NIMASA/NLNG RIFT: Settlement talks fail as NLNG lawyer claims ignorance of SGF’s intervention

Another attempt of an amicable resolution of the lingering tax dispute between the Nigeria Liquefied and Natural Gas (NLNG) Limited and the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) on Thursday failed as lawyers on both sides proceeded with their arguments before the Federal High Court in Lagos.
The court has consequently fixed today for ruling at 3pm on all pending applications.
When the case came up again, NIMASA’s lawyer, Mike Igbokwe (SAN) told Justice Mohammed Idris that his client had informed him of the intervention of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Anyim Pius Anyim, on the dispute.
Igbokwe said: “My Lord, I need to seek clarification as to the status of this case. I was reliably informed by my client that at about 12 midnight on Tuesday, there was a meeting between the SGF, NIMASA DG and Shell MD, who is also a board member of NLNG. The MD of NLNG was linked to the meeting via teleconference and after discussion, it was agreed that they (NLNG) should get their lawyer to vacate the interim order and proceed to pay the money they are owing.”

But NLNG’s lawyer, Wale Akoni (SAN) claimed ignorance of the meeting, insisting that the instruction from his client was to the effect that he should proceed with the court case.
“I must say I’m taken aback by this practice. I don’t have any instruction to vacate the order.
The instruction I have is to move an application seeking to vary the order and I must say that we only agreed to pay under protest”, Akoni said.
Thereafter, Igbokwe moved two separate motions seeking to discharge the ex-parte order, and an order setting aside service of the order, as well as an order setting aside the commencement of contempt proceedings against NIMASA.
Arguing the motions, Igbokwe contended that it was improper for the court to make order against NIMASA, which was deliberately left out of proceedings.
“The order was made, with respect, without jurisdiction, and it is a nullity. This case is purely an abuse of court process because on June 18, 2013, NLNG served NIMASA with pre-action notice, which ordinarily expires by July 18.

“Instead of waiting for the 30 days to lapse in according with the provision of Section 53 (3) of NIMASA Act, NLNG rushed to court to procure order against NIMASA on June 18, without even joining us as a defendant.
“This is purely an abuse of court process as fair hearing was not followed in accordance with Section 36 of the Constitution”, Igbokwe said.
He also faulted the commencement of contempt proceedings, saying the due process required by law was not followed by NLNG.
Lawyer representing the Attorney General of the Federation, Fabian Ajogwu (SAN) also moved an application urging the court to strike out the suit for being incurably defective.
Responding, Akoni insisted that the case was properly instituted, as it was essentially against the Federal Government.
“Our story is simple, the Federal Government entered into an agreement with some individuals sometime ago and that agreement later transformed into the NLNG Act. Thereafter, the government formed NIMASA which is responsible to it,” Akoni argued, urging the court to dismiss the objections of NIMASA and AGF.

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