- Shipping Firms Plan N30b Refund to Importers, Agents
On-going negotiations between shipping companies and the Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC) will lead to refund of over N30 billion to importers and clearing agents, it was learnt at the weekend.
The negotiation, it was gathered, was based on the fear that the Supreme Court may rule in favour of the Council in a suit challenging the alleged imposition of arbitrary charges on users of shipping services.
No less than N600 billion may be refunded by the shipping firms, being accumulated levies collected over the years.
The Court of Appeal and the Federal High Court had earlier given judgment in favour of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council and slammed a N1 trillion fine on the shipping companies and terminal operators.
Speaking in relation to the meetings, the Vice President, Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Dr Kayode Farinto, said the Executive Secretary of the Council, Mr. Hassan Bello, remains committed to protecting the interests of users of shipping services in Nigeria. On the allegations of unauthorised levies imposed on shippers by terminal operators and ship owners, Farinto said the justice system in the country works slowly, but added that the shipping companies are making moves to shield themselves from the sledge hammer of the law. He expressed confidence that the negotiation will lead to resolution of issues.
Although the ANLCA chief lamented the slow dispensation of justice in Nigeria, he said the delay was responsible for the inability of the NSC to speedily resolve issues bordering on reversal of illegally collected charges.
Farinto reiterated that the court of first jurisdiction had awarded a charge of N1 trillion against the operators and shipping companies on the excess charges collected from importers and agents within the period they increased terminal charges and shipping fees without due consultation with relevant government agencies.
“The justice system is very slow. The court had determined at the first instance that the illegal levies amounted to over N1 trillion and money was to be paid to the system before it went to the Court of Appeal. While the case is still pending, the amount of the illegal levies collected so far is in the region of N7 trillion.”
Shippers Council, he said, was not the one that went to court; they took the agency to court. “I do agree that the amount to be paid by the shipping companies can be negotiated through consultation and dialogue because there is no way you can unilaterally or arbitrarily impose charges and say this is my charge, it must be negotiated and approved by the agencies representing the government at ports,” he added.
A senior official of NSC, who craved anonymity, said the council was open to out-of-court settlement, but added that the most important thing is for the stakeholders to be carried along and the need for the shipping companies to obey the laws of the country.
A Federal High Court sitting in Lagos had in a 2014 judgment declared that the Shipping Line Agency Charges (SLAC) levied and collected from Nigerian shippers by shipping companies since 2006 was illegal.
“The Court, therefore, ruled that the shipping companies should account and pay to Nigerian shippers all monies or fees charged and collected since 2006 as SLAC from shippers or users of shipping/port related services from 2006 to date, which ran into several billions of naira.
“In a landmark judgment by Justice Buba Ibrahim, sitting at the Federal High Court, Lagos, in Suit No. FHC/CS/1646/2014 – Alraine Shipping Agencies (Nig) Ltd & ORS Vs Nigerian Shippers’ Council and Suit No. FHC/CS/1704/2014 – Apapa Bulk Terminal Ltd & ORS Vs Nigerian Shippers’ Council, he affirmed the appointment of the Nigerian Shippers Council as the Economic Regulator of the ports and dismissed the claims of shipping companies and the terminal operators.
“Pursuant to the appointment of the Nigerian Shippers Council as the Economic Regulator Government, in line with the executive powers of the president in February 2014, the NSC issued notices to both the shipping companies and terminal operators to reverse all illegal charges levied on Nigerian shippers,” the official said.
Dissatisfied, the shipping companies and the concessionaires, he said, filed an appeal against the council at the Appeal Court in Lagos in 2015.
“The Court of Appeal also dismissed the case brought against the Nigerian Shippers Council by the Seaport Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria concerning shipping charges hence, the current out-of-court negotiation by the shipping companies with NSC.
“They have over N600 billion to refund, but the amount they have to pay may not be more than N300 billon or more,” the NSC official said.