The Court of Appeal sitting in Lagos has ordered the Sea Port Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN) and their agents/privies to account for all the progressive charges collected by them over and above rates stated and approved by the Hon. Minister of Transportation amounting to about N3trillion and to immediately refund same.
This judgement is an affirmation to an earlier judgement in the Federal High Court of Lagos with Suit No. FHC/L/CS/1704/2014 in which the lower court gave judgement directing STOAN and its members to forthwith stop arbitrary tariff increases at the ports.
In the above suit, the Applicants, Sea Port Terminal Operators Association had sought the declaration that the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (Local Shipping Charges on imports and exports) Regulations issued on October 28, 2014 and purportedly made pursuant to Section 9 of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council Act (Supra) does not apply to the operations and/or activities of the Plaintiffs as Terminal Operators.
Also a declaration that the Nigerian Shippers’ Council does not have any power under the Local Shipping charges and imports and exports regulations to assume the role of Port Regulators and/or impose charges and or stipulate any directives on the Plaintiffs as Terminal Operators.
The Appeal Court not only affirmed the judgement of the High Court but also confirmed Nigerian Shippers’ Council as Ports Economic Regulator. With this judgement, it is believed that all stakeholders in the maritime sector should now come to a round table to discuss on how to move the sector forward.
Alfred Harmsworth, one of the great newspaper magnates of the First half of the 20th Century posited that, “The Faculty of Knowing when you are beaten is much more valuable than the faculty of thinking you are not beaten when you are”.
The maritime sector is very key to the Economic Recovery Growth Plan (ERGP) of the Federal Government. It is not only strategic but the blood that touches every aspect of the body. Transportation drives the economy. The manufacturer, the importer/exporter Public Servant traversing all nooks and crannies of the country to enforce law, the Oil/Gas Merchant or the Financial System have all transportation components in their service delivery. The efficiency or otherwise of the transportation sector does not only affect the performance of the Public Sector, it equally affects that of the whole country and this accounts for why advanced economies invest heavily on their transport infrastructure.
As we enter into 2018 with this judgement, what it calls for is an all inclusive growth objective that will stimulate and galvanize the maritime sector to achieve our national goal. Nigeria, from all indications, should be the maritime hub in Sub Sahara Africa. This aspiration, we must achieve and in designing the template for its actualization, all stakeholders in the sector must embrace peace, friendly business environment, healthy competition, global best practices which promotes expertise. The sector must provide conducive environment that will usher in new markets while providing foreign and domestic investors sound buffer shocks from external vagaries.
The Executive Secretary/CEO Nigerian Shippers’ Council, Hassan Bello, stated that his vision of a New Port Order is to make our Ports user friendly and attractive enough to facilitate the flow of capital while attracting further international investment in the sector.
Bello while reacting to the judgement emphasized that the litigation only created a dysfunctional communication gap which ordinarily is uncalled for. But in reality, I am calling on all stakeholders especially STOAN and the Lagos Shippers Association or any aggrieved party to sheathe the sword and embrace dialogue.
Nigerian Shippers’ Council as Ports Economic Regulator is not put in place to drive Terminal Operators out of business or to strangulate importers, exporters but as an interventionist agency, we must ensure excellence in co-existence, convivial atmosphere, global best practices, investment inflow and stimulating a robust economy for our people thereby alleviating poverty.
Bello said, “I think all we should be thinking now is how to make a difference in the nation’s life and not to resorting to litigations that will not take us anywhere”.
Reacting also to all these distractions in the sector that tends to stall our economic growth, the Publicity Secretary of the Association of Nigeria Licenced Customs Agents ANCLA, Mr. Kayode Farinto, called for peace within the Industry. He believes that true peace and stability which in turn will usher economic prosperity is achieved through genuine and collective efforts.
With the Nigeria Customs Service hitting trillion mark and ready to surpass it in 2018, it is as a function of strengthening partnership between all maritime stakeholders and unbiased efforts of the umpire. Where there is peace, all things tend to function in a systematic process.
Ibn Maktoun said that “If a man can smile to himself, it will be easy for him to smile at others. The first step towards smiling is in freeing people of negative energy, despair and frustrations. The maritime sector is the bedrock of our new look economy hence it should be protected. Peace is a sine qua non.
– Nwamadi is a maritime stakeholder in Lagos.