Shippers’ Association: How N13bn Shipping, Terminal Charges’ Judgment Refund Ignited Crisis

By Loveth  Anyaegbunam

Shippers' Association: How N13bn Shipping, Terminal Charges’ Judgment Refund Ignited Crisis
L-R: Mr. Pius Ujubuonu, CEO, Cejik Nigeria Limited;Mr. Chukwumah Emeka,CEO, Boontee Industrial and Logistics Limited; President of Shippers Association of Lagos State(SAL), Barr. Leo Ogamba, Esq; Comrade Ben Ndee,CEO, Synergy Index Limited; and Hon. Chris Eke at the media briefing, Tuesday in Lagos.

 

·  Ogamba says, “I am still in charge”

Reasons have emerged on why Shippers Association of Lagos State(SALS) has been embroiled in crisis since 2022 when Rev. Jonathan Nicole was removed as the President. This followed the emergence of a new elected executive led by Barr. Leonard Ogamba, who was alleged to have been impeached by a factional and an illegitimate three-member Board of Trustees(BoT) of the association.

Meanwhile, the sum of N13billion out of N3trillion is alleged to have been paid to Cargo Defense Fund(CDF) as a judgment sum being expected from shipping companies and terminal operators being a refund  of arrears of  Shipping Line Agency Commission (SLAC) and progressive charges. The sum paid was under out- of -court settlement between the APM Terminals and NSC as well as the leadership of SALS.

 Recall that there was a judgement delivered by Federal High Court, Ikoyi in favour of NSC and Nigerian shippers for a refund of arrears of SLAC and progressive charges by shipping firms and port terminal concessionaires.

Speaking at a media parley in Lagos on Tuesday, Ogamba said he remains the President of SALS, as the meeting of 11th June,2024 was not properly constituted and illegal, especially when an intervening reconciliatory meeting with the management of Nigerian Shippers Council(NSC) had been fixed for June 13, 2024.

Noting that the factional trustees absented themselves from the meeting convened by the Executive Secretary/CEO of NSC, Barr. Pius Akutah, Ogamba asserted that “I was not in the meeting. Till today, I have not received any letter to the purported removal either through e- mail or Whatsapp. I agree that there is a disagreement between the President and every other member who is not ready to comply with the constitution of the association. Evidence on record discloses that BoT came to  office through the backdoor to the extent that they changed the name of the association from Lagos State Shippers Association (LASA) to Shippers’ Association Lagos State (SALS).

“Originally, there were eight trustees, that started the Lagos State Shippers’ Association(LASA) in 2001. The first eight trustees were: Chief Mrs Ruth Mbakwe, Chief Leo Ezeani Ogamba, Pastor Nicodemus Olorunsola, Chief Kris Chijioke Keme, Alhaji Mikky Okunola, Chief Martin Ajuwan Orubor, Alhaji Inaolaji Nofiu, Layi Babatunde Esq. I was the pioneer General Secretary. And the then Managing Director of Nigerian Shippers’ Council, Chief Adebayo Sarumi inaugurated LASA.

“Later, we approached the CAC for registration but CAC referred us to  Lagos State government to get a clearance to use the name Lagos State as part of our name. I personally applied and went to Lagos State Ministry of Justice and got the approval. I made a photocopy of the approval and put it on the file and returned it to CAC in 2002.  But we ran out of money and our tenure aspired and we then handed over to a new executive and I left for further studies.     When I came back I saw a new name- Shippers Association Lagos State (SALS) with new trustees not registered.

“I didn’t know what happened until Rev. Nicol went to court after he was removed as the President in 2022. He joined me in the suit against NSC. I discovered that it is not Otunba Jamiu Sule O. Onosipe who claims to be the BoT chairman that is on paper; it is one Femi Taiwo. I confronted Otunba Jamiu that on record he is not the BoT Chairman. And further noted that it was important we reconstitute the board, especially as six of the board members were no longer coming and the constitution provides that when there is any vacancy in the board it should be replaced immediately. He however said no that there was no need for change or filling the vacancies. But I told him I will only recognize the names with the CAC until the changes are made.

However, “Femi Taiwo in November,2023 confessed that they formed a new association and because they were few and needed to meet the exigency at hand, he made himself the BoT chairman under SAL without election or appointment from the house and one other person signed as the Secretary,” Ogamba stated, adding “So he was neither appointed nor elected as BoT chairman”.

According to him, “I screenshot his confession and kept for records.  Subsequently, I went to the CAC file and discovered that there was no single newspaper publication on the appointment of the new trustees. Now only three members of the BoT are active. Others have left the association. . The three of them do not form quorum of seven.  Consequently, the BoT cannot even meet for their own meeting because the constitution provides that if quorum is not formed the meeting cannot hold. So these are the areas of conflict between the president and trustees while the president is insisting that the right thing be done the trustees said no.

