By Olasunkanmi Akoni
W hat seems to be a clash of the Titans is already playing out between the Federal Government and Lagos State Government, as the latter has dragged the National Inland Waterways Authority, NIWA, an agency of the Federal Government before the National Assembly panel over alleged illegal possession of Lagos State land.
The state government had declared that NIWA has been illegally occupying land in the state through the already nullified provisions of its enabling statute, citing the illegal placing and authorising placement of vessels and containers on land belonging to the state in Admiralty Way, Lekki Phase I area of the state.
Speaking at a three-day investigative hearing organised by the House of Representatives Committee on Ports, Harbours and Waterways at the National Assembly, Abuja, the Permanent Secretary, Lands Bureau, Mr. Bode Agoro, affirmed that all land located in the territory of Lagos State is vested in the Governor who holds same in trust and administers for the use and common benefit of all Nigerians in accordance with the provisions of the Land Use Act.
He further informed the committee that by virtue of Designation of Urban Areas Order dated 2nd March, 1981, all the different areas and names located on the Lagos State Regional Plan (1980- 2000) of the Lagos State of Nigeria are designated as Urban Areas, thereby, placing all land in the state under the control and management of the Governor.
In his submission, Agoro further informed the committee that the parcels of land in Ikoyi, Victoria Island, Lekki and Apapa, to mention a few, were either acquired by Colonial Administration through Crown Ordinance which is now State Land Law Chapter S11, Laws of Lagos State 2015, while the Governor, through the Land Use And Allocation Committee, LUAC, has the power to allocate land in conformity with the provision of the Land Use Act for Residential, Industrial, Commercial, or Institutional purposes.
Agoro, however, conceded that the Federal Military Government through Decree No 52 of 1993 compulsorily acquired the parcel of land within 100 metres limit of the shoreline and all land reclaimed near the lagoon, sea or ocean in or bordering Nigeria.
Submitting further, Agoro explained that Decree No 52 is now contained in Lands (Title Vesting, etc ) Act, Cap L7, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 , Act which is now incorporated in section 13 of the National Inland Waterways Authority Act, Cap N47, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.
This compulsory acquisition of land as described in The Lands (Title Vesting, among others) Act, was challenged in Suit No FHC/ FHC/ CS/ 669/95, by Elegushi Chieftaincy family and others at the Federal High Court sitting in Lagos presided over by Justice T. A. Odunowo wherein the Court declared that the acquisition by Decree No 52 of 1993, was null and void.
He therefore, concluded that the provision of section 13 of the National Inland Waterways Authority Act, Cap N47 is a nullity based on the decision of the Federal High Court aforementioned, same having not been appealed.
While responding, the General Manager, Lagos Zone of NIWA, Muazu Sambo, informed the committee 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 the NIWA Act and all 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, are under the exclusive management, direction and control of NIWA.
He noted that a subsisting Court of Appeal decision in the case of G. M Enterprises Limited vs C.R. investment Ltd held that NIWA has been conferred with far reaching power and right to control, develop, manage and use all the lands navigable waterways, inland waterways and river ports throughout Nigeria.
In a swift reaction on behalf of the Lagos state government, Mr. Emmanuel Akande, Director and Head of Legal, Lands Bureau, noted that the Court of Appeal decision in the case of G. M Enterprises Limited vs C.R. investment Ltd relates to the validity of the NIWA Act and not the interpretation of Section 12 and 13, and stressed that the Lands ( Title Vesting, among others) Act has been declared null and void by a court of competent jurisdiction.
Commenting on the implication of Section 49 (1) of the Land Use Act, earlier referred to by Sambo, Mr. Akande said it was to the effect that any claim of title to land vested in the federal government or its agency after the Land Use Act came into effect on 29th March, 1978, which is ultra vires and thus, invalid.
He therefore, concluded that NIWA was created by the National Inland Waterways Act which was enacted in 1997 after the promulgation of the Land Use Act in 1978, and so, cannot benefit from the provision of section 49 (1) having been created after the commencement of the Land Use Act.
In addition, Akande posited that the allocation of Land in Lekki Phase 1 by NIWA is illegal and ultra vires based on the fact that the Lagos state had earlier acquired the land in 1972 by virtue of the Lagos State Official Gazette No 20. Vol.5 dated 18th August, 1972, covering all that parcel of land at Maroko, Ilado and Moba villages ( now Lekki Phase 1), containing an approximate area of 3100 acres.
However, the committee, headed by Patrick Asadu, after listening to both parties on the matter, expressed dissatisfaction over the insufficiency of documents provided by NIWA in support of the claim and concluded on reconvening at a later date for further deliberation with a view to reaching an amicable solution.