NLNG-NIMASA SUIT: Court rules tomorrow

A Federal High Court sitting in Lagos has fixed tomorrow for ruling on the lingering dispute between the Nigeria Liquefied and Natural Gas (NLNG) Limited and the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) over alleged failure of NLNG to pay statutory three per cent levy on exported gas to Nigeria’s apex maritime regulator.
The trial judge, Justice Mohammed Idris, is to rule on two preliminary objections filed by a private firm, Global West Vessels Specialists, challenging the jurisdiction of the court to adjudicate on the suit, as well as the commencement of contempt proceedings on the defendants.
Global West, the second defendant, was sued as an agent of NIMASA, alongside the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mr. Mohammed Bello Adoke.
Arguing the objections, Global West’s lawyer, Mr. Abiodun Owonikoko, urged the court to dismiss the suit on the ground that proper parties were not sued as defendants.
Owonikoko said that the court had been robbed of jurisdiction, owing to the fact that the suit was incurably defective.

“The Supreme Court has held in a plethora of cases that this kind of case cannot go on against us in the absence of NIMASA.
“The deliberate failure of the plaintiff (NLNG) to sue NIMASA is aimed at circumventing Section 53 (2) of NIMASA Act which mandates them to file a pre-action notice.
“At this stage, that error is fatal to the case of the plaintiff and it cannot be rectified by amendment or joinder,” Owonikoko posited.
He went on: “My Lord, even the AGF is not a proper party to this suit as the supervisory Minister for NIMASA is the Transport Minister. So, in essence, NLNG has failed to sue the proper defendants.”
On the commencement of contempt, Owonikoko averred that NLNG failed to comply with the proper procedures, as, according to him, same was served on one Romeo Itima (the late Managing Director of Global West), who died in 2012.
Responding, NLNG’s lawyer, Mr. Wale Akoni, argued that the case of his client was primarily against the Federal Government and its agents, and that the AGF could be sued in any matter involving the Federal Government.

Akoni further insisted that the contempt proceedings were commenced in line with the rules of the court. NLNG is claiming $37 million damages against the defendants jointly and severally over the said blockade of its Vessels.
Justice Idris had on June 18, 2013, granted an ex-parte order restraining the defendants from charging, imposing, demanding or collecting the three per cent of gross freight earnings or any other sums further to Section 15(a) of NIMASA Act 2007 on all of NLNG’s international inbound or outbound cargo ships owned, contracted or sub-contracted by it.
On Monday, the Judge Idris refused to reaffirm the ex-parte order when asked to do so by NLNG’s lawyer, Akoni.

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