Mu’azu Jaji Sambo: Why NIWA-LASWA feud will resurface


Transport Minister says port concession enhanced cargo delivery, ship turnaround 
Minister of Transportation, Mu’azu Jaji Sambo

Before his retirement in September 2019, Mu’azu Jaji Sambo was a management staff of the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA). At the twilight of his career, he was the Lagos Area Manager of the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA). 

NIWA is an agency of the Federal Government set up by Decree No. 13 of 1997 (later by an Act of the National Assembly, CAP 47, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004) to provide regulation for inland water navigation, develop infrastructure for national inland waterways connectivity, and undertake capital and maintenance dredging of the waterways, among other functions. 

As head of the Lagos office of NIWA, Sambo took it upon himself to campaign against the Lagos State Waterways (LASWA), which was established in 2008 by then Lagos State Governor Babatunde Fashola, to promote the use of the waterways for transportation (of persons and goods) and tourism in the state. 

Muazu did not hesitate to utilize every speaking opportunity at his disposal to point out what he termed “the illegality” of LASWA. 

“I, Sambo, did not create the law. I am employed to make sure that it is complied with,” he said at a forum in Lagos in December 2013. 

Sambo’s misgivings about LASWA bordered on the budding agency’s alleged encroachment on the duties and usurpation of the powers of NIWA. 

In August 2018 when Sambo had opportunity to speak at an investigative hearing organised by the House of Representatives Committee on Ports, Harbours and Waterways at the National Assembly, Abuja, he did not mince words in reiterating his opposition to the creation of LASWA, an agency he saw as an existential threat to the operations of NIWA. 

Muazu, who spoke to the chagrin of Lagos government officials, including the Managing Director of LASWA, Damilola Emmanuel, said, “LASWA is an illegal creation. It is not recognised by the laws of this country because LASWA is a creation of the Lagos House of Assembly, which purported to repeal the NIWA Act. The question is: can a State House of Assembly repeal a federal legislation?” 

Sambo also took a swipe at the Lagos State Government over control of the waterways, claiming that all navigable waterways, inland waterways, river ports and internal waters of Nigeria, excluding all direct approaches to the ports listed in the Third Schedule to the NIWA Act and all other waters declared to be approaches to ports under or pursuant to the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) Act, up to 250 metres beyond the upstream edge of the quay of such ports, are under the exclusive management, direction and control of NIWA. 

Sambo said a subsisting Court of Appeal decision in G. M Enterprises Limited vs C.R. Investment Ltd held that NIWA had been conferred with far reaching power and right to control, develop, manage and use all the lands, navigable waterways, inland waterways and river ports throughout Nigeria. 

According to him, a decision by the Court of Appeal had reinforced his position that only the Federal Government could regulate inland waterways, shipping, navigation and dredging activities within the Nigerian inland waterways and its right-of-ways. 

However, officials of Lagos State Government led by the then Permanent Secretary of Lands Bureau, Bode Agoro, had argued against the powers of NIWA to control the right-of-ways 100 metres from the river bank as enshrined in the NIWA Act. The Lagos officials said such powers exercised by NIWA had been overtaken by the Land Use Act, which had vested control of all land in a state on the state governor. 

Chairman of the House Committee on Ports, Harbours and Waterways, Patrick Asadu, who presided over the investigative hearing, had said that there would be need for future meetings to further deliberate on the feud between both parties over control of the waterways as the matter required “serious attention”.

Revenue collection was at the heart of the NIWA-LASWA feud. NIWA’s revenue is derived principally from charges and levies imposed on vessels using the waterways, jetties, right of way, and on properties on the shorelines. Official sources said as much as half of NIWA’s annual revenue is collected from Lagos.

For instance in March 2019, NIWA imposed a passage fee of $300 per vessel per passage on all ocean-going vessels on Lagos waters. With more than 3,000 ocean-going vessels visiting the ports in Lagos annually, the income generated from the source will move the needle in the operation of the agency. But NIWA would not have been able to collect the revenue is it had a rival agency contending for the control of the waterways. 

