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 Supreme Court grants FG exclusive control of all inland waterways

Supreme Court grants FG exclusive control of all inland waterways

The Supreme Court has granted the Federal Government total control of all waterways in the country, including the right to levy and licence operators in the sector.

The court, in a landmark judgement it delivered last Friday, in an appeal marked: SC/CV/17/2018, held that States lack the constitutional right to impose levies on businesses operating in the nation’s inland waterways.The appeal was filed by the National Inland Waterways Authority, NIWA, and the Nigerian Maritime Standard and Safety Agency, NMSSA, Minister of Mines and Steel Development, as well as the Minister of Transport.

Respondents to the case were the Lagos State Waterways, the state’s Commissioner for Waterfront Infrastructure Development, the state’s Attorney-General, the Governor of Lagos State, the Incorporated Trustees of Association of Tourist Boat Operators and Water Transportation of Nigeria, ATBOWTN, and the Incorporated Trustees of Dredgers Association of Nigeria, DAN.

The apex court held that it was wrong, unlawful and illegal for states to seek to control the sector and impose levies. 

The appeal, filed in 2018, was prosecuted for the Appellants by a team of lawyers led by the present Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Prince Lateef Fagbemi, SAN.In its lead judgment that was prepared by Justice Inyang Okoro and read by Justice Emmanuel Agim, the Supreme Court held that NIWA is the only agency saddled with the responsibility to levy, impose, and charge rates of utilization along the declared waters of the Nigerian Inland Waterways Authority.

It added that NIWA is the rightful and legal agency of FG with the powers to exclusively manage, direct and control all activities on the navigable waters and its right of way, throughout the country, for inland navigation, pursuant to Sections 8 and 9 of NIWA Act.

The apex court equally agreed with Fagbemi, SAN, that activities of the Lagos government and its agencies constituted a flagrant usurpation and an illegal encroachment on the statutory functions of NIWA because the waterways of Lagos State, among others in Nigeria, are under the Exclusive Legislative List set out in Part 1 of the Second Schedule to the 1999 Constitution.

It held that only FG, through the National Assembly, could legislate on Maritime Shipping and Navigation, stressing that the power to legislate on any subject in the Exclusive Legislative List was not within the rights of the Lagos State Government.

The court noted that existing laws did not favour Lagos government’s arguments on resource control, adding that political stakeholders, including the Legislature, could work on ways to amend the law to address the concern raised by Lagos and others on the issue.

It restored the judgement delivered on March 28, 2014, by Justice John Tsoho of the Federal High Court in Lagos and reversed the July 18, 2017 verdict of the Court of Appeal (Lagos Division), which set aside the Federal High Court judgment.

The Appellants had among other things, argued that the activities of the Lagos State Waterways Authority, LASWA, created by the Lagos Government, through the enactment of LASWA Law No. 14 of 2008 (LASWA 2008) by the state’s House of Assembly, to regulate, develop and manage all aspects of the waterways in Lagos State, was unconstitutional.

They argued that the inland waterways within Lagos State, not captured by the National Inland Waterways Act, are within the legislative competence of the state’s Legislature.

It was their position that states could collect taxes/levies on businesses on waterways within their territory.

However, confronted with a regime of multiple charges by agencies of both FG and Lagos State, ATBOWTN and DAN, in a suit marked: FHC/L/CS/543/2012, approached the Federal High Court in Lagos to determine which tier of government was empowered by extant laws to license and levy business operators on the nation’s inland waterways.

In his judgment on the case, Justice Tsoho, on March 28, 2014, held, among others, that NIWA and NMSSA were the proper and lawful agencies with authority in matters relating to the commercial activities of ATBOWTN and DAN, who are involved in water tourism, water transportation and sand dredging within the national inland waterways.

Justice Tsoho restrained the Lagos State Waterways Authority and the state’s Commissioner for Waterfront Infrastructural Development from further seeking to control the commercial activities of the plaintiffs – ATBOWTN and DAN.

Justice Tsoho’s judgement was eventually vacated on July ,18, 2017 in an appeal marked: CA/L/886/2014, which was fled by the Governor of  Lagos State and three others. Dissatisfied with the development, NIWA and the three other Appellantts took the matter before the Supreme Court which in the judgement it delivered last Friday, reaffirmed the earlier judgement of the high court. (Vanguard)

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