NIWA bill, other maritime bills and presidential assent

Buhari signs anti-monopoly law
Muhammadu Buhari

Recently, President Mohammadu Buhari denied assent to the National Inland Waterways Authority Amendment bill. The bill, which seeks to amend the existing National Waterways Authority, (NIWA) Act, had been at the National Assembly for close to a decade. NIWA and maritime transport stakeholders had waited for its passage with considerable anxiety, while expecting a swift presidential assent as soon as it was passed. But that was not to be.

The President, while denying assent to the bill, said it lacked clarity, contains ambiguities in its wordings, and duplicates the functions of already existing agencies.

In the letter he wrote to the senate rejecting the bill, the President said, “The comprehensive definition of the Nigeria Inland Waterways covers virtually all rivers, lakes and lagoons irrespective of the location of the body. The bill contradicts provisions of the constitution, which limits the power of the National Assembly to make laws in relation to water from sources affecting more than one state of inland waterways which has been declared to be an international waterway or inter-state waterway.

“The bill as currently drafted subjects the Ministry of Water Resources, the Ministry of Environment and Nigerian Ports Authority to the supervision of the Nigeria Inland Waterways Authority.

“The funding provision of the bill which seeks to appropriate 25 per cent of the ports development levy annually, 15 per cent of the ecological fund annually and 1 per cent of the funds accruable to the federal government for oil and gas within the cleared waterways and the right of way and 2.5 per cent fees annually paid by companies operating power plants within waterways are grossly excessive and will negatively affect the revenues of the federal government.”

These reasons are similar to the reasons the President gave for refusing assent to the National Transport Commission Bill, and, indeed, a total of 48 bills from the 8th national assembly that have suffered similar fate in the hand of the President. The reasons majorly bordered on overlapping functions, improper wordings that give rise to ambiguities, and excessive and patronizing funding provisions.

The National Inland Waterways Authority Amendment Bill is a bill that seeks to repeal the National Inland Waterways Authority, and enact a new National Inland Waterways Act that will provide for the management, regulation and development of the inland waterways and promote private sector participation in the development of the country’s inland waterways.

The envisaged new inland waterways authority is to perform the following functions:

(a) ensure the development and operations of National Inland Waterways in Nigeria in collaboration with the relevant stakeholders by granting concessions, leases, management contracts, entering into joint venture contracts or granting permits to render services connected with National Inland Waterways development and operations;

(b) Ensure efficient management and administration of the national inland waterways;

(c) Manage and administer the Authority’s assets safely and efficiently with a view to maximizing their economic potential;

(d) Organize and integrate the nation’s national inland waterways operations for efficient utilization for transportation;

(e) Ensure the development of infrastructural facilities for a national inland waterways network connecting the creeks and the rivers with the economic centres using the river-ports as nodal points for intermodal exchange;

(f) Undertake capital and maintenance dredging within the national inland waterways;

(g) Design and maintain ferry routes within the national inland waterways;

(h) Survey, remove and retrieve derelicts, wrecks and other obstructions from the national inland waterways;

(i) Install and maintain lights, buoys and all aids to navigation along water channels and banks on the national inland waterways;

(j) Issue and regulate the use of permits for inland navigation, piers, jetties, dockyards and wharves;

(k) Examine and certify all non – convention vessels, including rig platforms that operate on the National Inland Waterways;

(l) Register all vessels including non-convention vessels, dredgers and boats of all types that operate on the National Inland Waterways.

(m) Grant permits for seismic survey, reclamation, shore protection work and removal within the declared right of way of National Inland Waterways with the approval of the Minister;

(n) Grant permits to private inland waterways operators;

(o) Approve the design and construction of inland river crafts and also inspect, regulate, approve and issue licences and permits for vessels designed for inland waterways operations;

(p) Approve and regulate: (i) the use of all Jetties, dockyards, piers, river ports and other associated structures and platforms within the national inland waterways;

(q)Construct, administer and maintain inland river-ports and jetties;

(y) Control and clear water hyacinth and other aquatic weeds along the national inland waterways, among others.

