Efforts to amicably resolve the lingering tax dispute between the Nigeria Liquefied and Natural Gas (NLNG) Limited and the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) Thursday failed as lawyers on both sides proceeded with their arguments before the Federal High Court in Lagos.
Meanwhile, the court has fixed Friday for ruling on all pending applications.
When the case came up Thursday before Justice Mohammed Idris, NIMASA‚Äôs lawyer, Mike Igbokwe (SAN), told the judge 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: ‚ÄúMy Lord, I need to seek clarification as to the status of this case. I was reliably informed by my client that there was a
meeting between the SGF, NIMASA MD and Shell MD, who is also a board member of NLNG.
‚ÄúThe MD of NLNG was linked to the meeting via teleconference and after discussions, it was agreed that they (NLNG) should get their lawyer to vacate the interim order and proceed to pay the money they are owing.
‚ÄúI need to know if I‚Äôm on the same page with NLNG‚Äôs lawyer on this, otherwise I will proceed with my motions which are ripe for hearing,‚Äù Igbokwe stressed.
But NLNG‚Äôs 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.
‚ÄúI must say I‚Äôm taken aback by this practice. I don‚Äôt have any instruction to vacate the order.
‚ÄúThe 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 so that our vessels can be released,‚Äù Akoni said.
Igbokwe, in response, said Akoni‚Äôs comments only showed that they were not on the same page, and stressed that he was ready to move his motions.
He also stressed that the motion to vary the ex-parte order which Akoni mentioned, had not been served on him.
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.
‚ÄúThe 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.
‚ÄúInstead 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.
‚ÄúThis 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.
‚ÄúOur story is simple, the federal government entered into an agreement with some individuals sometime ago and that agreement later transformed into the NLNG Act.
‚ÄúThereafter, the government formed NIMASA which is responsible to it,‚Äù Akoni argued, urging the court to dismiss the objections of NIMASA and the AGF.
Justice Idris had on June 18 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‚Äôs international inbound or outbound cargo ships owned, contracted or subcontracted by it.