippers, that is the importers and exporters, is that a very important aspect of the charges levied by the shipping companies has been voided by the court! The Shipping Lines Agency Charge (SLAC) was voided by the court. The court held that as far as SLAC was arrived at arbitrarily by shipping companies without recourse to Shippers’ Council and outside the scope of the original Memorandum of Understanding between NSC, Shipping Companies and the stakeholders, the charge is null and void from the time of inception which is 2006. The court held that by virtue of its nullity, every payment under the heading of SLAC paid to shipping companies was illegally levied and as a result it should be refunded from 2006 to date with an addition of 21% interest.
From my rough analysis and calculations based on the arrivals in Lagos alone from NPA statistics on TEUs which have arrived, I got over N260billion which should be refunded. This is based on a total sum of about 6million TEUs from Lagos alone.
As a journalist, please do your research and come up with the total number of TEUs which have come into the country from 2006 to now and you would have the precise amount which the shipping companies have been directed to pay immediately into the Cargo Defence Fund of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council. For us, that is a very big win. Also, apart from paying the refund, the court ordered that with immediate effect shipping lines should stop collecting SLAC.
Whenever, any importer receives a debit note containing Shipping Lines Agency Charge, the company is acting contrary to the orders of the Court of Appeal which amounts to contempt of court. The implication also is that any other charge which is not contained in the original MoU and not agreed with the Shippers’ Council, shipping companies and stakeholders, would be deemed illegal.
On NSC As Economic Regulator
The second part is on the Council’s role as economic regulator based on the executive order signed by President Jonathan, the court held that the executive order in question was contrary to Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) Act because NPA Act makes NPA the regulator of the ports. The court did not appreciate that there is a difference between economic regulator and a regulator. Based on that, the court ruled that NSC’s appointment as port economic regulator via executive order was invalid because there was an already existing regulator which is NPA. NSC is still studying that part of the judgment to know whether it has to appeal or not.