Curiously, the memo announcing the imposition of the levy, addressed to the Chairman, Lagos Pilotage Berthing Meeting and titled “Passage Toll for Seagoing Vessels”, did not emanate from the NIWA headquarters but from its Lagos Area Office. And it was signed by head of the Lagos Area Office, Mu’azu Sambo. 

The memo read: “In line with section 28 subsection 1 of the NIWA establishment Act and the NIWA approved tariff 2017 edition (Section U.I and subsection U.1.2), any sea/ocean/coastal going vessel that comes into the inland waterways is liable to pay passage fees of $300 per day or its equivalent.

“In view of the above, you are advised to ensure all sea going vessels that berth at your jetty comply with these provisions of the law so as to avoid any form of embarrassment that may arise from non-compliance.

“You are kindly enjoined to give maximum support to the authority in its effort to ensure that all lawful revenues due to the treasury are collected and remitted as at when due.”

Stakeholders and operators immediately kicked against the imposition, since NIWA was set up to regulate small crafts, and not ocean-going vessels. 

“What benefit is attached to this fee? Nothing. But just because NIWA is a government agency, they will be issuing charges. They have called us at the NIWA office and we have told them we are not going to pay the fee because our principals are NPA. We don’t do business with NIWA. So they should go through NPA. We need to hear from NPA first.

“I know NIWA is supposed to be registering tug boats and badges but I wonder what their concern about ocean-going vessels is. When we talk about ocean-going vessels, we mean big vessels and they are under NPA,” the then Secretary of the Lagos Pilotage Berthing Meeting, Lucky Egbede, had told SHIPS & PORTS in reaction to Sambo’s memo.

But Sambo would have none of the argument, and he worked assiduously towards pushing for the implementation of the controversial levy. This appeared to be his last major battle before retirement came knocking on his 60th birthday on September 7, 2019. 

Nothing was heard of Sambo afterwards until 2021 Christmas Eve when he was appointed by President Muhammadu Buhari as Minister of State in the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing. His new assignment had no bearing to activities on the nation’s waterways. 

Meanwhile, the management of NIWA and the Lagos State Government had begun talks to amicably resolve the tussle between the federal agency and LASWA.

Then Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, while receiving then NIWA Managing Director, Senator Olorunnimbe Mamora (now Minister of Science and Technology) and top management staff of the agency on courtesy visit at Lagos House in Alausa, Ikeja, on January 28, 2019, said putting the perennial conflict between NIWA and LASWA behind was the most patriotic thing to do, and that it would also be in the best interest of all, especially the economic prosperity of the people.

“I give the go ahead to all my management team and key officers to sit down with the management team of NIWA. Whatever grey areas should be resolved. I think in the areas that we have talked about, issues relating to right of way, revenue and so on, we can resolve and I can observe that things have been very peaceful in these areas but we can document and put in proper shape to let other people also understand that we have moved forward progressively,” Ambode had said. 

Indeed, since the meeting between Ambode and Mamora, the relationship between the two agencies appeared to have taken a new turn. Very little has been heard from the management of the federal inland waterways agency about the “illegality” of LASWA, and Sambo’s successor as Lagos Area Manager of NIWA, Sarah Braimah, is not known to have spoken publicly against the operation of the “rival” state waterways agency. 

However, with his recent appointment as the Minister of Transportation, Mu’azu Sambo effectively assumes supervisory responsibilities of all the agencies under the Federal Ministry of Transportation, NIWA inclusive. In essence, he now wields more powers than ever. 

As a Minister and member of the Federal Executive Council, Sambo now has direct access to President Muhammadu Buhari, and is believed to have the ears of the President. Therefore, except his opinion of LASWA has shifted from what it was barely three years ago; there is little doubt that the Taraba-born politician could use the enormous powers of his office to revive the old NIWA-LASWA rivalry, more so when the state waterways agency appears to be waxing stronger and is assuming greater regulatory control over the waterways in Lagos. 

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