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Court restrains President Jonathan from signing Oil and Gas bill

By The Rainbow
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President Goodluck Jonathan has been restrained from approving the amendment of the Oil and Gas Export Free Zone Act.

A Federal High Court sitting in Lagos on Tuesday made the restraining order while ruling  on an exparte motion filed by Nigerdock Nigeria Limited, Simco Free Zone Company and Nigerdock Nigeria Plc.

Presiding Justice Saliu Saidu also restrained the National Assembly and its Clerk from forwarding the Bill for an Act to Amend the Oil and Gas Export Free Zone Authority Act. Cap. 05 to the President for assent.

In the suit marked FHC/L/CS/719/15, the plaintiffs through their lawyer, Prof. Olanrewaju Fagboun had sought an interim order restraining the defendants from prohibiting the usage of their facilities at Snake Island Integrated Free Zone for Oil and Gas cargoes.

Also joined as defendants to the President and federal legislature are the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Minister of Transport, and the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA).

In an affidavit deposed to by Yusufu Abdullahi, a director of Simco Free Zone Company, averred that Nigerdock Nigeria Limited is a promoter of Snake Island Integrated Free Zone, SIIFZ.

According to him, SIMCO is saddled with the responsibility of developing, marketing, managing, operating and administering SIIFZ. Abdullahi averred that SIIFZ was approved as a privately owned and managed Free Zone by Presidential declaration in January 2005, adding that it was duly licensed by the Nigeria Export Processing Zones Authority, NEPZA, in April 2005. He added that other regulatory agencies such as NPA, Nigerian Customs Service (NCS), Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS), Nigeria Police Force (NPF), and State Security Service (SSS), are present within SIIFZ to ensure due compliance with all laws and that appropriate security is maintained. Abdullahi further claimed that the federal government as beneficial owner during privatisation, promised core investor who purchased its share in the Nigerdock Nigeria Limited that it will take all necessary steps to co-operate fully so that the purchaser can obtain all benefits under the country's Law.

But in November last year, Abdullahi said the plaintiffs got to know of the Bill for An Act to Amend the Oil and Gas Export Free Zone Authority Act, Cap. 05. He stated that the Bill has been presented to the Senate, adding that the plaintiffs were not invited to the public hearing the upper Chamber had in respect of the Bill. According to him, the plaintiffs submitted a petition to the Senate when they became aware that a public hearing had been conducted, in order to sensitise the Red Chamber of the negative impacts it would have on their businesses, since Section 5(3) of the proposed Bill seeks expansion of the power of OGFZA to take over and perform the roles of NEPZA.

He furthered claimed that in Section 10, the Bill will confer the rights to handle oil and gas cargoes only at approved oil and gas concessioned ports, with freedom to investors to choose ports of discharge of their cargoes within designated terminals at Onne, Warri and Calabar ports. He stated that the Bill did not define what constitute “oil and gas related cargoes”, adding that it will give room to situations where cargoes intended for SIIFZ are wrongly classified as oil and gas related. The deponent further averred that, a total of 24 ports were concessioned to private investors, with 14 in the western and 10 in the eastern zone of NPA, adding that the proposed amendment will confer monopoly on Integrated Logistic Services Limited (INTELS), the only concessionaire currently operating in Warri, Onne and Calabar ports at the detriment of others.

Abdullahi further averred there were indications that the Senate has passed the Bill and was at the verge of hurriedly presenting it to the President for assent.

He threfore urged the court to restrain the defendants before the bill is finally sealed through presidential assent.

The Senate's action, he claimed, was meant to foist a situation of fait accompli on the incoming administration at the federal level, which will have devastating social and economic consequences on the plaintiffs. After issuing the interim order, Justice Saidu adjourned the matter for May 26, to hear the substantive suit.

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