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The Supreme Court of Nigeria has issued a ruling affirming that the Federal Government holds exclusive control over activities on the nation’s inland waterways, which includes the authority to levy and license operators in the sector.

The court maintained that it is incorrect, unlawful, and illegal for states to attempt to regulate the sector and impose levies on businesses operating in the nation’s inland waterways.

The judgment was delivered on the appeal marked SC/CV/17/2018, which was filed by the National Inland Waterways Authority, the Minister of Mines and Steel Development, and the Minister of Transport.

The respondents to the appeal included the Lagos State Waterways Authority, the state’s 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 Dredgers Association of Nigeria.

The appeal, filed in 2018, was prosecuted for the appellants by a team of lawyers led by Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), now the Attorney General of the Federation, and Minister of Justice.

The legal battle over the control of inland waterways began in 2012 when the Lagos State Government, in Suit No: FHC/L/CS/543/2012, dragged the Federal Government before the Federal High Court in Lagos.

Justice John Tsoho, who adjudicated over the case, ruled in favour of the Federal Government in 2014.

Displeased, the Lagos State Government approached the Court of Appeal, which overturned Justice Tsoho’s verdict and ruled in favour of the Lagos State Government on July 18, 2017.

Not pleased, the Federal Government took the matter before the Supreme Court, which on Friday decided in favour of the Federal Government by nullifying the court of appeal verdict.

In its lead judgment written by Justice John Okoro and read by Justice Emmanuel Agim, the Supreme Court held that existing laws gave 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 Standard and Safety Agency.

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