By Tony Nwankwo
The Supreme Court has referred parties in a suit over the ownership and administration of Tin Can Island Port Terminal C, back to the Lagos State High Court for trial.
Sifax Nigeria Limited, Ports and Cargo Handlings Services Company Limited, Mr. Babatunde Olarenwaju Afolabi and Otunba Olatunde Olowu (Applicants) have dragged Migfo Nigeria Limited and Denca Services Limited (Respondents) before the court, in their bid to benefit from a joint venture agreement they reached on the ownership and administration of Ports, following the concession bid of 2004.
Sifax had earlier lost to Migfo and Denca at the Federal High Court, Lagos and Court of Appeal in Lagos, respectively, before appealing to the apex Court.
In a unanimous judgment delivered by a five-man panel of the Supreme Court justices, led by Justice Suleiman Galadima JSC, the Court held that “having come to the conclusion that the Federal High Court lacked jurisdiction to try this suit, it will be futile and mere academic exercise to proceed to consider the remaining issues raised by the parties in the appeal and I accordingly so decline to do so.”
Other members of the panel were Justice Aloma Mariam Mukhtar (as she then was), Francis Fedode Tabai, Nwali Sylvester Ngwuta and Olukayode Ariwoola.
In a Suit No. LD/1102/2012 of July, 18, 2012, filed before the High Court of Lagos State, the claimants wanted among other relieves, “an order of perpetual injunction restraining the Defendants and others, whether by themselves, their directors, agents, privies or servants from further operating/managing Terminal C, Tin Can Island Port, Apapa, Lagos without including the Claimants as co-operators/managers of the said port and holders of the agreed ratio of the shares and appointing their chairmen or chief executive officers as directors of the Ports and Cargo Handlings Services Company Limited in line with the said contract”.
The matter was brought before a Federal High Court, Lagos Divison, presided over by Justice Tijani Abubakar. Their claim was for a declaratory relief, i.e. to declare that Sifax, Migfo and Denca, are joint bidders and joint owners and are going to jointly manage and operate the Tin Can Island Port Terminal ‘C’.
The Federal High Court judgment was for the plaintiffs (Migfo and Denca), declaring them to be the joint owners of Terminal ‘C’ who were entitled to 30 percent each shareholding..
After the judgment, Migfo and Denca, tried to asserted their rights, in line with the declaration made by the Court but they met a resistance from Sifax, which filed an appeal before the Court of Appeal Lagos.
Justices Mshella, Ogunbiyi and Nwodo upheld the judgment of Tijani Abubakar, again asserting that the Terminal ‘C’ was jointly owned and must be jointly managed and operated by Sifax, 40 percent; Migfo, 30 percent; and Denca, 30 percent.
Sifax later ran to the Supreme Court, where in its decision, the apex court held that the two federal courts below had erred by hearing the matter as a maritime suit rather than a contract issue which should be heard by a Lagos High Court as a court of first instant.
Meanwhile, Migfo and Denca are back to the Lagos State High Court, as ordered by the Supreme Court, while Sifax continues to reap the benefits of an alleged joint venture business which the three parties bidded and won together.