Inland Waterways: Lagos, NIWA in war of words over Appeal Court ruling

Ambode

Lagos State Government on Thursday refuted what it termed “a misleading claim” by the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) on the recent judgment of the Court of Appeal setting aside the Judgment of the Federal High Court and allowing the Appeal of the State Government on its right to control its inland waterways to the exclusion of the Federal Government.

NIWA had claimed that the judgment of the Appellate Court retained its power to regulate all waterways including international, intra-coastal and inter-state waterways, as it faulted reports credited to Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode that the Court of Appeal, Lagos Division had set aside the Federal High Court judgment which empowered it (NIWA) to regulate inland waterways including dredging activities.

NIWA in a statement on Thursday said the Court of Appeal only granted Lagos State the power to legislate on intra-state waters, which are waterways that originate and end within Lagos State.

According to the agency, “However, such waterways do not exist in Lagos State because all bodies of waterways in Lagos State are international, tidal, intra-coastal and/or inter-state waterways.” 

It further disclosed that the Court of Appeal retained the power to regulate international, intra-coastal and inter-state waterways in NIWA, being items provided under articles 36 and 64 of the exclusive legislative list of the 1999 constitution (as amended), adding, “It should be noted that NIWA was not the plaintiff in this case at the lower Court as wrongly perceived, but a codefendant with Lagos State”. 

“In this connection therefore, NIWA wishes to clarify that it is also imperative to notify the public that beside this Court of Appeal judgment, there is also another subsisting Court of Appeal decision in G. M Ent. Ltd vs C.R. Investment Ltd. reported in (2011) 14 N.W.L.R. part 1266, page 125, where the Court of Appeal 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, river ports etc throughout Nigeria”.

It called on all maritime and dredging operators to disregard the latest claims by the Lagos State Government, remain calm and continue to carry on their legitimate businesses as regulated by NIWA.

NIWA said it had already filed an appeal against the judgment at the Supreme Court pending the formal transmission of the judgment to NIWA and therefore Lagos State has nothing to be excited about since the judgment has not changed the status quo ante.

“The position therefore remains that it is only the Federal Government that can regulate inland waterways, shipping, navigation and dredging activities within the Nigerian inland waterways and its right of ways,” the agency stated. 

But in a press statement issued on Thursday by the Lagos State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Steve Ayorinde, the State Government said in the lead Judgment delivered by Dr. Hussein Mukhtar, the Court of Appeal indeed set aside the judgment of the Federal High Court and held that the Lagos State House of Assembly is competent to make laws in respect of the intra-Inland Waterways in Lagos State except those inter-State Waterways under item 5 in the 2nd Schedule of the National Inland Waterways Act.

”It is on record that the Nigerian (sic) Inland Waterways Authority was a respondent at the Court of Appeal and was represented by Counsel who argued and adopted its brief of Argument on NIWA’s behalf,” the Commissioner said, adding that “the rules of precedent for judgments are also very clear and this landmark judgment represents the current law on this issue until it us set aside by a higher Court.

“Any arguments to the contrary by NIWA are misconceived and should be disregarded. It is not in doubt that this judgment favours Lagos State Government and because the status has changed is the reason for the purported notice of appeal referred to by NIWA,” he said. 

In the meantime, the State Government urged all boat operators and dredging companies to be law-abiding and fully comply with the provisions of Lagos State Waterways Authority Law Cap L72 Laws of Lagos State 2015 guiding dredging and boat operations which has been declared to be a valid and binding law by the Court of Appeal. 

“Failure to do so will attract appropriate stiff sanctions under the law,” Ayorinde said.    

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