Supreme Court Upholds Exclusive Federal Control Over Nigeria’s Inland Waterways

The Supreme Court Validates Exclusive Federal Control Over Nigeria’s Inland Waterways and Rejects State Imposition of Levies

In a landmark judgment obtained by Voice of Nigeria, the Supreme Court has upheld the exclusive authority of the Nigerian Government in overseeing activities on the country’s inland waterways. The court ruled that attempts by states to control the sector and impose levies on businesses operating in the inland waterways were wrong, unlawful, and illegal.

The judgment, delivered by Justice John Inyang Okoro and read by Justice Emmanuel Agim, emphasized that existing laws grant exclusive control to the Nigerian Government, specifically through its agencies—the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) and the Nigerian Maritime Standard and Safety Agency (NIMASSA). The court dismissed the appeal filed by NIWA, NIMASSA, the Minister of Mines and Steel Development, and the Minister of Transport against the Lagos State Waterways and other respondents.

The Supreme Court concurred with the argument presented by the appellants’ legal team, led by Prince Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), now the Attorney General of the Federation. Fagbemi contended that NIWA is the sole agency responsible for levying, imposing, and charging rates of utilization along the declared waters of the Nigerian Inland Waterways Authority.

Furthermore, the court affirmed that the activities of the Lagos government and its agencies constituted a blatant usurpation and illegal encroachment on the statutory functions of NIWA. It clarified that the legislative competence for Maritime Shipping and Navigation lies exclusively with the Nigerian Government through the National Assembly, and the Lagos State Government does not possess the power to legislate on these matters.

The Supreme Court restored the judgment delivered on March 28, 2014, by Justice John Tsoho of the Federal High Court in Lagos, reversing the previous decision of the Court of Appeal (Lagos division) on July 18, 2017. The Court of Appeal had incorrectly held that inland waterways within Lagos State, not covered by the National Inland Waterways Act, fell under the legislative competence of the state’s legislature. The recent Supreme Court ruling affirms the federal jurisdiction and affirms the March 28, 2014 judgment by Justice Tsoho.

Quest: Cris-Edesiri Odjomah

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