No law in Lagos State, in recent time, has elicited as much public outcry and resistance as the Wharf Landing Fees Law No. 5 of 2009. The law was introduced during the regime of Babatunde Fashola to empower the Lagos State government to collect various sums of money as fees from goods that land at the Lagos Ports of Apapa and Tin Can Island. Under the law, various levies, which vary from N300 to N1,000 were imposed on consignments transported from Lagos ports to other parts of the state and the country.
While making the law, Fashola said wharf landing fees was introduced to repair the damages heavy trucks inflict on state and local government roads. The government also explained that the law was meant to harmonize and eliminate indiscriminate charges local government authorities in the state were imposing on heavy duty vehicles that carry consignments from the ports.
Since its enactment, the law has been embroiled in endless controversy, with many stakeholders stoutly resisting the payment of the charges. Most times, truckers, importers and agents have clashed with the collection officials who stop them from collecting the fees. Car importers have put up the most resistance, arguing that since the wharf landing fee is meant to ameliorate the impact of trucks, trailers and other heavy duty vehicles on Lagos roads, it should not be extended to imported vehicles, including cars that land at the ports.
The Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) also condemned the wharf landing fees. The association insists that the fee is an addition to the high cost of doing business at the ports, declaring that the extra cost incurred by its members definitely has adverse effect on the national economy.
The Nigerian Ports of Authority (NPA), which is the landlord of the ports, also found the wharf landing fees totally unacceptable. The ports authority had on several occasions condemned this imposition on port users, refusing to agree with the explanations of the Lagos State Government on the rationale for collecting the fees. The Managing Director of NPA, Hadiza Bala Usman, has even made moves to stop the collection. She questioned the legality of the wharf landing fees, stating that there was no provision in the NPA Act of 1958 or as amended or any National Assembly legislation that backs the collection of fees by Lagos State Government on cargoes that come into the country through the ports.
The Federal Government, piqued by the wharf landing fees, has even gone to court to stop the collection. In the suit it filed before the Supreme Court, the Federal Government urged the court to among others, declare the wharf landing fees law unconstitutional and order the Lagos State Government to refund all the money it had collected through the law since its implementation started. It also prayed the Supreme Court to declare that Lagos State has no power to make law on any maritime, shipping and navigation matters including wharf landing fees, as this is exclusively reserved for the Federal Government in item 36 of the Exclusive Legislative List, Part 1 of the Second Schedule of the 1999 Constitution.
The suit, which was filed on behalf of the Federal Government by Olisa Agbakoba (SAN) on behalf of the Attorney-General of the Federation, equally asked for an order directing Lagos State to account, refund and pay to it all the sums it has charged, received and collected pursuant to the implementation of the Wharf Landing Fees Law, which it estimated has run into billions of naira. To ensure the recovery of all the money, the Federal Government urged the court to authorize it to deduct the fund from the statutory allocation due to the state from the federation account.
According to the Federal Government, the motive behind the wharf landing fees law was clear from the nature of the law itself, “which is to levy taxes and tariffs on goods and consignments imported from overseas through the seaports in Lagos State”. It argued that the law encroaches on the powers of the Federal Government to collect import duties and Customs duties.
All these notwithstanding, the Lagos State Government from the Fashola administration to the last administration under Akinwunmi Ambode, has stuck to its gun, vehemently defending the contentious law and insisting on the collection of the fees from already overburdened shippers. The state has maintained that it has the power to authorize local government councils to collect fees in areas outside the jurisdiction of the Nigerian Ports Authority. But whether the fee is legal or not, whether it should be collected or not, the big questions are: Is the collection being properly accounted for? Is it being used for the purpose for which it was imposed? To date, the state government and the local government councils around Apapa and environs have not pointed at any street road that has been rehabilitated with the wharf landing fees. The impression is thus created that the wharf landing fees is an ingenious conception of the state government to broaden its revenue base.
That aside, stakeholders are alleging that a good chunk of the collection may be going into private pockets considering the way and manner the fee is being collected. The use of ruffians and miscreants to collect the fees on the ports access roads cannot make for proper accountability as the receipts they wager before importers and truck drivers can easily be forged.
We believe that the truculent attitude of the Lagos State government to the fees collection should be reviewed. Instead of tough talks and threats, it should use dialogue and appeal to reasons, to convince stakeholders and other aggrieved parties. Also, the state government, pending the determination of the suit against it by the Federal Government, should use the money for the purpose it was collected: repair state and local roads in Apapa. Fixing the inner roads in Apapa will go a long way in easing the Apapa gridlock, which has brought untold hardship to the port community. Failure to use the money for this purpose will amount to an act of dishonesty.