In defiance of a recent Supreme Court judgment barring state governments from superintending and levying taxes on inland waterways operators, Lagos State Waterways Authority (LASWA) officials are reportedly still present at jetties and collecting money from boat operators as jetty fees.
Boat operators who spoke with Shipping Position Daily last week expressed concerns over LASWA’s persistent collection of jetty fees, even after the court ruling earlier this year. While LASWA has purportedly suspended formal registration processes, boat operators are still compelled to pay for the use of the jetties, deemed as LASWA’s personal properties.
This move, according to them, still contradicts the court’s ruling, which grants sole authority over inland waterways to the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA).
Recall that On January 5, 2024, a protracted 12-year legal dispute ended, as Justice John Inyang Okoro of the Supreme Court affirmed the validity of a prior ruling from the Federal High Court. This ruling declared NIWA as the legitimate regulatory authority for Nigeria’s inland waterways, adding that States lack the constitutional right to impose levies on businesses operating in the nation’s inland waterways.
The ruling ordered the Lagos State government, its agencies, and other states in the country to refrain from engaging in regulatory activities on Nigerian inland waterways.
Speaking with our correspondent last week, the Lagos state chapter Secretary of Association of the Association of Tourist Boat Operators and Water Transporters of Nigeria (ATBOWATON), Mr Ayomikun Aworetan confirmed that LASWA has not initiated the usual annual registration process for boat operators since the beginning of the year.
Aworetan noted however, that while jetty fees are still being collected at various jetties built by the state government across the state, there has been no official communication from LASWA regarding registration requirements for boat operators. He however speculated that this deviation may be linked to the recent court judgment.
In his words: “It is not that we’re having many issues with LASWA. They have a lot of jetties. We the operators are using their jetties and they are collecting fees for their jetties. And they also do some few registrations, but with this court judgment, which is the beginning of the year, they have not actually called for boat operators to come and do any registration with them. But you just have to pay their jetties fees, which are their personal properties”.
Speaking further, he said: “We at ATBOWATON have not received any letter from LASWA that we should come and do registration of our boats. That is where I can speak from. This is probably due to the court judgment. Before now, we paid both registration and jetty fees to both NIWA and LASWA. They are not doing that again, which I believe was what led us to court in the first place because of this double taxation. So, with this judgment now, you can only deal with NIWA.
“The NPA was initially taxing boat operators, but I have not really come up with all this again. The local government also comes to some of our jetties to collect money, but with this judgment, we’ve not had any complaint from operators that the local government officials are coming to give them any ticket again” Aworetan said.
On his part, the Liverpool (Apapa) Unit Chairman of the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN), Comrade Ayeyemi Omosuyi noted that LASWA officials still maintain their presence at the jetties, adding that they have temporarily suspended the collection of fees and levies at the Liverpool jetty.
Omosuyi further explained that since the commissioning of the Liverpool Jetty, the state government through LASWA has handed over the jetty to the concessionaires. However, according to him, they pay N200 per boat to the concessionaires’ everyday for the usage of the jetty.
“LASWA has suspended their activities in jetties now. Although they still have their presence at the jetties, they do not collect money. We are waiting for NIWA to take action; first on the situation on ground, so we can follow suit. But immediately the judgment came, LASWA has just been on the Jetty to oversee whatever is going on, but they don’t collect money again.
“The jetty at Liverpool was commissioned and handed over to the concessionaires. The concessionaires who are under LASWA are collecting N200 naira per boat for the use of the jetty because the jetty is now under the ownership of the state government. They said the facility was built by the state government, so they have to collect money from us” Omosuyi said.
On the contrary, the National Secretary of Waterfront Boat Owners and Transporters Association of Nigeria Waters (WABOTAN), Comrade Lateef Kaffo debunked allegations about LASWA collection of fees at the jetties, adding their presence at the jetties is just to ensure safety and create awareness.
Kaffo emphasized that any collections, like the purported N200 fee, are not official and not recognized by LASWA’s central office. He opined that LASWA might be looking for ways to dialogue with NIWA to see how they can collaborate on their operations on the Lagos waterways.
“The judgment just started at the beginning of the year. LASWA Guards and Security officers are still at the terminals, because they believe it is still within the waterways of Lagos state jurisdiction. However, we have not seen them implementing or coming up with a task force on waterways to collect their dues. However the matter is still fresh. I believe with time LASWA and NIWA might go on dialogue or by agreement.
“LASWA is not collecting money from them. If they give them N200, it is not official. The LASWA office is not aware of it. If they do that, they are doing that on their own. We at the state level know that LASWA is not collecting money. They have not finally withdrawn. They are still trying to create awareness, but they have not started collecting money. I believe by now they might be looking for ways to penetrate the system and work with NIWA”, Kaffo concluded.
When contacted, the Managing Director of the Lagos State Waterways Authority (LASWA), Mr Damilola Emmanuel refused to speak on the allegations against LASWA collection of fees at Jetties in Lagos State.
Damilola, noted that he has chosen to maintain a deliberate and intentional silence on the issue. He expressed his inability to provide any information at this point in time.
In his words: “Well, to be honest with you, I will not be able to say anything for now, because I’m not in a position to and it is very intentional. So I’m just going to leave it as it is. So sorry that I’m not able to answer you and I can’t provide an answer at this point in time”.
All efforts to get the reaction of the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) on this issue proved abortive as telephone calls and text messages sent to the NIWA Head of Corporate Affairs, Mr. Jubril Dar’dau were not responded to as at press time.