A human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, has thrown his weight behind the Lagos State government over the lingering dispute with the federal government on the control of inland waterways.
Mr. Falana said in a statement on Tuesday that the July 18 decision of the Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal clearly vested on the state government the power to control the “intra-inland waterways.”
The Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal, last month, delivered a judgment in the case of Lagos State Waterways Authority & Ors. v. The Incorporated Trustees of Association of Tourist Boat Operators & Water Transportation in Nigeria.
In the leading judgment of the court, Justice Hussein Mukhtar held that: “Item 64 is couched in no narrower scope as it deals with water from such sources declared by the National Assembly to be sources affecting more than one State. The inland waterways within Lagos State are not and cannot by any stretch of interpretation be covered by any item on the Exclusive Legislative List under Part 1 to the Second Schedule of the Constitution and I so hold…
“The glaring absence of the Lagos State intra-waterways in the Exclusive Legislative List under Part 1 as well as the Concurrent Legislative List under Part 2 of the Second Schedule to the Constitution, means that it is automatically a residuary item that falls within the legislative competence of the Lagos State House of Assembly.”
Mr. Falana said the judgment was unambiguous in upholding the constitutional right of the Lagos State House of Assembly to make laws in respect of the intra-inland waterways in Lagos State.
“Accordingly, the federal government lacks the power to authorise dredgers to mine any resources in the intra-inland waterways in Lagos State,” said Mr. Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria.
The Lagos State government and the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA), a federal government agency, have been embroiled in a dispute over the control of the waterways in Lagos.
Following the Court of Appeal’s decision, the state government issued a seven-day ultimatum to boat operators, dredgers and stakeholders in the inland waterways sector to comply with its laws, rules and guidelines concerning their operations or face stiff sanctions.
But Mohammed Abass, a permanent secretary in the Federal Ministry of Mines and Steel Development, responded by directing its licensed dredgers in the state to go about their businesses without hindrance by the government while its legal officers study the appellate court’s judgment.
Earlier, the NIWA had maintained that the court only gave the Lagos State government power to legislate on intra-state waterways, which are waterways that originate and end within the state.
Mr. Falana described Mr. Abass’s directive to the dredgers as “a demonstration of brazen impunity.”
“In the light of the constitutional duty imposed on the Buhari Administration to operate under the rule of law, we urge the Honourable Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami SAN and the Honourable Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Dr. Kayode Fayemi to call Mr. Mohammed Abass to order without any further delay,” he said.
“While commending the Court of Appeal for the historic judgment, we urge the Lagos State government and other state governments to continue to challenge the constitutional validity of all decrees enacted by the defunct military junta which have turned Nigeria into a unitary state.”