Barrister Hassan Bello, CEO, NSC.

Strong indications emerged that the Nigerian Shippers Council may soon commence the enforcement of the judgment delivered by the Appeal Court sitting in Lagos, which upheld an earlier ruling of a Federal High Court that declared some charges imposed by shipping agencies as illegal.

Justice Abimbola Osarugue Obasaseki-Adejumo of the Appeal Court had in the judgment ordered the shipping companies to “immediately stop collection of the Shipping Lines Agency Charges SLAC” and to account for and pay to the Cargo Defence Fund, a unit of the Nigerian Shippers Council, charged with the duty of protecting shippers’ (importers and exporters) cargo interest from 2006 to date all the amount collected so far.

The Appellate Court had also in upholding the earlier ruling of the High Court also ordered the affected shipping companies refund whatever they have collected as Shipping Lines Agency Charges SLAC, immediately to the Nigerian Shippers Council, the economic regulatory agency for the seaport industry.

Competent sources however hinted that the council is about to commence processes that would culminate in the enforcement of the judgment, especially the refund of the illegally collected monies, which runs into several hundreds of billions of naira spanning a period more than a decade.

According to one of the sources, the Council is compiling and cross-checking the amount to be refunded by the shipping companies as well as the modalities for sharing same among the corporate and individual importers which paid the monies over the years.

It was further gathered that this stage of the process will be closely followed by the Council’s legal team writing to the shipping companies for the refund.

Investigations also show that Shippers Council is also collaborating with the various trade groups in the industry including shipping associations and customs agents’ associations with a view to getting the accurate amount each shipping agency should refund.

The amount when collected by the Council will in turn be paid back to the affected shippers whose money was collected illegally by the shipping companies.

Recall that the NSC in its capacity as the economic regulator for Nigeria’s port industry had some time in October 2014 ordered the shipping agencies to reduce the amount collected on SLAC, a directive the shipping agencies flagrantly disregarded and went ahead collecting the illegal charges.

In reaction, the shipping agencies under the aegis Association Shipping Lines Agencies ASLA dragged the council to court to challenge its constitutional powers to stop such charges.

A Federal High Court in Lagos delivering a judgment in the case in December 2014, upheld the powers of the council as the ports economic regulator, having been duly appointed by the Federal Executive Council FEC, Nigeria’s highest policy decision making body, which was also duly gazetted, thus giving it a force of the law.

Dissatisfied with this development, the shipping agencies approached the Court of Appeal in Lagos, which not only upheld the earlier ruling of the High Court but also declared the SLAC as ‘illegal, ultra vires and therefore null and void’.

The appellate court also ordered the shipping agencies to make refunds at the interest rate of 21 per cent per annum all monies and fees collected during the same period covering from 2006 to July 2017 when the judgment on the appeal was delivered.

It was however not possible to reach the Head, Media Unit of the agency, Mr. Ignatius Nweke as at the filing this report.