A fresh crisis is brewing between the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and INTELS Nigeria Limited over the termination of a boat service contract being handled by the logistics company in Nigerian ports.
INTELs, partly owned by former Nigerian vice-president, Atiku Abubakar, in a statement Thursday called on the shipping community to disregard a termination notice issued by the NPA with regard to the boat service contract.
In a marine information notice dated September 1, the Lagos Pilotage District (LPD) of the NPA said the service, hitherto handled by Intels, had been terminated.
The notice, seen by PREMIUM TIMES, directed all service boats owners and operators to do transactions directly in each port complex of the NPA.
“Every Service Boat movement must be reported and booked at the office of the Harbour Master of the District, where Pilotage Chits and Master Declaration Forms will be issued and returned after every movement,” the notice said.
“Every enquiry on Service Boat movement should be directed to the office of the Port Manager of the Ports/Harbour Master, Pilotage District.”
Earlier, a Federal High Court in Lagos had granted an interim injunction stopping the NPA from terminating the role of INTELS Nigeria Limited as manning agent in the Pilotage Districts of Lagos, Warri, Bonny/Port Harcourt and Calabar.
The judge, R.M. Aikawa, granted the interim injunction in the suit number FHC/L/CS/1058/2020 based on an application filed by INTELS Nigeria Limited and Deep Offshore Service Nigeria Limited against the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA).
INTELS and Deep Offshore had requested the court to restrain NPA from preventing them from performing their duties as managing agent, pending the determination of ongoing arbitration proceedings.
The court order, dated August 28, reads: “That an order is granted restraining the respondent, its servants, agents, and/or privies from giving effect for the purported notice of expiration issued it on 5th August 2020 or taking any other step to prevent the parties from performing their duties and obligations under the agreements between the 1st applicant and respondent dated 11th February 2011 and 24th August 2018, pending the determination of the originating motion dated 12th August 2020 seeking for interim measures of protection in support of the pending arbitration between the parties therein.”
The court adjourned the matter to September 15 for the originating motion on notice.
Consequent upon the court order, the management of INTELS asked the shipping community to disregard the new notice issued by the NPA.
As of press time Friday morning, it remained unclear why NPA moved against the company despite the court judgement.
Adams Jatto, NPA’s spokesperson, told PREMIUM TIMES that he is on leave and could not comment on the new development when contacted.
In its reaction Thursday, INTELs directed members of the shipping community to disregard the termination notice because, according to the company, it was issued in contempt of the court.
“We read with surprise, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA)’s Notice 11 of 2020, dated 1st September 2020 circulated on different public fora today 3rd September 2020; titled “MARINE INFORMATION” wherein the NPA purported to give notice to all its stakeholders in Nigeria and abroad that the boat service operation ‘hitherto (Previously) handled by a Third-Party Company, the Integrated Logistics Services (Intels) Nigeria has been terminated’,” the statement said.
“The NPA went on to further give notice that all Service Boats Owners and Operators are “to do transactions directly in each of the Port Complex of the Nigerian Ports Authority’.
“NPA’s publication is highly selective, inaccurate and should be disregarded, as it seeks to circumvent legal due process. Indeed, a dispute has arisen over NPA’s right to terminate our role as managing agent in the Pilotage Districts of Lagos, Warri, Bonny/Port-Harcourt and Calabar. This dispute has been submitted to arbitration, and the arbitral proceedings have already commenced.
“Notwithstanding the pendency of arbitral proceedings, NPA issued a letter dated 5th August 2020, wherein it asserted that our appointment will expire by 8th August 2020, and that it will thereafter regard “all obligations arising” therefrom “as closed.”
INTELs argued that to preserve the status-quo pending the outcome of the arbitration, it instituted legal proceedings before the Federal High Court, Lagos, to restrain the NPA from placing reliance on this letter or from taking any other step to prevent Intels from performing its duties as managing agent, pending the determination of the arbitration proceedings.
“On Friday 28th August 2020; Honourable Justice R. M. Aikawa of the Federal High Court, Lagos granted an interim injunction against the NPA in the following terms,” the statement reads further.
“AN ORDER of interim injunction restraining the Respondent, its servants, agents, and/or privies from giving effect to the purported notice of expiration issued by it on 5th August 2020, or taking any other step to prevent the parties from performing their duties and obligations under the agreements between the 1st Applicant and Respondent dated 11th February 2011 and 24th August 2018, pending the determination of the Originating Motion dated 12th August 2020 seeking for interim measures of protection in support of the pending arbitration between the parties herein.
“On the same date, our solicitors dispatched a letter to the NPA to inform it of the existence of the suit and the orders granted by the court. Indeed, a certified true copy of the order has, today, been served on NPA by the bailiff of the court, and the suit will come up for further hearing by the Federal High Court on Tuesday 15th September 2020.
“Given its knowledge of the restraining orders of the Federal High Court, it is very unfortunate that the NPA would proceed to issue Notice 11 of NPA as well as any other communications of this kind to stakeholders. This publication clearly has no basis as it was issued in contempt of the court; and the general public is advised to entirely disregard it.”l
The NPA and Intels have a long history of disagreements about operations in Nigerian ports.
In 2017, the Nigerian government moved against Intels.
Earlier, President Muhammadu Buhari had approved the recommendations of the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, breaking the near-monopoly of Intels in the handling of oil and gas cargoes in the country.
Mr Malami wrote to the Managing Director of NPA, Hadiza Bala-Usman, directing her to terminate the boats pilotage monitoring and supervision agreement that the agency had with Intels, saying that the contract was illegal.
Mr Malami argued that the agreement which had allowed Intels to receive revenue on behalf of NPA for 17 years, was in contravention of the Nigerian Constitution, especially in view of the implementation of the Treasury Single Account (TSA) policy of government.
Not done, the NPA terminated the Pilotage Agency Agreement with Intels, several months after both parties had disagreements over the company’s operations in Nigerian ports.
In its reaction at the time, Intels kicked against the termination of the agreement describing the action as “preposterous” and highly injurious to Nigeria.