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Terminal operators file fresh suit against FG to resist regulation

Ten terminal operators at various seaports in Nigeria have filed an action at the Federal High Court Lagos, seeking to restrain the Federal Government from carrying out economic regulation of their port terminals. In an originating summons issued on behalf of the terminal operators by their counsel, Femi Atoyebi, SAN and Chidi Ilogu, SAN they have sought amongst other reliefs, a perpetual injunction restraining the President of Nigeria, the Minister of Transport, the Attorney General and the Nigerian Shippers Council from enforcing the Nigerian Shippers Council (Port Economic Regulator) Order of 2015. Ruling on an ex-parte application by the Plaintiffs for an order of interim injunction against the Defendants, Justice Idris ordered parties to maintain the status quo pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice, which has been set down for hearing on 31st May (today).

It will be recalled that in a similar action brought by the terminal operators against the Nigerian Shippers Council, Justice Ibrahim Buba last year ruled that the Nigerian Shippers Council was validly appointed as economic regulator of Nigerian Ports. The case suffered yet another setback on Monday, as the Appeal Court sitting in Lagos again adjourned the case between the Council and the duo of Seaport Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN) and Association Shipping Lines Agencies (ASLA) by five months. The case which was supposed to be heard on Monday was adjourned to October 17, 2016, due to different applications filed by the appellants which the lead judge said the Court needed time to peruse before the commencement of the hearing in the case.

Recall that the Federal High Court in Ikoyi, Lagos had in December 2014, ruled in favour of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council as the Port Economic Regulator and affirmed the legality of the Council’s position in price regulation and also instructed the port concessionaires to revert to the port charges that were approved in 1999. But the terminal operators filed an application for stay of execution at the Court of Appeal. The lead Judge, Mrs. Uzoamaka Anyanwu had said last year that the Court was adjourning the case as a result of the backlog of pending cases it had to handle. She then adjourned to February 4, 2016 and again to May, 29, 2016 for hearing.

Counsel to the Nigerian Shippers' Council, Barrister Emeka Akabogu had said that the process has been stalled by the technicalities relating to applications which have been filed in the case of the terminal operators by the appellants. He therefore added that the court had asked for time to dispense with the several applications before the main appeal can proceed. He stated further that in the case of the Shipping companies, the court has asked they should straighten all files which need to be straightened because the court is not satisfied with the application filed by them.

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