Earlier Justice Ibrahim Buba of the Federal High Court, Lagos had two years dismissed the suit filed by the Seaport Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria and the Association of Shipping Line Agencies challenging the powers of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council to unilaterally determine charges collectible by their members in the Nigerian maritime industry.
The Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) had on Wednesday 29th October, 2014 published an advertisement announcing the reversal of progressive storage charges at the ports to that, which was in force as at May 1, 2009. NSC also ordered an increase in the free storage period at the port from three days to seven days.
The Council equally directed shipping companies to reduce their shipping line agency charges from N26, 500 to N23, 850 per TEU (20-foot containers) and from N48, 000 to N40, 000 per FEU (40-foot containers), even as it directed shipping agencies to refund container deposits to importers and agents within 10 working days after the return of the empty containers.
However, shortly after publishing the order which was to come into effect on 3rd November, 2014, the terminal operators under the aegis of the Seaport Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN) and shipping line agencies under the umbrella of the Association of Shipping Line Agencies (ASLA), secured an interim injunction of the Federal High Court, Ikoyi, Lagos stopping the NSC and/or its agents from implementing the directive.
Ruling on the matter, the presiding judge, Justice Ibrahim Buba dismissed the originating summons filed by ASLA and STOAN describing them as hypothetical and an academic exercise while granting the counter-claims filed by the 1st and 2nd defendants in this case the NSC and the Shippers Association of Lagos State (SALS).
Not satisfied with the ruling, the terminal operators headed for the appeal court to appeal against the ruling.
Delivering judgment on the appeal, Justice Uwa upheld the judgment of the lower court and the counter claim of the second respondent, that is, Shippers’ Association of Lagos State (SALS) and consequently dismisses the appeal.
She however ordered that parties were to bear their own cost of the appeal.
This medium further recalls that there was an earlier judgment by this same court of appeal which said that the actions of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council pursuant to their status as economic regulator offended certain provisions of the Nigerian Ports Authority Act and the Nigerian Shippers’ Council Act.
Speaking on the judgment, counsel to the second respondent, Chief Osuala Emmanuel Nwagbara recalled that one of the issues was whether the interlocutory decision that was given by Justice Buba joining SALS was allowed to stand and that the issue was raised on appeal by the appellant and that he filed an objection to that leg of the appeal on behalf of his client arguing that there was no leave sought and granted for the appellants to join that aspect of their complaints to reject the appeal in respect of the final judgment of the court.
Nwagbara noted that that was what the learned Justice was referring to as preliminary objection which her judgment upheld that they rightly brought that objection and that the preliminary objection having succeeded; now mean that there was no valid appeal against the joinder of Shippers’ Association of Lagos State at the lower court.
“And since that joinder was valid, it means that our claims before the court was also valid and the other aspect of the judgment emphasized on whether Shippers’ Association Lagos State should have a counter claim joined to the originating application which the appellants in this case, Apapa Bulk and others filed at the lower court and the court agreed with us that yes, since our interest was affected, that is the interest of shippers was affected and was being determined in that suit, that Shippers’ Association Lagos State had legal right to join in the case and that we rightly joined and therefore that we also rightly put in counter claim and so, the counter claim was upheld here just like the lower court upheld it.
“You recall that there was an earlier judgment by this same court of appeal which said that the actions of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council pursuant to their status as economic regulator offended certain provisions of the Nigerian Ports Authority Act and the Nigerian Shippers’ Council Act. We want to see when we get the original copy of judgment, what this particular judgment said regarding that position of the earlier panel that sat.
“It is a comprehensive judgment but what we have now is a summary of it. The summary of this judgment is that the appeal is dismissed; it did not say that the appeal succeeded in part and failed in part. It said the appeal is dismissed, the judgment of the lower court is upheld unlike the earlier judgment that said part of the appeal succeeded, part failed. You recall that part of the appeal of the shipping companies succeeded as regards the status of Shippers’ Council but part of their appeal also failed as regards refund of monies illegally collected as SLAC and part of their appeal succeeded as regards the joinder of Shippers’ Association Lagos State, they succeeded in knocking out Shippers’ Association Lagos State in that earlier appeal.
“So, the summary of the message I am trying to pass is that this judgment does not actually conflict with the earlier one, the earlier one succeeded in part and failed in part but this one failed wholly because the procedure adopted by counsel in this particular appeal is different from the procedure adopted by counsel in the earlier appeal”, he explained.
Counsels to the appellant and the first respondent were not available to comment on the outcome of the appeal as they sent in junior colleagues who declined comments on account that they don’t have permission to comment on the matter.