Lawyer says diversion of Nigerian-bound Oil and Gas cargo illegal, economic sabotage

A legal practitioner, Mr John Ikezugo has said that the diversion of Nigerian bound vessels carrying oil and gas cargo to any other country or designated port terminals for discharge is illegal and an economic sabotage.
Ikezugo made the statement in Abuja when he reacted to a report published by Vanguard Newspaper on Aug. 3, 2014 which claimed that importers of oil and gas cargo were diverting vessels from Onne port in Nigeria to Cotonou in Republic of Benin.

The report also stated that the diversions was in protest of a Federal Government directive that owners of private jetties should discharge oil and gas carrying vessels at designated terminals and not at their jetties.

“There is no legal or administrative basis for diversion of Nigerian bound cargoes away from oil and gas designated terminals in Nigeria. If the report is correct then the action of those involved amounts to economic sabotage.

“Even the interim injunctions granted in the Ports and Terminal Operators Nigeria Limited (PTOL) and the Lagos Deep Offshore Logistics (LADOL) cases have expired by operation of the law,” he said.

It will be recalled that some companies that have refused to comply with the Federal Government directive issued in April this year that owners of private jetties should discharge oil and gas vessels at designated terminals have resorted to all sorts of tactics to operate from their comfort zones.

A top official of Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak on the subject also agreed that the illegality of diverting oil and gas cargoes meant for discharge at Nigerian ports amounts to economic sabotage.

The official, however, confirmed that the authority is going ahead with the implementation of handling of all oil and gas related cargoes at designated terminals.

According to Ikezugo, “it is perhaps the fact of the continued implementation that has led to the alleged protest.

“The status quo, in all respects, even with respect to the cases in court is that NPA is free to continue with the implementation of the policy pending the outcome of the applications in court for interlocutory injunctions which are yet to be argued.”

Also speaking, a maritime expert, Kolawole Olatunbosun said that the decision of the importers to divert Nigeria bound oil and gas cargo is a dangerous dimension to the defiance of the affected operators in resisting the implementation of Federal Government’s directive which in itself constitutes economic sabotage.

“This is very unfair to the regime of President Muhammadu Buhari who is pushing for more funds for development programs in Nigeria. I do not see how he will condone this illegality by importers,’’ Olatunbosun said.

He said that the argument by the importers that they were shunning designated ports in the country because of arbitrary charges on services is just untrue querying “how much do they save by diverting their cargoes”.

“They are fighting what they call a monopoly created by the designation of terminals and the directive to discharge their cargoes at designated ports.

“The point is that there are ports for certain types of cargo. While some ports charge less for lighter cargoes, heavier and complicated cargoes which call for more sophisticated handling are more expensive to clear.

“Some importers prefer to take the risk of discharging their oil and gas cargo at cheaper rates in non-designated ports rather than at the appropriate terminals and this causes a huge revenue loss to government.

“Government loses $4.4 million US Dollars per tonne of oil and gas cargo not discharged at the designated terminal,’’ he said.