Maritime lawyer, Barr. Osuala Emmanuel Nwagbara has called on the Nigerian courts to always take maritime cases seriously and decide them as urgent economic cases as the country rely so much on the industry to make progress and will continue to rely on it to make progress.
Nwagbara who made this call in a chat with our correspondent in Lagos recently said that this was important as operators rely on pending cases at courts taking unnecessary to adjudicate to commit all sorts of wrongs and take all sorts of arbitrary decisions that leads to increase in tariff while always pointing to the court as the reason they were doing what they were doing.
He cited the case between the Nigerian Shippers’ Council and Seaport Terminal Operators’ Association of Nigeria (STOAN) and another one between the Nigerian Shippers’ Council and the Association of Shipping Line Agencies (ASLA) as an example where they each claimed to have pending cases at the Supreme Court and were now latching on it to slam arbitrary chares on Nigerian importers and their agents.
He said,” So, we are looking to see that the terminal operators, the shipping companies would respect Nigerian Shippers’ Council and listen to them and whenever they misbehaved, they should take their (Shippers’ Council) mediation seriously and whenever there is a directive given from that mediation, they should carry out that directive.
“The claim today is that they have a case each pending at the Supreme Court, so, they are latching on that and commit all sorts of wrongs and take all sorts of arbitrary decisions that leads to increase in tariff and they always point to the court as the reason they are doing what they are doing and it is at this point that we call on the Nigerian courts to always take maritime cases seriously and decide maritime cases as urgent economic cases because this country rely so much on the maritime industry to make progress and will continue to rely on maritime industry to make progress.
“So, the courts are enjoined to give priority to cases in the maritime industry because they are cases that knock at the nerve of this country economically”.
On the Ease of Doing Business policy of the federal government, Nwagbara who is also the Managing Partner of Maritime and Commercial Law Partners remarked that doing business at Nigerian ports was a herculean task and at its worst level right now as according to him, access roads to the ports were at their worst stage now than in the last five years even as he noted that that was why the Presidency had to intervene a few weeks back.
“And even today as we speak, the roads are blocked more than before, coming into Apapa is still a very big nightmare, the craters on the roads are still there and there is little that is being done about it. So, ease of doing business at the ports, from the standpoint of access roads is still a far cry from reality.
“From the standpoint of bureaucracy at the terminal operators and shipping companies’ levels, at the customs level, we are still not there because we are noticing even at the terminal operators’ level that there is a very serious case of monopoly right now, that is something that we will be contending with and we are already contending with because it will be a very big issue very soon. That is one of the challenges that we are confronted with when you talk about the ease of doing business, that is capitalization at the level of the shipping companies, at the level of terminal operators, they do what they liked to do, you either take it or leave it.
“Unfortunately, the Nigerian Shippers’ Council is still blighted by the fact that Nigerian Shippers’ Council transmutation into Transport Commission has been delayed. I think it is when the transmutation is completed that Nigerian Shippers’ Council can really bite hard. Right now, Nigerian Shippers’ Council is working as interim economic regulator of the port, the major power that they have is to intervene in terms of mediation.
“They are more of a mediator and they have always carried out this power looking at the investment, looking at the business interests in Nigeria, watching what the reaction of the international community would be, looking at the investment climate in Nigeria and therefore being interim economic regulator in the port system, they have not wielded the big stick because they are looking at the totality of these factors and until they are transmuted into the National Transport Commission which we are looking forward to eagerly, they would always be pulled back by these other considerations that we have just mentioned”, he added.
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