By Olasunkanmi Akoni, Godfrey Bivbere & Favour Efughi
The fight for the control of the multi-million naira inland waterways in Lagos area has shifted to the Supreme Court as the Federal Government and the state government go head to head.
The first move by Lagos State government to control the waterways was in 2008 when officials went after inland waterways operators following the creation of Lagos State Waterways Authority, LASWA, and the repeal of the law establishing the Federal Government body (National Inland Waterways Authority, NIWA) charged with the responsibility of regulating waterways in the country.
The Incorporated Associations of Dredgers and Water Transport Operators had gone to the Federal High Court to challenge the state government on the LASWA creation and the court ruled in favour of NIWA/NIMASA (Nigerian Maritime Administration and Security Agency) and the operators.
The court said then that operators should relate with NIWA since the 1999 Constitution places the control of the inland waterways on the exclusive list to be controlled by the Federal Government.
After that judgement, Lagos State stopped interfering in the regulation and control of the waterways in the state until it approached the Appeal Court recently.
The Appeal Court delivered judgement on July 18.
The twist to the tussle is that the state government and NIWA are interpreting the verdict of the appellate court differently with both claiming victory.
Interpreting the verdict in favour of Lagos, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, during a Town Hall meeting in Badore Ferry Terminal, Ajah, warned boat operators and dredgers operating in the state to comply with the LASWA law or have their activities banned.
Speaking at a joint media briefing by the state Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Steve Ayorinde; the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr Adeniji Kazeem; the Commissioner for Waterfront Infrastructure Development, Engr. Ade Akinsanya; the Managing Director of LASWA, Ms Abisola Kamson, and Chief Executive Officer of Lagos State Ferry Services, Hon Paul Kalejaye, Kazeem, backed the position of Ambode when they declared readiness to aggressively enforce the relevant laws for the regulation of Lagos waterfront infrastructure development and all connected purposes.
In a counter position, the Lagos Area Manager of NIWA, Muazu Sambo, said when the case went to court, NIWA, NIMASA and other stakeholders filed their cases and they were slated for hearing on September 11, 2017 only for them to be informed that they should come for judgment on July 18.
According to him, NIWA has gone to the Supreme Court based on the advice of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, to clarify the Appeal Court verdict.
Claiming victory for NIMA in the appellate court judgement, the agency’s General Manager, Public Relations, Mr. Fadile, in a statement, said, “Lagos State House of Assembly, in line with the Court of Appeal judgment delivered on July 18, 2017, does not have the power to make laws in respect of the following International and inter-state waterways in Lagos: Intra-coastal route from Badagry, along the Badagry Creek to Lagos through Lagos Lagoon to Epe, Lekki Lagoon to Iwopin, along Omu Creek, Talifa Kivei to Atijere, Akata, Aboto, Oluwa River to Okitipupa and onto Gbekebo, Arogbo, Ofunama, Benin Creek to Warri.
“The same also applies to the canal running from Araromi through Aiyetoro, Imelumo to Benin River and from Aiyetoro through Mahin Lagoon to Igbokoda. Item 5, 2nd Schedule, Section 10 of the National Inland Waterways Authority Act. Cap N.47, LFN 2004.”
He quoted Justice Hussein Mukhtar, who read the Appeal Court judgement, as saying: “The required declaration for inland waterways under the exclusive legislative list is made under Section 10 of the National Inland Waterways Act, which includes rivers and intra-coastal waterways specified in the Second Schedule to the National Inland Waterways Act, which have been declared as Federal navigable waterways.
“Section 11 thereof provides that all navigable waterways, inland waterways, river-ports and internal waters of Nigeria, excluding all direct approaches to the ports listed in the Third Schedule to this Act and all the other waters declared to be approaches to ports under or pursuant to the Nigerian Ports Authority Act, up to 250 metres beyond the upstream edge of the quay of such ports, shall be under the exclusive management, direction and control of the Authority.
“Item 5 in the Second Schedule to the National Inland Waterways Act is the relevant provision for the navigable route that falls under the exclusive legislative list and it provides as highlighted above”.
In a related development, operators, including Association of Tourist Boat Operators and Water Transporters of Nigeria, ATBOWATON, and the Lagos Chapter of the Dredgers Association of Nigeria, DAN, have said they are comfortable working with NIWA, as the present situation amounts to double taxation for them.