Tension over control of Lagos waterways heightens as Lagos Govt., NIWA flex muscles

Temper between the Lagos state government and the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) over the control of waterways in Lagos state has refused to abate despite the Appeal court judgement which both parties lay claim to its victory.

In a bid to give teeth to their claim of victory over the control of the waterways, the Lagos State government has issued a 7-day ultimatum to boat operators, dredgers and all stakeholders in the inland waterways sector to comply with all the applicable laws, rules and guidelines concerning their operations failure of which appropriate stiff sanctions would apply.

In a swift counter move,NIWA advised inland water operators, particularly the dredgers in Lagos to totally ignore the ultimatum of the state, because the Lagos House of Assembly lacks the power to make Laws in respect of International and Inter-state Waterways terrain.

However, the Lagos state government, through its chief spokesman, Steve Ayorinde, declared that the state government is ready to aggressively enforce the relevant laws for the regulation of waterfront infrastructure development and all connected purposes, and urged all boat and dredging operators to be law abiding and fully comply with the resolve of the government to sanitize the sector for the overall benefit of the people.

He said the State Government was very pleased with the judgment which he described as clear, unambiguous and a victory for resource control and fiscal federalism in Nigeria.

Ayorinde stated there have been varied attempts by those who lost out especially the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) to whittle down the effect of the appellate court judgment, but that in as much as the State Government was not out to antagonize or fight anybody, it would however be “uncowed, unbowed and fiercely protect the God-given resources within the State and never relent in championing the cause of true federalism in the country.”

Reacting to claims by NIWA that the judgment did not favour the State Government, the state government said the quest by the federal agency to keep on controlling the resources of the State from Abuja despite the judgment was totally absurd and cannot stand when viewed from moral, legal and economic grounds.

It stated that the same NIWA that claimed on the one hand that the judgment did not favour the State Government, had also indicated interest to appeal, and queried the intention of the agency in seeking to take the resources of the State.

“Looking at the import of these laws which you can find in the Constitution is that the Federal Government controls maritime and international navigation which is to clear the high seas for international carriers to be able to move freely. In so far as bodies of water within a state do not obstruct those international routes, those bodies of water within the exclusive preserve of the state are left to their control and that is what that Appeal Court judgment affirmed. It said clearly that the Lagos State House of Assembly has powers to legislate on its intra-inland waterways and the LASWA Law is very clear about its powers and authority to control boat operation.

“You can imagine that a federal government agency in Abuja intend to control how boat operators operate here. This is just the same thing as saying that the federal government agency should control the buses that ply your road. If you say you have a right to control land transportation, should you not have right to control water transportation. Secondly, if you have a coastline that is very important to you and then some people are eroding that coastline by unregulated dredging cutting into the coastline, causing flooding, causing environmental nuisance and then you say that an agency that is situate in Abuja should control that, that is absurd. So, on a moral, on a legal, on an economic standpoint, it is not right,”

Nevertheless, the General Manager, Public Relations of NIWA, Mr. Fadile, stressing that by virtue of a recent judgement of Court of Appeal judge, Justice Dr. Hussein Mukhtar, the Lagos State House of Assembly in line with the Judgement delivered on the 18th July, 2017 do not have the power to make laws in respect of inter- state routes.

The NIWA statement specifically pointed out that 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 were outside the legislative ambit of the Lagos State Housed of Assembly.

“Also 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 National Inland Waterways Authority Act. Cap N.47, LFN 2004.

But the state government declared that the judgment was a breath of fresh air for internally generated revenue, and it would also help the State Government to restore the environment and control the menace of flooding, while also falling in line with the promise of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode to make Lagos work for all by recovering and harnessing the resources of the State for benefit of all.

“If it is the wish of NIWA to challenge the right of LASG to control its resources at the Supreme Court, we say we are ready. However, until this judgment is set aside, it remains good law and will be fully enforced by the LASG and my office and the relevant government agencies’’

‘’With the judgment, the government would now enforce relevant laws to ensure balance between economic development and preservation that would permit the beneficial use of waterfronts while preserving the diminution of open space areas or public access to the waterfront, shoreline erosion, impairment of scenic beauty or permanent adverse changes to ecological system, as well as the guidelines for sand dredging and auxiliary operations including evidence of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Bathymetric/sand search reports before any project is allowed on the waterways’’

The state government however urged all stakeholders to take full advantage of the 7-day ultimatum to regularize their operations and activities, revealing that the reforms aimed at achieving integrated, intermodal water transportation system would now be vigorously pursued in the state.

It would be recalled that Dr. Hussein Mukhtar, Justice Court of Appeal who adjudicated in the dispute between the two parties noted in his judgement thus:

“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.

“This root runs through international and states boundaries and is therefore consistent with the provisions of the Constitution being an item on the exclusive legislative list. Revenue accruable from this Federal route is payable to the Federal Waterways Authority (NIWA).”

“It is hereby held that the Lagos State House of Assembly is competent to make laws in respect of the intra-inland waterways in Lagos State except the Inter-State waterway declared as International or Interstate Waterway under Item 5 in the 2nd Schedule to the National Inland Waterways Act”, the NIWA management emphasised, copiously quoting Justice Dr. Hussein Mukhtar of the Court of Appeal; while demanding that the Lagos State should publicly define its Intra-state water routes in Lagos State’’