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Supreme Court affirms FG’s exclusive control over inland waterways

Landmark ruling declares state imposition of levies on inland waterway operators as wrong, unlawful, and illegal, settling a long-standing legal battle

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In a significant legal pronouncement, the Supreme Court has unequivocally asserted the Federal Government’s exclusive jurisdiction over the nation’s inland waterways, including the authority to levy and license operators within this sector. The ruling deems attempts by states to control this domain and impose levies on businesses within the inland waterways as incorrect, unlawful, and illegal.

The judgment, delivered on the appeal marked SC/CV/17/2018, stemmed from a legal dispute initiated in 2012 when the Lagos State Government took the Federal Government to court over control of the inland waterways. The appeal was filed by the National Inland Waterways Authority, the Minister of Mines and Steel Development, and the Minister of Transport.

The respondents in the appeal included the Lagos State Waterways Authority, the Commissioner for Waterfront Infrastructure Development, the state’s Attorney-General, the Governor of Lagos State, the Incorporated Trustees of the Association of Tourist Boat Operators and Water Transportation of Nigeria, and the Incorporated Trustees of the Dredgers Association of Nigeria.

The legal battle, reaching its pinnacle in the Supreme Court, has been ongoing since 2012. Justice John Tsoho initially ruled in favor of the federal government in 2014. However, the Court of Appeal overturned this decision on July 18, 2017, siding with the Lagos State Government.

Not accepting defeat, the Federal Government pursued the matter to the Supreme Court, which, in a lead judgment authored by Justice John Okoro and read by Justice Emmanuel Agim, nullified the Court of Appeal’s verdict, reinforcing the Federal Government’s exclusive control through its agencies—the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) and the Nigerian Maritime Standard and Safety Agency.

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