Licensing and control of all inland waterways spanning more than 10,000 kilometres in the country has been restored to National Inland Waterways Authority, NIWA, in a ruling by the Supreme Court on Friday, January 5, 2024.
By this judgement, Lagos State and some littoral states are to abide by the judgement.
Before now, there had been a protracted legal tussle between the Federal Government and Lagos State Government over which of them controls waterways in Lagos with huge economic potential.
However, the latest judgement has empowered NIWA to control, regulate and sanitise boat operators and dredgers in all the nation’s waterways.
It also grants the authority to generate more revenue into the coffers of the Federal Government.
In a judgement written and delivered by Hon. Justice John Inyang Okoro, the apex court refused to be drawn into the argument of resource control, insisting that such extensions belong to politicians, who have the power of amendment of the construction.
According to him, until the applicable sections of the Nigerian constitution are amended, the court will restrict itself to its duty to interpret the law as it is.
Before the latest judgement, NIWA had contended with Lagos State Government that the lagoon and Lekki lagoons were exclusively within its control, stressing that any illegal activities within NIWA Right of Way would not be tolerated.
Based on a 2014 judgement captured in suit CA/L/886/2014- Lagos Waterways Authority and 3 ORS V INC Trustees of Association of Tourist Boat Operators and Water Transporters of Nigeria and 5 ORS, the right of all waterways in Nigeria and shorelines was ceded to NIWA.
The authority noted in a statement that it “shall within the laws and constitutional provisions, ensure that it keeps trespassers out of its Right of Way (RoW) and may where necessary deploy the federal might to bring the oppositions to adhere to do right things and to stop further intimidation of federal government licensed stakeholders.
“It is instructive that we bear in mind that the law as it stands today, and encapsulated in the court of appeal judgement states clearly the areas of competence of both governments -Federal and State in the following words- Item 5 in the second schedule to the National Inland Waterways Act was the relevant provision for the navigable route that falls under the exclusive legislative list and it provides thus: The intra coastal route from Badagry, along the Badagry Creek to Lagos through Lagos Lagoon to Epe, Lekki Lagoon to Iwopin along Omu/Creek Talifa Lively to Ajilete , Akata, Aboko, Arogbo, Ofunama Benin Creek to Warri, also the canal running from Araromi through Aiyetoro. Imelumo to Benin River and from Aiyetoro through Mahin Lagoon to Igbokoda.”
In addition, NIWA explained that the route runs through International and states boundaries and was therefore consistent with being an item on the exclusive legislative list, adding that revenue accruable from this federal route would be payable to the authority.
Commending the Supreme Court judgement, the Managing Director of the authority, Mr Bola Oyebamiji, said that all NIWA was established for was to harness the potentials of the sector, one that the apex court ruling has now given teeth.
“This judgement has come at a time Mr President gave directives to maximize the benefits of the sector in all the ways it will enhance the economy and empower Nigerians. With President Tinubu’s determination to open up the economy through the newly created Ministry of Marine and Blue Economy under the leadership of Mr Adegboyega Oyetola as the Minister, this judgement will bolster our efforts and help to facilitate the processes of developing the sector,” Oyebamiji said.
The NIWA helmsman explained that the judgement was about consolidation of water transportation, tourism and sundry economic empowerment of the people, and not about who won or lost at the Supreme Court.
“This is not about who owns what, won or lost. This is about Nigeria and Nigerians benefitting from our God-given endowment. It is about the common good and rebuilding the sector for greater opportunities.
“A nation cannot be this blessed with navigable coastal line without exploring and maximizing the benefits for the good of all. So, this is not about a court victory. This is about the greater good and the need for us to explore the potentials of our inland waterways for the benefit of our people.
“If we put to good use Nigeria’s potential in the coastal areas in the area of transportation for instance, it will reduce the pressure on our roads and improve citizen interactions.”