Boat operators in Lagos state have expressed satisfaction with the recent Supreme Court’s ruling which pronounced the National Inland Waterways Authority’s (NIWA) exclusive control of inland waterways in the nation.
The boat operators specifically said the ruling has put an end to double taxation by several government agencies.
This is even as they affirmed that the judgment does not render Lagos State Waterways Authority (LASWA) irrelevant and emphasised the need for collaboration among all relevant bodies.
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, FHC/CS/ 543/ 2012. This ruling declared NIWA as the legitimate regulatory authority for Nigerian 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.
Reacting to this, the National President of the Association of Tourist Boat Operators and Water Transporters of Nigeria (ATBOWATON), Alhaji Tarzan Balogun expressed dissatisfaction with the burden of multiple taxes being imposed by agencies such as NIWA, LASWA, the Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) and local governments.
While highlighting the necessity of government revenue, he stressed the adverse impact of excessive taxation on the industry. Balogun detailed previous efforts made to engage NIWA and LASWA in dialogue, even as he underscored the need for federal and state governments to work together to avoid conflict that could negatively affect the industry.
He clarified that the recent ruling was not a declaration of war, but a necessary step to determine the rightful authority.
Balogun said with the Supreme Court’s decision in favor of NIWA, boat operators would no longer face multiple taxation.
The ATBOWATON President however acknowledged the role of the Lagos State government in providing jetties. He urged a focus on encouraging local operators and providing necessary welfare facilities.
He told our correspondent that: “There’s nothing special about it (Supreme Court ruling). It’s not as if we are fighting a war and the winner is XYZ. Our members long ago cried about doing something about this multiple taxation from NIWA LASWA, NIMASA, NPA and even the Local government. Yes, we know that the government needs to get revenue to be able to move forward or progress on facilities in the country. But multi-taxation was a problem and then they said I was dragging my feet and that was why I didn’t want to do anything about it”.
Giving further insight, he disclosed that, “We would have gone to court a very long time before now. It was me that was holding it and they started looking at me as if I was not willing to support them. A tree can never make a forest, so we had no choice but to call a lawyer and we went to court so that the court can tell us who the rightful body in charge of the waterways is.
“So, it is not that we went to war. The Supreme Court decision binds every state in the country. When the outcome of the court judgment favoured NIWA, our members are happy that we are not going to be taxed multiple times any more”.
“So, at this time, we need to work with the state government. Yes, the federal government is in charge of the water. But most of the waters are in the state. So, the state and the federal government need to work together. That is the way I see it now. With this judgment, NIWA now needs to hold the bull by the horn by putting themselves at the right position to provide facilities for people to use, not only in Lagos, but across the nation” Alhaji Balogun stated.
On his part, the National Public Relations Officer of WABOTAN, Chief Raymond Gold, acknowledged the Supreme Court as the final arbiter, emphasizing the need for unity among stakeholders.
Gold clarified that the judgment, while granting control to NIWA, does not render LASWA irrelevant. Despite the ruling, he asserted that LASWA’s role is not rendered useless and its engagement in waterway activities still holds relevance.
Addressing concerns about the control of jetties, Gold pointed out that many jetties in Lagos State are owned by the state, stressing that this does not diminish their significance. He maintained that both agencies (NIWA and LASWA) can work collaboratively for the benefit of the industry.
“The Supreme Court is the highest Court and every litigation must come to an end one day. We are all law abiding citizens and we have to obey the law. Now the judgment is not limited to Lagos state but the entire country. But that doesn’t make the Lagos State Waterways Authority useless. They are still stakeholders and still have some levels of participation. That doesn’t really affect us. It was ATBOWATON that took them to court.
“This judgment has laid the issue of double taxation to rest. But as I said, that doesn’t make LASWA irrelevant in the scheme of things. That doesn’t immediately take all the jetties that the Lagos state has built away from the control of LASWA and take them under the control of NIWA. The more the merrier. I see all of us having a better understanding together to see that we ensure safety and security on the waterways. LASWA and NIWA are our friends and we would always relate with them where necessary” Gold noted.
In his reaction, the General Manager of LASWA, Mr. Damilola Emmanuel noted that there is no additional information available from the Lagos State government regarding the issue, except for a statement released by the state’s Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Lawal Pedro.