Lagos (WorldStage Newsonline)-- While the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) on Monday called on the judiciary to protect it properties, especially bank accounts from garnishee order, the judiciary replied that it cannot guarantee such when the NCAA’s counsels refuse to appear in court when they have issues to defend.
A garnishee order is a legal procedure by which a creditor can collect what a debtor owes by reaching the debtor's property when it is in the hands of someone other than the debtor.
NCAA had at the opening session of a two - day Aviation Law Seminar organised for judges of the Federal High Courts of Nigeria in Lagos lamented that if the judiciary fails to come to its aid, it may affect its statutory roles of effective regulation of the industry and thereby jeopardise safety in the industry.
In his keynote address to declare the seminar open, the Director General of Nigerian Civil aviation Authority (DG, NCAA) Dr. Harold Demuren requested that the court needed to protect the aviation agency from the impact garnishee order would have on the regulatory capacity of the agency as the regulatory arm of the aviation industry.
Demuren who was represented at the seminar by the Director of Aerodrome and Airspace Standard, Haruna Lawal, said the seminar was important to keep the judiciary abreast of the contemporary legal issues in the aviation industry as the nation poised to build travelers confidence in the industry.
He however said that granting such order would cause a great distraction in the activities of the regulatory agency, which, he claimed, may affect the safety record the nation has achieved in the recent time.
“My Lords, whilst we are making every effort to sustain the present safety record, we are faced with series of legal challenges. As the industry is growing, our operators and consumers of air transport especially passengers are becoming more aware of their rights and the volume of litigation involving the NCAA is growing at an alarming proportion. It is on record today that of every three aviation related cases in our courts, the NCAA is joined as a defendant in at least one of the cases. Most of these cases fail to disclose any cause of action which NCAA is directly responsible for. This development is not in the interest of our aviation industry as it is a major distraction from the performance of NCAA statutory responsibilities. NCAA is a regulatory body charged with the statutory responsibility of regulating the safety, security and economic efficiency of air navigation,” he said.
“NCAA is not an aircraft operator or an airline. It is not an airport operator, it is not an air traffic service provider neither is it engaged in the provision of ground handling or other allied services whatsoever.
“As such, a situation where NCAA is held liable for acts arising from the provision of services at the airports by aircraft operators and air traffic services and other aviation allied services providers is highly detrimental to safety of air transportation as it amounts to a major drain of limited resources which otherwise could be applied to safety critical issues.
“My Lords section 67 (1) of the CAA 2006, designates the aviation industry and by implication, NCAA as an essential service sector pursuant to the provision of section 11(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“This necessarily means that the operations and activities of this industry must be uninterrupted and kept running 24/7. This in fact is the reality as aircraft takeoff and land, airports and control tower are opened round the clock.
“It is therefore very worrisome that the operational bank accounts of NCAA and other aviation agencies should be garnished by order of court without due regards to the essential nature of NCAA’s regulatory activities and the overall implication of such an order on the ability of NCAA to safely conduct such activities. This poses potent danger to safety of lives and properties of millions of air travelers flying in the Nigerian airspace.”
But in his response the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Ibrahim Auta who also acknowledged the level of safety so far attained in the industry and the efforts of NCAA at keeping every stakeholder abreast with the development in the industry, said the relevant portion on which NCAA was relying upon to ask for protection from garnishee order, would only become applicable when the NCAA’s counsels turn up regularly in the court when cases involving the aviation agency is being heard.
He explained that situations where counsels to NCAA don’t appear in court when issues concerning the agency came up in the court of law, the court may not have any other option than to grant the garnishee order.
The Chief Justice who noted that the absence of NCAA counsels in the court, would not help in the dispensation of justice, therefore advised NCAA to either begin to think on how to hire its own counsels or continue to rely on the attorney general for counsels when it has issues in court.
“On the issue raise on the garnishee order as stated in the Civil Aviation Act 2006, you better keep that to yourself. We cannot assure you of protection from the garnishee order when your counsels would not come to the court when you have issues in the court. It is either you get lawyers and do your cases or you allow the Attorney General to do the case for you,” the respected jurist advised.