The Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas Limited (NLNG) on Thursday told a Federal High Court in Lagos that it wished to settle its dispute with the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Adoke (SAN), the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), and others out of court.
Adoke had filed a motion on notice on June 27, asking the court to vacate or discharge an ex-parte order, which the NLNG alleged the defendants violated.
He sought to discharge it because it was made against NIMASA, which was not joined as a party to the suit.
The order was made against Adoke, Global West Vessel Specialists Nigeria Limited and its Managing Director, Mr. Romeo Itima. NLNG alleged that the trio disobeyed an order Justice Mohammed Idris, made on June 18, and so filed a contempt charge against them.
The judge made the order of interim injunction restraining the defendants, either acting for or deriving authorities from the federal government, including NIMASA, from charging three per cent of gross freight earnings, tax, charges or dues, among others, on all of NLNG’s international-bound and outbound cargo, owned by it or its contractors or subsidiaries, pending the hearing and determination of the motion for interlocutory injunction.
But the plaintiff’s lawyer, Wole Akoni (SAN), said the parties had discussed terms of settlement, but that NLNG’s board of directors and shareholders were yet to authorise the terms.
The case was first called in the morning for contempt proceedings and hearing of Adoke’s application to begin. However, the matter was stood down till noon, after Akoni said he needed to confirm further details of the agreement with his clients.
When the court sat again at noon, the lawyer expressed regrets at being unable to conclude the discussions.
“We have not been able to finally come to terms on the order to be proposed to be put before your Lordship. Given a bit more time, this issue will be resolved,” he said.
Akoni, therefore, applied for a short adjournment to enable him conclude with his clients.
Adoke’s lawyer, Dr Fabian Ajogwu (SAN), did not oppose the application for an adjournment, saying: “We are happy to grant him a one-day indulgence.”
Global West’s lawyer, Abiodun Owonikoko (SAN), said they too were not opposed to the application. “We will reluctantly concede to the adjournment,” he said.
NIMASA’s lawyer, Mr. Mike Igbokwe (SAN), pointed out that the disagreement over which an adjournment was sought did not involve his client, as it was not a party, but involved NLNG’s board of directors.
“The disagreement is between them (NLNG) and their shareholders,” he said.
He added that NIMASA would want the matter resolved as quickly as possible because “we are hurting.”
In the motion on notice, Adoke contended that NIMASA, being a body corporate with statutory powers to sue and be sued in its own name, should have been joined in the suit.
He said its non-inclusion as a party was a violation of the principles of fair hearing, which require that the other side should be heard.
The government claimed that an order could not be made against a person who is not a party to a suit, as it is necessary that such a party must be given the opportunity to present its case.
Adoke said the dispute that gave rise to the suit was essentially between NLNG and NIMASA, and the non-inclusion of NIMASA was a deliberate move by NLNG to circumvent the provision of section 53(2) the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency Act of 2007.
The section, the applicant said, makes it mandatory for an intending plaintiff to give the statutory body 30 days pre-action notice.
Adoke said the court would not have granted the ex-parte order if not for an alleged misrepresentation, concealment and non-disclosure of material facts by NLNG.
The government said there was no urgency whatsoever shown by NLNG, let alone extreme urgency, warranting the granting of the ex-parte orders against the defendants and NIMASA.
The court had restrained the defendants from further detaining or preventing NLNG’s chartered vessels from carrying out importation and exportation of gas through the Bonny channel or elsewhere in Nigeria.
The Judge made the order following an ex-parte application filed by the NLNG after NIMASA allegedly blocked the Bonny Channel, preventing the entry and exit of NLNG’s vessels allegedly over unpaid levies.