In a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court upheld the dominion of the federal government in regulating all operations conducted on the inland waterways of the nation. This includes the power to impose charges and grant licences to operators in this industry. Asserting its position, the highest court decreed that any attempts made by states to govern this sector or levy fees upon businesses operating within the country’s inland waterways were deemed illegitimate and in violation of the law.
Justice John Okoro penned the judgment in a pivotal legal decision, ultimately conveyed by Justice Emmanuel Agim. The court, through its ruling, definitively established that the federal government possesses sole jurisdiction over all affairs within the inland waterways. This authoritative control is specifically delegated to two crucial entities, namely the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) and the Nigerian Maritime Standard and Safety Agency (NMSSA), signifying a substantial assertion of governmental power in regulating and overseeing activities in these crucial areas.
Usage charges and governance of inland water navigation
On the other hand, the Lagos State Waterways, under the leadership of the Commissioner for Waterfront Infrastructure Development, the Attorney-General of the state, the Governor of Lagos State, the Association of Tourist Boat Operators and Water Transportation of Nigeria (ATBOWTN), and the Dredgers Association of Nigeria (DAN) were all involved in responding to the appeal. In 2018, the group of lawyers, headed by Lateef Fagbemi, presently serving as the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, handled the legal representation for the appellants in the filed appeal.
According to Fagbemi’s statement, NIWA exclusively holds the duty of imposing charges for usage on the declared waters of the Nigerian Inland Waterways Authority, which the Supreme Court supported. According to Sections 8 and 9 of the NIWA Act, it was firmly established that NIWA is the authorised and lawful organisation representing the Federal Government. Fagbemi explained further that NIWA possesses the exclusive authority to oversee, guide, and govern all operations taking place on the navigable waters and their respective paths across the entirety of the nation, specifically for inland navigation purposes.
Significant control over water resources sparks debates.
Additionally, the Lagos State Government and its agencies have been deemed guilty of a blatant violation and unauthorised intrusion into the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) jurisdiction. This is due to the fact that the waterways within Lagos State, along with others across Nigeria, are classified as falling within the Exclusive Legislative List defined in Part 1 of the Second Schedule to the 1999 Constitution. However, the Maritime Shipping and Navigation domain is exclusively under the jurisdiction of the National Assembly, as stated by the Supreme Court, barring any other entity from enacting legislation in this realm.
In a similar report, the Water Resources Bill, currently under consideration in the House of Representatives, is a controversial piece of legislation seeking to provide the federal government with substantial authority over water resources across the nation. It would enable the government to assert control over all inter-state rivers and hydrological territories if enacted. Notably, the bill has successfully advanced past its initial reading on the House floor, sparking debates and discussions about its potential implications for the management and distribution of water resources in the country.
Related Article: Waterways in Lagos and regulatory compliance
Moreover, Hon. Sada Soli Jibia, Chairman of the House Committee on Water Resources, has proposed a private member bill with the aim of creating a regulatory structure governing trans-boundary water resources in Nigeria. This bill also intends to ensure fair and sustainable development, management, utilisation, and preservation of surface water and groundwater across Nigeria’s state borders. A preliminary version of the bill revealed that the authority is to be bestowed upon the Minister in charge of Water Resources, who will act on behalf of the national administration.
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