By Godwin Oritse
LAGOS—Following the recent Court of Appeal judgement, which directed foreign shipping firms operating in Nigeria to refund N4 trillion, being accruals from illegal Shipping Lines Agency Charges, SLACs, collected from shippers from 2006 till date, the Nigerian Shippers’ Council, NSC, has been inundated with pleas for settlement by the multinational firms.
It was gathered that the council has, however, commenced the process of applying for the execution of the judgement to ensure full enforcement, even as it is feared that interpretations of some aspect of the judgement could serve as precedence to render the executive orders of Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, null and void, a development capable of creating anarchy in the country.
The council has also received the backing of the Attorney-General of the Federation and the Nigeria 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 judgement, “the unilateral introduction and imposition of the SLACs, 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 refund money already collected, with interest pegged at 21 per cent.
In complying with the court directive, the Council has said that the sum to be refunded by the shipping firms was 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 getting judgement in favour of the Council was not the issue, but ensuring that investors got returns on their investment.
Bello told Vanguard that the most important thing was 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 to court to seek the interpretation of the law because they need the certainty and practicability.”