Thursday, June 19, 2008

The storm over Lagos waterways

AGAIN, the battle line seems to have been drawn between the Lagos State government and the Federal Government over the former resolve to establish its own Inland Waterways.

Spirited efforts to resolve the disagreement on the dialogue table has failed even as the two parties seemed determined to prove their case in the law courts.

Though the Federal government's Inland Waterways regulatory body, the National Inland Waterways Authority, (NIWA) has challenged the move by the state government saying it is illegal, the Lagos State insists on going ahead with the plan.

Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Mallam Abdul Salam Mohammed has emphatically stated that the federal government has 100 per cent absolute control over ports facilities in the country, except for the terminal and handling of operations that have been conceded to the private sector.

This statement however appears contrary to the belief in some quarters that concessionaries took over terminal operations in the seaports in the wake of the economic reform programme of the former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo two years ago.

To show its determination, the Lagos state House of Assembly has held a public hearing on the proposed Waterways Authority and may soon pass the bill for its establishment.

This has led to series of disagreement and campaign of calumny by the duo on the pages of the newspapers.

The Presidency has since cleared the NIWA to take a legal action through the Federal Attorney General against the Lagos State government. This was after the attempt to resolve the matter failed.

The NIWA said it wrote the Attorney General of the Federation and the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), over plans by the Lagos State government to establish its own Inland Waterways Authority to regulate the activities of ferry operations in the state.

NIWA however accused Lagos state of violating the enabling laws, which gave NIWA powers to regulate activities within the nation's inland waterways.

The authority's Managing Director, Mr. Yakubu Zubairu, told The Guardian that he had already written to the Federal Attorney General on the impending 'illegal' step by the Lagos State government.

Zubairu, an engineer, described the action by the state government as illegal, adding that his organisation was prepared to collaborate with the state government to ensure effective water transportation services in the nation's commercial city without it having to establish its own waterways.

The NIWA has already given up the "regulation on sand winning to the Ministry of Solid Mineral, which is being backed up by an Act of the National Assembly to have sole control of activities relating to sand winning on the Nigerian waters."

He explained further: "We wrote to the Federal government after writing to the Lagos State government, especially, when they failed to reply us on the matter. What we need to do on issues like this is to report to our ministry and they will take it up. But if they don't do anything about it, then we have to report the incident to the President. We will talk to whosoever is in charge in other to protect the interest of the Federal Government."

The NIWA boss said then that his authority was not against any state willing to collaborate with the federal government through NIWA in the development of the inland waterways but that federal government's permission would be necessary before anything could be done on the inland waterways.

He maintains that the way out was for the Lagos State government to recognise and respect the law.

"The NIWA law was passed by the Federal Government in respect of all waterways in Nigeria and all land, which are 100 metres perpendicular to any river in Nigeria. They are all under NIWA, but Lagos State has been encroaching on the land and we don't talk."

Zubairu called on the state government to forward its proposal on the inland water transportation for approval based on the infrastructure they want to put in place.

NIWA was established by Decree 13 of 1997 to provide regulations for inland navigation, ensure the development of infrastructural facilities for a national inland water, easy network connecting creeks and the rivers with the economic centres using river ports as modal points for intermodal exchange and to ensure the development of indigenous technical and managerial skill to meet the challenges of modern inland waterways transportation.

The decree also gave the authority to undertake maintenance dredging, hydrological and hydrographic survey of the waterways, issue and control licenses for inland navigation grant permit and licenses for sand dredging, pipeline construction, grant licenses to private waterways operators and a handful of other functions.

Section 10 of the decree declared the Nigerian rivers, their tributaries, distributions, creeks lakes, lagoons and intra-coastal waters as federal navigable waters under the control of NIWA.

Section 13 of the decree states thus:

"Notwithstanding the provision of the Land Use Act 1978 or any other enactment, but subject to the provision of the Lands Decree 1993, the Authority shall have the right to all land within the right of way of declared waterways and shall use such land in the interest of navigation and no person including a state shall obstruct a declared waterway, take sand, gravel or stone from any declared waterway or erect permanent structures within the right of way or divert water from a declared water way"

But Special Adviser to the Lagos State Governor Special Duties and the Supervisor of the state's government Inland Waterways Project, Mr. Kofo Abayomi, has said that nothing would stop this initiative by state government.

