Story By Roland Ekama.
Maritime stakeholders have expressed divergent views on the lingering litigation between the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) and terminal operators over arbitrary storage charges with many regretting that it is already causing avoidable setbacks in port operations.
Business and Maritime West Africa reported exclusively last week that the Council and Shippers’ Association of Lagos State (SALS) have been dragged to the Supreme court by the Seaport Terminal Operators of Nigeria (STOAN) over issues bothering on port charges.
It is recalled that the Court of Appeal in Lagos presided over by Justice Chidi Uwa had on January 17, 2018 dismissed an appeal brought before it by STOAN against the Council and SALS.
Reacting to the development, president, Nigerian Institute of Freight Forwarders and Customs Brokers (NIFFCB), Dr. Zebulon Ikokide, said the terminal operators understand reasons for dragging the Council to the Supreme court. Apparently siding with STOAN, he queried: "Where do shippers council determine an arbitrary charge? What actually constitutes arbitrary charges?”
"This and other questions will be asked and determined by the Supreme Court", he added.
"This is a commercial enterprise. STOAN as a group is an association of organisations engaged in commercial activities.
“Why should government interfere in the running of their enterprises? If government’s intention is to run a free enterprise, then private sector people do not need to come in. This attitude of government is what is causing fuel shortage in the country,” Ikokide said.
He argued that market forces should be allowed to determine what should be appropriate charges for goods.
On his part, president, Shippers’ Association of Lagos State (SALS), Reverend Jonathan Nicole, recalled that pricing has been a major problem affecting shippers in port operations.
Nicole stressed the need for an enabling environment to be put in place in order to enhance port operations.
He pleaded that all hands must be on deck to make it work.
Also responding, Registrar of Ports and Terminal Management Academy of Nigeria (POTEMAN) Dr. Samuel Babatunde, called for mutual understanding between the federal government and the terminal operators on issues bothering on pricing at the ports.
He regretted that because former Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan both failed to settle disputes arising from arbitrary port charges during their respective tenures, it was left to linger and assume a dangerous dimension now haunting everybody in the ports business. Babatunde reasoned that if they had done the needful, passage of the ports and harbour bill would have solved the problem of unilateral charges once an for all.
For now, he explained, the Shippers’ Council lacks relevant legislation from the National Assembly to perform even though she is the ports economic regulator.
Babatunde argued that as investors, the terminal operators would want to remain in business; it is therefore inappropriate to say their charges are illegal or arbitrary because it is one of the measures they are adopting to recover funds they have invested.
He called on government to provide the necessary infrastructure in port operations so as to discourage the concessionaires from increasing port charges at will.
Michael Igors, a freight agent, lamented that the lingering suit between the Nigerian Shippers Council and terminal operators has created a hostile environment for shipping business, calling on government to address the issues fanning litigations in the sector.