The Supreme Court has affirmed that the control of activities on the nation’s inland waterways, including levying and licensing operators in the sector, belongs exclusively to the federal government.
In a lead judgment by Justice Inyang Okoro, the apex court held that it was wrong, unlawful and illegal for states to seek to control the sector and impose levies on businesses operating in the nation’s inland waterways.
It held that existing laws give exclusive control of activities in the nation’s inland waterways to the federal government through its agencies – the National Inland Waterways Authority, NIWA, and the Nigerian Maritime Standard and Safety Agency, NMSSA, – and no other tier of government.
The judgment read by Justice Emmanuel Akomaye Agim, was on the appeal marked SC/CV/17/2018, filed by the NIWA, NMSSA, the Minister of Mines and Steel Development and the Minister of Transport.
Respondents to the appeal were the Lagos State Waterways, the state’s Commissioner for Waterfront Infrastructure Development, the state’s Attorney-General, the Governor of Lagos State, the Incorporated Trustees of Association of Tourist Boat Operators and Water Transportation of Nigeria, ATBOWTN, and the Incorporated Trustees of Dredgers Association of Nigeria, DAN.
The appeal filed in 2018 was prosecuted for the appellants by a team of lawyers led by Prince Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), now the Attorney General of the Federation, AGF, and Minister of Justice.
In the judgment delivered on January 5, 2024, the Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Court of Appeal and affirmed the March 28, 2014 judgment by Justice Tsoho of the Federal High Court affirming Nigeria’s rights over the waterways.