With all these, the bill aims to boost business in the country’s waterways. Thus, prospective investors and inland waterways stakeholders had waited for its passage and signing into law with considerable interest.

Another maritime interest bill the President has denied assent is the National Transport Commission (NTC) Bill, which maritime stakeholders also consider critical to the development of the industry. The bill, which gathered dust at the National Assembly, passing from the 7th National Assembly to the present, was eventually passed by the House of Representatives in February 2017 and the Senate in March 2018. But late 2018, it was denied presidential assent.

The National Transport Commission is designed to fill a yawning gap in the transport sector of the economy, which is the absence of an independent regulator. It is expected to act as an economic regulator of all activities in the nation’s transport sector, and will regulate and promote multimodal transport and boost private sector participation in the provision of transport services. If established, the commission is expected to carry out wide-ranging functions, such as policy formulation, coordination of relevant government agencies in the transport sector and exercise oversight on designated agencies. The only transport mode is exempted from the NTC regulation is aviation, which is internationally regulated.

In refusing to sign the Bill into law, the President had given the same reasons as he gave for the NIWA Amendment Bill. The President’s refusal to sign these two bills considered critical to the growth of the maritime sector amounts to a setback to the hopes and aspirations of prospective investors and stakeholders. But who is to blame for this unprecedented trend? Analysts are quick to point to the National Assembly, which has continued to repeat the same mistakes that denied presidential assent to previous bills it passed and presented to the president. In nearly all the 48 bills denied assents, the same complaints of duplication of functions, poor drafting and excessive funding provisions continue to reoccur.

Speaking on why a good number of bills sent to the President for assent are thrown out, an aide to the President said, “A good number of these bills tend to be rent-seeking in nature. They seek to carve out a special ‘Fund’ for the exclusive benefit of an agency. “So, one per cent here, two per cent there, 0.5 per cent there, too many bills have clauses that are designed to corner some money.”

Another reason, according to the aide, is that some of the bills are “conflicting with or duplicating existing legislation. That is, a bill gets passed that contains provisions that contradict or duplicate provisions of one or more existing Acts”. Still another major reason for the rejection of bills by the President “is the quality of the drafting of some of these bills. Poorly/clumsily worded, containing internal contradictions, lending self to confusing interpretation”.

However, some analysts have attributed the huge number of bills denied presidential assent to the bad impression the National Assembly created in the mind of the President from the outset. The whole thing started with the 2016 appropriation bill, which President Buhari initially refused to give assent to after it was passed by the National Assembly. The President said certain key infrastructural projects were removed and other illegal and unnecessary projects inserted into the budget by the legislators. While eventually signing the budget into law in May of that year, he expressed disappointment with the National Assembly. This first impression, analysts believe, is the reason the President ensures he thoroughly scrutinizes every piece of legislation placed before him for assent. Unfortunately, he found faults with a good number of them.

Others also point fingers to the no love lost relationship between the executive and the legislature. They attribute this to the emergence of the leaders of the two chambers against the interest of their party, the All Progressive Congress (APC), and as such do not enjoy the party’s and the President’s goodwill.

Since it is just a matter of days before the first term of President Buhari comes to a close, it is clear that all these bills the president has denied assent will not become law in his first tenure. Even with the Senate’s passage of the Conference Committee Report of the NTC Bill in January 2019 formally reapproving the bill after examining it in line with the President’s observations, the bill is not likely to become law before the end of Buhari’s first tenure.

Maritime stakeholders, like their counterparts in other sectors, therefore, have to wait till the second term of President Buhari and the 9th National Assembly for these and other maritime bills still pending at the National Assembly to become laws.

Meanwhile, a tear for the wasted hours, intellect and scarce public funds!