State governments seeking to control the inland waterways may be courting trouble as the Federal High Court sitting in Lagos on March 28, 2014 had ruled that only the Federal Government through the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) and the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) is constitutionally empowered to do so.

 

 

Justice J.T Tsoho on the said date ruled that States and Federal Governments could not have concurrent jurisdiction to make laws on the matter as the inland waterways, by virtue of being on the Exclusive Legislative list, is the Federal Government’s preserve.

 

 

Operators had filed a suit against Lagos State and Federal Government together with their agencies because of multiple taxes they were compelled to pay. To get operational permits or certificates, dredging companies, boat/ferry service providers and jetty operators were (and in many cases are still being) levied by both parties. On a closer look, the payments served the same purpose. They were just duplicates. As a result, operators begged the court to establish which was the proper and lawful agency or agencies to deal with.

 

 

NIWA has its guidelines for operators, just as LASWA has its own too. So, what happens at points of conflict in the regulatory duties of both agencies? Who should be held responsible? While one body approves of the activities of operators, the other can halt their work for whatsoever reason it deems fit. Of course, either way, the investor bears the brunt.

 

 

LASWA on behalf of Lagos State issues the same permits NIWA is legally empowered to make available to operators on behalf of Federal Government. Operators have no choice but to comply or get penalized.  Industry analysts say that State governments who venture into this area are driven by an unbridled quest for amassing revenue. This is detrimental to the sector as investors are put off by this unchecked abuse.

 

 

The court, in its verdict, established that licencing and monitoring of inland waterway operations is the Federal Government’s constitutional preserve. It also restrained Lagos State Waterways Authority (LASWA) and the Honourable Commissioner, Ministry of Waterfront Infrastructural Development from seeking to control commercial activities of the plaintiffs- Association of Tourist Boat Operators and Water Transporters of Nigeria and Dredgers Association of Nigeria.  All payments made to the State government or institutions representing them were also declared illegal.

 

 

The American inland, intracoastal and coastal waterways and channels for example, stretch to about 25,000 miles. Out of this, 12,000 miles have been commercialised.  It is also maintained by the government.  Available statistics reveals that the U.S makes a whopping 8 billion USD annually from this maritime sub-sector which at present accommodates about 3,008 businesses and 24,908 employees.

 

 

More than 60% of the America’s grain exports, about 22% of domestic petroleum products and 20% of the coal used in electricity generation are ferried via its water transport.

 

 

The case is not same in Nigeria. For years, the growth of the water transport and other ancillary businesses has been impeded by a battle for control. Virtually all state governments with this geographical advantage are engaged in some kind of a supremacy fight with the Federal government confidently flouting the dictates of the law and the rulings of courts. The war has been a huge distraction.

 

 

Giving the judgment however, creating efficient systems for inland waterways transport becomes a duty the Federal Government through the Ministry of Transport and NIWA owes Nigerians. Water transport in many developed countries is the most efficient and most cost effective means of moving both passengers and cargoes. It is also a great revenue earner for many growing economies.

 

 

Nigeria’s inland waterways cover approximately 8,600km, that is, about 5343.792 miles. This natural geographical endowment remains largely under developed even though it has capacity to generate much revenue if harnessed.

 

 

We have had lots of human and business causalities. Nothing seemed to matter more as the tussle for control went on. Real issues that could place the sector on the front burner were relegated to the background.  We had many lives are lost to boat mishaps and other accidents…so many undocumented incidents. Our waters are overtaken by siltation and wrecks… only a minute fraction of the water is charted. Rickety crafts nicknamed ‘coffins’ ply our waters.

 

 

How well trained are people we parade as coastguards? How fast do we respond to emergencies? We have not engaged yacht and small crafts surveyors! How much have we really earned as revenue?

 

 

State governments should begin to make progressive collaborative efforts. Partnering with the Ministry of Transport or NIWA to exploit the immense opportunities in inland waterways is a better option. They may engage the Federal Government to see how they can participate in developing the sector and what percentage of the revenue from inland waterways they could get in return. That would definitely be after some level of investments. That’s a win-win situation.

 

On the other hand, the banning of dredging operations by Lagos State amidst the dwindling national economy seems insensitive. While I agree that there is need to sanitise and give structure to the sector, the provisions of the law should also be followed to the letter. NIWA should be allowed to do its job. State governments should also begin to show themselves as subject to laws of the land.  There can be no concurrent jurisdiction.  That is the court’s ruling.

 

The Minister of Transport, Hon. Rotimi Amaechi recently admitted to understanding this war between states and NIWA. He also agreed that legally, NIWA has the right of control and promised to address the tussle. Hopefully, this will be done shortly.

 

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