On September 17, 2019, the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, reopened a protracted war over the control of the Lagos State Waterways when he ordered the state government to hands-off the natural resource.
For over 10 years, the Lagos State government had confronted the Federal Government for the control of the waterways in Lagos state.
The battle had resulted to several litigations which eventually culminated into a disputed victory at the Appeal court which affirmed the authority of Lagos State Government through its agency, Lagos State Waterways Authority(LASWA) to control the waterways in the state.
The Appeal court had affirmed that the inland waterways within Lagos State are not and cannot by any stretch of interpretation, be covered by any item on the Exclusive Legislative list under Part 1 to the Second Schedule of the Constitution and the authority of the Lagos State House of Assembly to legislate in respect of all intra-state inland waterways within Lagos State are within the legislative competence of the Lagos State House of Assembly and any revenue accruable there from is payable to the Lagos State Waterways Authority.
It became a ding-dong affair between the agency of the Federal Government which is National Inland Waterways Authority(NIWA) and its Lagos State counterpart, LASWA.
It was a cold war of attrition between the two agencies until Senator Olorunnimbe Mamora took over the leadership of NIWA.
During his short stay at the agency before he was appointed a Minister, Mamora initiated a peaceful settlement of the supremacy war when he signed peace accord with the Lagos State governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu in July, 2019.
The agreement was on joint responsibility to ensure safety, harmonise tariffs and monitor regulations on the waterways.
All seemed calm as both parties agreed on delineated areas of operations and revenue sharing.
However, with the latest stance of Amaechi and his resolve to take over the control of the disputed Lagos waterways, the rested hostilities may have just resumed.
Amaechi had hinged his stance on the constitutional provision which concedes the ownership and control of inland waterways to the Federal Government, saying that the court has asked the Central authority to take back what rightfully belongs to it.
In as much as we agree with the claims of exclusivity of the ownership structure of inland waterways to the Federal Government as contained in the constitution, we are aware of the Appeal court pronouncements which interpreted the constitutional provision in favour of the Lagos State government in respect of intra-state waterways control.
We are also at a loss how the Minister suddenly found his voice when he was all along aware of the controversy and the judicial interpretation of the conflict.
We are aware that Amaechi was the Minister of Transportation, which he still is, when that judgment was delivered but he refused to raise any objection as the supervisory Minister of the disputed territory.
We are not aware of any judicial backing he now relied on when he declared that “the court has ruled that the Federal Government must go back to claim the responsibility since it owns the waterways”.
Unless the Federal Government has gone to the Supreme Court to upturn the Appeal Court verdict which ceded the control of the intra-waterways to the Lagos State government, of which we are yet to confirm.
The resolve of the Lagos State government to take control of its waterways, despite the constitutional provision, may have been emboldened by lack of capacity of Federal government to maintain and utilise the vast natural resource.
The expansive 10,000km of waterways of which 3,800 km is navigable has proved too much a daunting task for the poorly- equipped and under-staffed NIWA to manage.
This has sadly resulted to underutilised, inefficiently run water transportation system in the country with high casualty figures of users of that means of transportation.
To us, it was this infrastructural and managerial gap that the Lagos State exploited by the take-over of the control of its waterways.
Amaechi even gave credence to the inefficiency of the central authority in this regards when he said the vacuum it created in proper maintenance of its waterways was what the Lagos government filled.
“But when there was a vacuum, it has to be filled so Lagos State decided to do that”.
Now that Amaechi wanted to take back “what rightfully belonged to the Federal Government”, has it possessed the required capacity and ability to manage the resource?.
We have not seen any major transformation in NIWA in terms of capacity and managerial efficiency for it to wholly take over the State’s intra-Waterways which is one of the most lucrative and strategic in view of the complex nature of traffic in Lagos state.
Amaechi will need more than mere proclamation to get rid of the Lagos State government from the control of its waterways to which it has invested heavily to make it attractive to operators and commuters.
We condemn the combative posture of Amaechi on this issue which will not only reopen a gingerly treated “open wound” but one that would cause confusion and chaos on the Lagos waterways as the Lagos State government is not likely to walk away timidly without putting up any resistance.
Rather than throw away the Memorandum of Understanding(MoU) signed between NIWA and the Lagos State Government, which has so far restored sanity to the management of the waterways, we urge the Minister of Transportation to take a compromising position that would not rupture the relative peace and stability on the Lagos waterways.
Any step that would put the operators and commuters on the waterways in agony of disruption of services as a result of renewed power tussle between the two institutions should be discouraged.
One would have thought that the MoU , which delineated the areas of responsibility and control on the waterways between the two parties, has substantially reduced the burden of maintenance on the Federal government which has so far shown gross incompetence in this regards.
It is unfortunate that the Central Authority is driven more by the passion to harvest revenue on the waterways than the desire to invest in the infrastructural development of the resource given the parlour state of our transportation system.
This much was acknowledged by Senator Mamora when he first took over the leadership of NIWA when he declared that the supremacy tussle between the two parties was driven more by greed for revenue than desire to develop the sector.
We therefore believe that the working partnership between the Federal government and Lagos State government over Lagos State Waterways should be allowed to subsist and probably replicated in other coastal states whose governments are willing to invest in water transportation.
A landlord model of partial concession of some aspects of inland waterways to coastal states should be worked out where the Federal government would still have general control of the inland waterways, as entrenched in the constitution, but concedes the operations of passengers ferry services and other crafts to the coastal states who will be paying agreed sum of royalties and other challenges to the Federal Government.
Under the arrangement we are espousing and which is similar to the port concession programme, the Federal government will now be using the accruable charges to carry out periodic maintenance dredging of the waterways.
With this arrangement, the financial burden of maintaining the waterways and providing the requisite infrastructure which have over the years proved too much for the Federal Government, would have been surmounted.
Unless Federal government has the capacity to take on the challenges of infrastructural deficits which have rendered our waterways death zone, Amaechi’s call for the take over of the Lagos waterways, to us, is red herring.
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