Maritime lawyers and customs agents have called on the Nigerian Shippers’ Council( NSC) to move fast in its efforts to getting the shipping companies to refund the Shipping Lines Agency Charges (SLAC) they have collected over the past 11 years in line with the judgment of the Appeal Court.
The industry stakeholders said the Council should work together with the affected shippers’ to be able to get the accurate amount with evidence as paid to the shipping companies.
Maritime lawyer and Legal Adviser to the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) Mr. Fred Akokhia, said the Council should move swiftly to demand for the refund, adding that what is needed at the first stage would be the modality.
Akokhia said the Council needs to know how much is really involved and the individual importers that are entitled for the refund.
He said that once the Council is satisfied with what each shipping company is to refund, it should send a Demand Notice (DN) to the company, adding that the shipping companies have no excuse to disobey the order of the court.
He said that even if the shipping companies were not satisfied with the judgment and want to go to the Supreme Court, it does not affect the refund, adding “the order of the Appeal Court is sacrosanct and any refusal to refund is contempt because a court of competent jurisdiction has given order.”
Another maritime lawyer and former customs officer, Barr Chinedu Ogbonna in his view however said the Council should adopt a subtle approach of calling the shipping companies to a meeting where the amount due for refund is presented to them.
Ogbonna said that during such meeting, the Council should sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the companies on how they should refund the money.
According to the maritime lawyer, the shipping companies should be given time to pay the amount over a period of time of three years.
He explained that this was because paying the whole money at once was capable of collapsing the shipping companies in such a way that it will even affect the nation’s shipping activities.
President of the National Council of Managing Directors of Customs Agents, (NCMDCA), Mr Lucky Amiwero who also spoke on the issue said the NSC should not waste any time in seeking for the refund.
Amiwero opined that the shipping companies should be given ultimatum to pay what is outstanding against them after all necessary verification, stating that those who refuse to pay should have the weight of the law descended on them.
He opined that part of such measure should be to seal off such companies to compel them to pay what they owe.
He recalled what happened in America where a High Court stopped the order of the President and the court order was effected immediately even though the President proceeded to the Supreme Court, adding that this should be applied in the Appeal Court judgment in respect of the refund of the shipping charges collected by some shipping companies.
The NSC has since the judgment of the Appeal Court swung into action to ensure that the affected shipping companies refund whatever they have collected as SLAC.
The move is in keeping with the recent judgment of the Court of Appeal which described SLAC as “illegal, ultra vires and therefore null and void.”
Justice Abimbola Osarugue Obasaseki-Adejumo had in the judgment of the Appeal Court ordered the shipping companies to “immediately stop collection of SLAC” and to account for and pay to the Cargo Defence Fund of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council from 2006 to date the amount collected.
The shipping companies are also to make the refund at the interest rate of 21 percent per annum “all monies and fees” collected during the same period.
A source close to the NSC said that the management is currently putting finishing touches on the modality of the refund.
For instance, it was gathered that the Council is compiling and cross-checking the amount to be refunded by the shipping companies and what individual importers should get.
Our source said that once this is done, the Council will write to the shipping companies for the refund of what is due from them.
The source added that the amount to be refunded by the shipping companies may run into hundreds of billions of Naira and estimated at about N500 billion.
However, it was gathered that the Council is working with the various shipping associations and customs agents to get the accurate amount that the shipping companies will be refunding to the council.
The amount when collected by the Council will in turn be paid back to the affected shippers whose money was collected illegally by the shipping companies.
Credit: Shipping Day.