Abayomi observed that it was time that the state regained control of its waterways. "Lagos State is a unit of all the units that came together to form a Federation of Nigeria, it does not put us under the Federal Government of Nigeria, we all came together as federating unit to hand over power to a Federal Government".

A politician and former governorship candidate of the Democratic Peoples Alliance (DPA), Chief Jimi Agbaje has thrown his weight behind the proposed Lagos Inland Waterways project, saying that the state deserves to have control over its inland waterways.

Agbaje urged the federal government to limit itself only to roles that are focused towards the wellbeing of the generality of Nigerians.

"I am a firm believer of true federalism, to that extent, it is the federal government that should limit itself to roles that pertain to the generality of the populace. I don't see anything wrong with that personally. In the spirit of true federalism, I don't see anything wrong with the state handling affairs that concern its waterways, vehicle nameplate and even licences.

"I think the saving grace is that in the new dispensation, we have at the helm of affairs at both Lagos and federal, leaders who are willing to solve the differences by negotiating, by discussing, and where that is not possible, by amicably agreeing to go and get true interpretation in the law court and that is what democracy is all about. So, for me it is to allow them to address these issues in a way they can agree and when they do not agree then they allow the court to decide."

Transportation Minister, Mrs. Diezani Allison Madueke has also called for the review of the nation's ports reform policy to determine whether government's objectives are being realized.

Madueke noted that the federal government's objectives in concession of the country's ports in 2006, was to ensure cost effective and efficient port services. She however expressed regrets that the implementation of the policy has not been completely successful.

According to her, 'The overriding objective of the programme (port reforms) was to ensure cost effective and efficient port services, comparable to what obtains in advanced maritime countries.

She however, regretted that after two years of successful transfer of ports operations to private terminal operators, government has been bathed with complaints by various stakeholders especially ports users. The complaints as she puts it range from poor services offered by the terminal operators, unnecessary delay in the clearing and delivery process, as well as deliberate delay in the handling of export goods.

"Other people have complained of exorbitant charges by terminal operators, high demurrage charges, use of obsolete NPA plants, multiplicity of government agencies at the ports and so on," she added.

In compliance with the provision of the Act, Madueke issued a guideline on the implementation of the Coastal and Inland Shipping (Cabotage) Act in 2004. These guidelines have proved a useful tool for the operation and enforcement of the Cabotage Act.

The Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency NIMASA, has experienced challenges in enforcing the act. These challenges thus prompted a review of enforcement procedures. This revised guidelines is the product of intense interaction with stakeholders and it is aimed at clarity, enforcement and monitoring procedures.

Meanwhile, the citizenship requirement under the Cabotage law with respect to ownership of cabotage companies and vessels are defined by the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and excludes corporate citizenship.

According to the law, ownership is determined by the identity of the individual owners who truly own and control the interests in the vessel and the ship owning company. The Act gives the Ministry of Transportation the over all responsibility of making regulations and policies for the implementation of the cabotage regime. The formulation of the guidelines stated that the criteria for determination of certain eligibility requirements are reserved for the minister of transport.

Besides, the Minister of Transportation according to the Act would approve the issuance of license for foreign owned vessels intended for use in coastal shipping and granting of waivers generally.

Indigenous ship owners have called on the federal government to initiate programmes and policies that will curb capital flight in the maritime industry so as to safeguard the nation's economy. The group, which made the call under the aegis of Indigenous Ship owners Association of Nigeria (ISAN), also solicited government's support to ensure that they take their rightful place in the scheme of things.

According to the association, the amount of money the nation loses daily as a result of capital flight is enough to sustain the economy and open more opportunities for the absorption of the numerous youths roaming the streets in search of non existing white collar jobs.

They explained that one of the ways of reducing capital flight is by giving due recognition to the shipping sector as a pillar of the nation's economy.