It is now a matter of weeks and a matter of procedures before the controversial Lagos State “wharf landing bill”
becomes a law. It is already an Act of the Lagos State House of Assembly which quietly passed the bill into law; precisely on March 2, 2009. It is however awaiting the formality of the assent of the state Governor, Mr Babatunde Fashola.
The Bill, when it eventually becomes law will ensure that all imported consignments which arrive Nigeria through the two ports in Lagos (Lagos Port Complex and Tin Can Island) attract certain levies. Although, at the commencement of the push for the bill, there were agitations and oppositions form members of the shipping community; with some even threatening litigations, that appears to have been overtaken by events as the bill is almost close reality.
Called “wharf landing fees”, the controversial levy has been categorised into =N=500 and =N=1,000 payable on each 20-footer container and 40-footer container respectively. Similarly, heavy duty vehicles and cars will attract N1, 000 and N500 respectively.
The proposed law seeks to empower local governments in the state under whose jurisdiction the cargo pass through to their final destination to collect varied amount of fees on such gods.
The new law is a replica of what the Apapa local government attempted to introduce in 2001, but which did not succeed. History will bear us witness that during the tenure of Chief Ojo Maduekwe as transport minister and Alhaji Munir Muse as the chairman of Apapa local government, the duo battled each other for and against.
Alhaji Muse; now a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria representing Lagos state had used his experience as a former port manager in one of the ports belonging to Nigerian Ports Authourity to attempt to take advantage of the relative newness of the democratic dispensation at that time to force wharf landing fees down the throat of importers.
He relied on the fact that the way the Presidency was structured at that time was such that the office of the vice president related directly with the local governments. He had a double advantage in the fact that he was well informed enough to canvass it and he also used the fact that the then-vice president, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar has tremendous background in port operations; being a former top customs officer.
Muse’s manoeuvrings almost caused the then-minister of transport, chief Maduekwe his job as he was not favourably disposed to imposition of any additional levy on Nigerian importers.
At one of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meetings, the issue of wharf landing fees was tabled, and the minister was given the opportunity to rubbish the proposal. He was able to convince the Council of the dangers inherent in allowing it. And so, it died. Surprisingly, it is that same levy which could not scale the FEC hurdles in 2001 that the lawmakers in Lagos are bringing in through another corridor.
As much as we acknowledge that the administration of Mr Babatunde Raji Fasola in Lagos state is doing a great job and will require as much funds as it can lay its hands on, we shudder at the economic and the multiplier effect of the law.
Lagos enjoys the enviable status of being the hub of economic activities in Nigeria; playing host to two ports administrative structures and 10 terminals. The ports in Lagos feed the South -Western states and beyond.
But, while Lagos is enviably placed, Onne port in Rivers State is also in the same category; serving South- Eastern and South – South states.
It is too late to advise Lagos state lawmakers not to be carried away by the lure of how much money that could come in from the levies. They probably were not swayed by the argument that other ‘port states’ and states through which those containers will pass once leaving the ports may be persuaded to introduce levies. In the category of port states are: Delta, Cross Rivers, Rivers, while states like : Ogun , Oyo, Edo Abia, Imo and a host of others may also introduce ‘road passage bill’ for containers. The multiplier effect is unimaginable.
There is the very likelihood that Rivers, Cross Rivers and Delta states take a cue form Lagos. In the event that this happens, it is the ordinary Nigerian who will bear the burden through increased payment for goods and services.
It is our opinion that before the lawmakers make good their threat to pass an Act to introduce the wharf landing fees, it is pertinent to ask – what did the Lagos state government or Apapa local government contribute to port operations, transportation and security of consignments in transit to warrant wanting to be compensated by consignees through collection of wharf landing fees. Many of these importers are those who have been made to pay other levies and taxes through other means. The roads through which these containers will pass are in a terribly bad shape, so why add to the burden of the shipping community?
Unfortunately, while the public hearing on the bill was conducted, the shipping community was not adequately represented, the manufacturing sector was absent, while importers were no where to be found.
Sesan Onileimo (FNIS)