The Lagos State-Federal Government Tussle on Inland Waterways.
The tussle over who controls inland waterways in Lagos State is now at the front burner. A serious dialogue between Lagos State Government officials and those of the Federal Ministry of Transportation, especially the National Inland Waterways Authority, NIWA is afoot. The Presidency has advised its negotiators to seek ways to arrive at mutual agreements over all contentious issues. As a last resort, the Presidency thinks that a recourse to the Supreme Court for interpretation of extant laws on the matter is advisable.
When Lagos State began this battle last year by stopping dredging activities across the state, it was not obvious that the status quo was about to be seriously challenged. Now, the swords are in the open with the statement that the state wants to form its own inland waterway agency, a step that is seen by NIWA as a death knell. By a decree of 1997, NIWA has so far enjoyed near monopoly of regulatory powers over all activities on inland waterways across Nigeria, including the lucrative trade of sand-mining. The current face-off could be said to have taken off from squabbles over royalties accruing from sand mining. The demand for sand now in Lagos state easily outstrips that of any other state in the federation; its price continues to rise in what has become a suppliers market, and would remain so for the foreseeable future. These economic indices stoke the present saber-rattling among the various tiers of government and their agencies.
But there are far-reaching ramifications of this seeming small dispute. It has the potential to unravel the Nigerian federation because it is a cry akin to the once-famous resource control debate. Stretching the imagination a little farther, one can hear echoes from the 1960s about the struggles of the Niger Delta activist named Adaka Boro who was a progenitor for successors like environmentalist-activist Ken Saro Wiwa. Even on a larger political canvas, one can easily plot the equation where the Biafran secessionist movement leading to the only Nigerian civil war inhered from a struggle to control resources deemed to be native to a people.
In the 1990s, especially after the 1993 failed transition programme of General Ibrahim Babangida, a mushrooming of militant groups emerged in all the geopolitical zones of the country fanning the embers of political self-determinism. Usually, it was couched in terms of true federalism but the kernel of the struggle was a struggle for curbing of federal government powers and more local control over economic and social development and administration. These were some of the hangovers that Obasanjo fought with a high hand just a few years ago in the Odi massacre and the ransacking of Tiv villages after their alleged bloody exchange with some federal security agents. Thus, what is now being pursued by the Lagos state government is in furtherance of the concept of true federalism hence the Special Adviser to Governor Fashola on Special Duties and the Supervisor of the state government’s Inland Waterways Project, Mr. Kofo Abayomi has said (as reported by the Guardian) that "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 units to hand over power to a Federal Government. When we talk about Inland Waterways, we must realise first of all, that the NIWA Act was a Decree by the military government. We are no longer in the military government but we are in a democracy.”
The import of this is a revisit of the Nigerian federalism project as many states may also have one or two things they dislike in the current federal arrangement. The good part of this development is that the National Assembly is on a course of constitutional review. If they manage the review very properly there may yet be a breather for Nigerian federalism as presently constituted. Otherwise, elements of division seem rife in Nigeria’s political horizon.