The supreme court, in a landmark judgement delivered on Friday, says only the federal government has control over activities on the nation’s inland waterways.

The judgment, passed by a seven-member panel led by John Okoro, puts the federal government fully in charge of levying and licensing of operators.

The apex court held that existing laws give exclusive control of activities in the nation’s inland waterways to the federal government through its agencies — the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) and the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA).


Caught between a fire of charges by both the federal and Lagos state governments, the Association of Tourist Boat Operators and Water Transportation of Nigeria (ATBOWTN) and the Dredgers Association of Nigeria (DAN), filed a suit at the federal high court in Lagos, in 2012.

The groups asked the court to determine which tier of government was empowered by law to license and levy maritime operators.


Delivering judgement on the case in March 2014, John Tsoho, who is now chief judge of the court, held that the federal government agencies — NIWA and NMSSA — are responsible for regulation and levying.

However, an appellate court sitting in Lagos reversed the judgement of the high court in July 2017.

The appellate court ruled that the inland waterways within Lagos not captured by the National Inland Waterways act, are within the legislative competence of the state’s legislature.

It added that Lagos could collect taxes and levies on businesses on waterways which start and end in the state through the Lagos State Waterways Authority (LASWA).

But dissatisfied with the judgement, NIWA, NMSSA, the minister of mines and steel development, and the minister of transport, approached the supreme court in 2018, seeking a reversal.

On January 5, the apex court upturned the judgement of the appeal court, ruling that the Lagos state government and its agency usurped and illegally encroached on the statutory functions of NIWA.

The supreme court held that it is only the federal government, through the national assembly, that can validly legislate on maritime shipping and navigation as contained in the exclusive list.

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