Court dismisses suit against shipper’s council seeking to stop regulatory enforcement

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The Lagos Division of the Federal High Court has reaffirmed the role of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) as Economic Regulator of Nigerian Ports following the dismissal of a suit brought before it by Associated Ports and Marine Development Company (APMDC) Limited.
The Plaintiffs challenged the legitimacy of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council’s directive to APMDC to waive arbitrary charges to a customer by 50 per cent and the act of sealing its office when APMDC refused to do so.
The Plaintiffs, whose argument was premised on the Court of Appeal decision in a previous matter brought by shipping companies in CA/L/188/2015 Alraine & Ors. v. NSC & Ors. that nullified the Executive Order designating the Shippers’ Council as port economic regulator, asked the court to determine if the Council could continue to exercise the powers granted by the nullified order.
In his judgment delivered on January 20, 2020, Justice Chuka Obiozor, who presided over the suit, agreed with submissions of counsel to the Nigerian Shippers’ Council, Emeka Akabogu, and held that the Council is the economic regulator of Nigerian ports by virtue of the pronouncement of the Court of Appeal in another case instituted by terminal operators, CA/L/189/2015 Apapa Bulk Terminal (APBT) & 13 Others. v. NSC. It anchored its position on the fact that though the two decisions are of the Court of Appeal, the decision in respect of the case brought by the terminal operators which affirmed the economic regulator status of the Shippers’ Council was later in time to that instituted by shipping companies which held otherwise.
Justice Obiozor further held that the Shippers Council did not unilaterally alter or impose the local shipping charges enjoyed by the APMDC especially as the company entered into several meetings with the Council with clear resolutions on the issue, rather, it is the Plaintiff who arbitrarily imposed charges on the shipper which the NSC sought to remedy.
It will be recalled that shipping companies and terminal operators in Nigeria had separately sued the Nigerian Shippers’ Council challenging its powers to act as economic regulator in Nigerian ports. While the Court of Appeal nullified the Executive Order appointing the Council as port economic regulator in the matter instituted by shipping companies, it affirmed the Council as the port economic regulator in the subsequent matter brought by terminal operators. Both cases are currently pending at the Supreme Court.

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