The Federal High Court sitting in Ikoyi, Lagos on Tuesday fixed December 17 for judgment in the suit filed by the Association of Shipping Line Agencies (ASLA) against the Nigerian Shippers Council over reversal of shipping charges.
The presiding judge, Justice Ibrahim Buba had adjourned the case for ruling after the parties including the Shippers Association of Lagos State (SALS) presented and concluded their arguments.
In his submission, Counsel to ASLA, Mr. ChidiIlogu argued that no powers been conferred statutorily on the NSC as an interim port regulator to reverse port charges.
He said that the Council cannot justify its action on the purported directive by the Minister of Transport to act in full capacity as an economic regulator.
According to him, there is no amendment to the NSC act till date, hence it cannot enforce and does not have the power to review port charges.
He also pointed out that the defendant also failed to consult and conclude ongoing negotiations with the plaintiff before coming up with the notice it published on Wednesday 28th October to reverse shipping agencies charges.
He said, “They should go and complete the ongoing negotiations. They can’t come and publish something in the press without completing the exercise. That is the law.”
He therefore prayed that the court disregard the notice and declare it null and void.
But counsel to the NSC, EmekaAkabogu urged the court to discountenance the claim of the plaintiffs that the NSC does not have the powers to reverse port charges.
He said the NSC as an agency of government is subject to the Ministry of Transport hence the presidential directive through the ministry that the NSC performs the statutorily regulatory role at the port in the interim is sufficient for the council to issue the notice it filed and has the full capacity to act as an economic regulator.
He said the NSC issuing the notice acted validly in line with the powers conferred on it.
He also noted that based on the 2001 memorandum of understanding between the NSC, Nigerian Port Authority (NPA), shipping companies and shippers , there is no charge known as shipping line agencies charges hence its introduction thereafter by the shipping agencies is illegal.
He said according to the MOU, the parties are not allowed to introduce any other type of charges outside those agreed by the parties involved.
“To the extent that the plaintiffs without concrete agreement by the first, second defendants or any of the other parties went ahead to introduce shipping line agencies charges means they are in breach of that agreement hence that type of charge is illegal,” he said.
He therefore urged the court to strike out in its entirety the case of the plaintiff.
On his part, Counsel to SALS, OsualaNwagbara also argued that the shipping line agencies charges are illegal. He said that the shippers’ association did not at any point in time agree to have shipping line agencies charges introduced within the Nigerian shipping community.
“Any such introduction is not only illegal but unacceptable. No importer should be asked to pay for services which the agent is supposed to collect from his principal and which in fact have been paid.
“We are saying that it is not a charge known anywhere in the world because the principal is supposed to pay his agents. It is not for a third party who uses the services of the principal to pay the services of the agent rendered to the principal except there is a clear agreement to that effect between the third party and the principal.
“So, once freight is paid by an importer to an ocean transporter, included in that are picking up the cargo from the port of loading, discharging it at the point of discharge and releasing the cargo which is what the agent does on behalf of the principal,” he said.
He prayed that the court adopt all the processes filed by the second defendant and dismiss the originating summon of the plaintiffs.—Ships and Ports