NLNG, NIMASA feud: Court to rule on prelim objections on Friday:

By The Rainbow

JUSTICE Mohammed Idris of the Federal High Court, Lagos has fixed  July 12 for ruling  on the lingering dispute between the Nigeria Liquefied and Natural Gas (NLNG) Limited and the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA).

NLNG and NIMASA have been locked in a fierce battle over the issue of non-payment of certain statutory levies and charges which NIMASA claims are due to it from NLNG.

The judge said on Tuesday that he would on that date rule on two preliminary objections filed by a private firm, Global West Vessels Specialists Nigeria Limited (GWVSNL), joined as defendant by NLNG.

GWVSNL is challenging the jurisdiction of the court to adjudicate on the suit in addition to the propriety of commencing contempt proceedings against it by NLNG.

GWVSNL was sued as an agent of NIMASA alongside the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Bello Adoke.

Counsel to GWVSNL, Abiodun Owonikoko (SAN), while arguing on the objection, urged the court to dismiss the suit on the ground that proper parties were not sued as defendants.

He said the court has been robbed of jurisdiction owing to the fact that the suit was incurably defective. According to him, the Supreme Court has held in a plethora of cases that this kind of case cannot go on against them in the absence of NIMASA, which was not listed as defendant in the suit.

He said: '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. 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 said that NLNG failed to comply with the proper procedures, as same was served on one Romeo Itimi, who died in 2012.

But NLNG's counsel, Wale Akoni (SAN) said the case of his client was primarily against the Federal Government and its agents, and that 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.

According to suit, NLNG is claiming $37 million damages against the defendants jointly and severally over the said blockade of its Vessels.

Justice Idris, it would be recalled, had on June 18, 2013 in Suit FHC/L/CS/847/2013 between NLNG and Attorney General of the Federation and Global West Vessels Specialists, granted an ex-parte order restraining the defendants from charging, imposing, demanding or collecting the 3% 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 subcontracted by it.

After Mr. Akoni's submission, lawyer representing the Federal Government, Fabian Ajogwu (SAN) moved his application seeking to discharge the ex-parte order on the grounds that the order was essentially made against NIMASA, which was not joined as party to the suit.

NIMASA has also filed an application seeking to be joined as a party to the suit.

.The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) will roll out the cash-less policy nationwide by January, 2014, the deputy governor, Operations, CBN, Mr Tunde Lemo, has indicated.

The policy was, early in the month, extended to Abia, Anambra, Kano, Ogun and Rivers states and Federal Capital Territory (FCT), after the Lagos pilot project, which was introduced in January 2012.

Lemo, who fielding questions from newsmen in Lagos on Tuesday, said with the level of attention given to the challenges facing the scheme by the stakeholders, it would be feasible to embark on nationwide roll-out in the next six months.

According to the deputy governor,  CBN  and its partners will monitor the developments in the five states and FCT where the policy have just been introduced.

He said that  there was a strong tendency that the proximity of the other states would ensure smooth take-off.

Lemo said there were constraints facing the policy, stressing that the identified ones were assisting the apex bank to know the area to deploy technology and give necessary attention.

He said, 'We acknowledge those constraints, we are dealing with them and, of course, within the next six months or so, it might be convenient for us also to roll out to the entire country, because we are quite aware that it is possible for people to arbitrage by moving cash around states that are very close to areas where we are implementing cashless.

'Although we are yet to confirm, but we hope that within six months post-implementation in the five states and the FCT, we should be able to go to other parts of Nigeria.'

The cash-less policy, first introduced in Lagos on January 1, 2012, is migration from cash-based economy to electronic payment channels.

It principally includes e-payment, using cheques, Point of Sale (PoS) and Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) and mobile money, among others.

It is essentially to break down the traditional barriers hindering financial inclusion of millions of Nigerians and bring low-cost, secure and convenient financial services to urban, semi-urban and rural areas across the country.

In essence, the apex bank said the policy was introduced to drive development and modernisation of the payment system, in line with Nigeria's Vision 20:2020; to reduce the cost of banking services (including cost of credit) and drive financial inclusion by providing more efficient transaction options.

In addition, the policy aims to curb some of the negative consequences associated with the high usage of physical cash in the economy, including high cost of cash management; high risk of using cash; high subsidy; checking high cash usage at the informal sector and inefficiency and corruption.

Under the policy, the CBN pegged the daily cumulative cash withdrawal or deposit limit for individual accounts at N500,000 per day and N3 million per day for corporate accounts.

The processing fee for withdrawals above the limit for individual customers and corporate bodies was also put at three per cent and five per cent respectively, while third party cheque was pegged at N150,000.