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Waterways: Lagos issues boat operators, dredgers ultimatum

*Says Appeal Court judgement clear, unambiguous, victory for fiscal federalism

By Adeyemi Robinson-Adefioye, Lagos

Lagos State Government has issued a 7-day ultimatum to boat operators, dredgers and all stakeholders in the inland waterways sector to comply with all the applicable laws, rules and guidelines concerning their operations failure of which appropriate stiff sanctions would apply.

Addressing a press conference at the Bagauda Kaltho Press Centre, Alausa, on the recent Court of Appeal judgment which upheld the power of the Lagos State Government to control inland waterways within the State, the State Government declared readiness to aggressively enforce the relevant laws for the regulation of waterfront infrastructure development and all connected purposes, and urged all boat and dredging operators to be law abiding and fully comply with the resolve of the government to sanitise the sector for the overall benefit of the people.

Speaking at the briefing jointly addressed by the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr Steve Ayorinde; Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr Adeniji Kazeem; Commissioner for Waterfront Infrastructure Development, Engr Ade Akinsanya; Managing Director of Lagos State Waterways Authority (LASWA); Ms Abisola Kamson; and Chief Executive Officer of Lagos State Ferry Services, Hon Paul Kalejaye, Kazeem said the State Government was very pleased with the judgment which he described as clear, unambiguous and a victory for resource control and fiscal federalism in Nigeria.

He said there have been varied attempts by those who lost out especially the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) to whittle down the effect of the appellate court judgment, but that in as much as the State Government was not out to antagonise or fight anybody, it would however be “uncowed, unbowed and fiercely protect the God-given resources within the State and never relent in championing the cause of true federalism in the country.”

Reacting to claims by NIWA that the judgment did not favour the State Government, Kazeem said the quest by the federal agency to keep on controlling the resources of the State from Abuja despite the judgment was totally absurd and cannot stand when viewed from moral, legal and economic grounds.

He said the same NIWA that claimed on the one hand that the judgment did not favour the State Government, had also indicated interest to appeal, and queried the intention of the agency in seeking to take the resources of the State.

“Looking at the import of these laws which you can find in the Constitution is that the Federal Government controls maritime and international navigation which is to clear the high seas for international carriers to be able to move freely. In so far as bodies of water within a state do not obstruct those international routes, those bodies of water within the exclusive preserve of the state are left to their control and that is what that Appeal Court judgment affirmed. It said clearly that the Lagos State House of Assembly has powers to legislate on its intra-inland waterways and the LASWA Law is very clear about its powers and authority to control boat operation.

“You can imagine that a federal government agency in Abuja intend to control how boat operators operate here. This is just the same thing as saying that the federal government agency should control the buses that ply your road. If you say you have a right to control land transportation, should you not have right to control water transportation. Secondly, if you have a coastline that is very important to you and then some people are eroding that coastline by unregulated dredging cutting into the coastline, causing flooding, causing environmental nuisance and then you say that an agency that is situate in Abuja should control that, that is absurd. So, on a moral, on a legal, on an economic standpoint, it is not right,” Kazeem said.

He added that in this age of very lean resources, the judgment was a breath of fresh air for internally generated revenue, and it would also help the State Government to restore the environment and control the menace of flooding, while also falling in line with the promise of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode to make Lagos work for all by recovering and harnessing the resources of the State for benefit of all.

“If it is the wish of NIWA to challenge the right of LASG to control its resources at the Supreme Court, we say we are ready. However, until this judgment is set aside, it remains good law and will be fully enforced by the LASG and my office and the relevant government agencies,” Kazeem said.

Also speaking, Akinsanya said with the judgment, the government would now enforce relevant laws to ensure balance between economic development and preservation that would permit the beneficial use of waterfronts while preserving the diminution of open space areas or public access to the waterfront, shoreline erosion, impairment of scenic beauty or permanent adverse changes to ecological system, as well as the guidelines for sand dredging and auxiliary operations including evidence of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Bathymetric/sand search reports before any project is allowed on the waterways.

On her part, Kamson urged all stakeholders to take full advantage of the 7-day ultimatum to regularise their operations and activities, revealing that the reforms aimed at achieving integrated, intermodal water transportation system would now be vigorously pursued in the State.

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