The Federal Ministry of Mines and Steel Development (FMMSD), on Monday urged all duly licensed dredgers in Lagos to go about their legitimate duties without hindrance by the Lagos State government.
A statement released in Abuja by Mohammed Abass, the Permanent Secretary of the ministry, said that dredgers should disregard any instruction seeking them to stop their lawful operations.
The statement said the ministry’s attention was drawn to a recent ruling of the Court of Appeal in Lagos and several reports ascribed to various officials of the Lagos State government regarding a purported order issued to duly licensed dredgers operating in the state.
Abass said while the legal officers of the FMMSD were studying the judgment of the Court of Appeal relating to the case in question, in the interim, the dredgers should continue with their day-to-day activities.
The Lagos State government had on August 1 issued a seven-day ultimatum to boat operators, dredgers and stakeholders in the inland waterways sector to comply with laws, rules and guidelines concerning their operations or face stiff sanctions.
The government said it was reacting to the judgement of a Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal which handed over to it power to control the inland waterways within the state.
The state Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Adeniji Kazeem, had noted that the state government was pleased with the “clear” judgment which he described as unambiguous and a victory for resource control and fiscal federalism in Nigeria.
“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,” Mr. Kazeem had said.
“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?”
But Abass in the FFMSD’s statement on Monday said the ministry frowns at the way some officials of the Lagos government have gone about deliberately distorting the pronouncement of the appeal court.
“It is trite to state that by virtue of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999 as amended), federal laws in respect of administration of mining activities and utility of inland waterways supersede those of states; in the instance as it affects issues on the exclusive legislative list,” he said.
“A cursory review of the ruling of the learned justices of the Court of Appeal indicates a clear recognition of the powers and responsibilities of the various arms and organs of government with respect to administration of mining and inland waterways.”
Abass said the ministry was therefore at a loss as to why some officials would wilfully attempt to inverse the ruling of the court to suit their anticipated outcome.
The permanent secretary noted that the learned justices were clear about the extent and limitation of powers of the various arms of government, adding that the ministry took the development with all seriousness and solemn commitment.
The FMMSD had already commenced the process of consultations on the issue with all relevant and affected arms and agencies of the government, he disclosed.
The statement, however, added that the ministry was confident that an amicable resolution would be reached in no time.
Earlier, the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA), had described the Lagos State Government’s claim as untrue.
According to the NIWA, the appellate court only gave the government power to legislate on intra-state waterways, which are waterways that originate and end within the state.