“And these three were part of the amendment of the new constitution which was used to conduct election. But when it was time to reconstitute them, they said no, that we have to get approval from the CAC Registrar General as their positions are sacrosanct.

“I reminded them that I had warned them while they were amending the Constitution. The Company and Allied Matters Act, CAMA 2020 had amended that particular clause that seeks to have an approval from CAC in event of any amendment on BoT or the constitution. The new law has an overriding effect on the obsolete law. I reminded them that the outlawed clause is not a feature of the constitution of the association but a clause in the CAMA 1990 which has been amended and therefore obsolete.  However, they claimed they are untouchable until the CAC gives approval.

“Part of the problem in SALS is that many of them are not Shippers and they are resisting reforms in the system.  Okay, imagine! My predecessor, Rev. Nicol and four others including my vice president withdrew N12million from the account of the association without traces of what it was used for. No receipt or record of any project.

 “When this matter of withdrawal came up during one of the executive council meetings, I was mandated to get an external Auditor. I did. The Auditor came up with nineteen audit queries against  Nicole’s regime.  Statutorily, the BoT is saddled with the responsibility of recovering our property in line with the constitution but they swept the audit queries and the N12m under the carpet. Now, the problem they have is me, Leo Ogamba,who has not touched their money but has spent so much to keep the place afloat.

“In trying to make peace, we agreed on out- of -court settlement with Rev. Nicole so that he can account for the N12m.  They have also swept this under the carpet. The same trustees that asked me to employ an Auditor turned around  to query me, asking me who gave me the authority to employ an Auditor that came up with nineteen queries.  You can see that there is a problem with the BoT. The minutes of all these meetings are there. There is no decision I have taken that was not first discussed and decided upon in a meeting in line with the constitution”, Ogamba averred.

In his narrative on other reasons, the BoT and other members he described as disgruntled don’t want him as President, he said, “On June 30th 2023, during the signing of terms of agreement on out of court settlement between   APM Terminals Limited and Nigerian Shippers Council and  registered trustees of shippers association, Barr Emmanuel Nwagbara came to sign the agreement with Jonathan Nicole, (president emeritus), but Nigerian Shippers Council insisted that it is the current president, my humble self that will sign. From that day till today, the BoT and Barr Nwagbara and Nicole & C0., have been aggrieved.” MMS Plus gathered that Nwagbara is the legal consultant to SAL.

MMS Plus had called Rev. Nicole to react to the allegation of N12m withdrawal without budgetary provision from the SAL coffers, but he said the matter was in court and will amount to subjudice.

 Ogamba who explained that there is a running mediation agreement at the instance of BoT  with NSC, stated that the term of the agreement is that there should not be any meeting of SALS at all levels pending the outcome of the reconciliation.

He added that the president and the other “Law abiding members have been faithful to this agreement but BoT have violated this agreement about three times, one of them is the meeting of June 11th 2024 during which it was purported that BoT removed the President. The mediation meeting which was called by Nigerian Shippers Council on 13th June 2024 as agreed, BOT and their supporters didn’t come.

 “The mediation is still ongoing. I challenge Rev. Odolo who addressed press on the purported removal of the President to publish the offenses committed by the President. I state categorically that the publication of the alleged removal should be disregarded on the ground that it is unconstitutional and that the president is still recognized by government.” He noted.

Earlier, Rev Odolo had claimed in a media interview that the SALS’ executive council met and impeached Ogamba whose two years tenure will end next month July, 2024.

Nobody in NSC, however, has confirmed that N13billuon was paid by APM Terminals Limited into the CDF account. CDF is a scheme established by the NSC to protect Nigerian importers and exporters from financial losses arising from cargo damage, loss, or theft during transportation. The fund provides compensation to shippers who have suffered losses due to the negligence or misconduct of shipping companies, terminal operators, or other logistics providers.

CDF is funded through contributions from shippers, shipping companies, and other stakeholders in the maritime industry. The NSC manages the fund and investigates claims filed by shippers to determine the extent of liability and the amount of compensation payable. The objectives of the Cargo Defense Fund include: To provide financial protection to Nigerian shippers against cargo losses; to promote fair trade practices in the maritime industry; to ensure that shipping companies and logistics providers take responsibility for their actions; and to reduce the risk of cargo damage and loss during transportation.

MMS Plus reports that by providing a safety net for shippers, the Cargo Defense Fund helps to promote confidence in the maritime industry and encourages the growth of international trade in Nigeria.

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