Inland waterways transportation: Creating efficient regulatory systems for optimal economic benefits

Lately, industry watchers and analysts have argued that Nigeria could make economic fortunes from inland waterways transportation just like America, with an efficient control system established to enable the Nigeria Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) function appropriately. 
The American Inland, intra-coastal and coastal waterways and channels for example, stretch to about 25,000 miles. Out of this, 12,000 miles have been commercialised and maintained by the government. 

Available statistics reveals that the U.S makes a whopping 8 billion USD annually from this transportation sub-sector which at present accommodates about 3,008 businesses and 24,908 employees.

More than 60 per cent of America’s grain exports, about 22% of domestic petroleum products and 20% of the coal used in electricity generation is ferried via America’s water transportation system.

The case is not same in Nigeria. For years, the growth of the water transport and other ancillary businesses has been impeded by a battle for control. 

Virtually all state governments with this geographical advantage are engaged in some kind of supremacy battle with the Federal Government, thereby flouting the dictates of the law, the court rulings and causing distraction. 

It would be recalled that the Federal High Court sitting in Lagos on March 28, 2014 ruled that only the Federal Government was constitutionally empowered to regulate operations of the inland waterways.

The federal government in that vein carries out the function through the Nigerian Inland Waterways Authority(NIWA) and the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA.

Justice J.T Tsoho on the said date ruled that States and Federal Governments could not have concurrent jurisdiction to make laws on the matter.

He said that the inland waterways, by virtue of being on the Exclusive Legislative list, were the Federal Government’s preserve.

Operators had filed a suit against Lagos State and Federal Government together with their agencies because of multiple taxes they were compelled to pay. 

To get operational permits or certificates, dredging companies, boat/ferry service providers and jetty operators were (and in many cases are still being) levied by both parties. 

On a closer look, the payments served the same purpose and were just duplicates. As a result, operators begged the court to establish the proper and lawful agency or agencies to deal with.

NIWA has its guidelines for operators, just as Lagos State Waterways Authority (LASWA). So, what happens at points of conflict in the regulatory duties of both agencies? Who should be held responsible?

While one body approves of the activities of operators, the other can halt their work for whatsoever reason it deems fit. Of course, either way, the investor bears the brunt.

LASWA on behalf of Lagos State issues the same permits that the court empowered NIWA to make available to operators on behalf of Federal Government. 

While operators are compelled to comply, industry analysts say that state governments who venture into this area are merely driven by a quest for revenue generation, putting off investors who could develop the sector.

Establishing that licencing and monitoring of inland waterway operations is the Federal Government’s constitutional preserve; the court also restrained LASWA and the Honourable Commissioner, Ministry of Waterfront Infrastructural Development.

They were not to control commercial activities of the plaintiffs- Association of Tourist Boat Operators and Water Transporters of Nigeria and Dredgers Association of Nigeria, while payments to them were declared illegal. 

Giving the judgment however, creating efficient systems for inland waterways transport becomes a duty the Federal Government through the Ministry of Transport and NIWA. 

Water transport in many developed countries is the most efficient and most cost-effective means of moving both passengers and cargoes. It is also a great revenue earner for many growing economies.

Nigeria’s inland waterways cover approximately 8,600km, that is, about 5343.792 miles. This natural geographical endowment remains largely under developed even though it has capacity to generate much revenue if harnessed.

The battle for control, has however, seems to have relegated burning issues to the background as there have records of incessant mishaps leading to human and business causalities.

The inland waterways are overtaken by siltation and wrecks and only a small fraction of the water is charted, while rickety crafts ply the waters unchecked.

How well trained are people we parade as coastguards? How fast do we respond to emergencies? We have not engaged yacht and small crafts surveyors! How much have we really earned as revenue?

State governments should begin to make progressive collaborative efforts, partnering with the Ministry of Transport or NIWA to exploit the immense opportunities in inland waterways as a better option.

They may engage the Federal Government to see how they can participate in developing the sector and what percentage of the revenue from inland waterways they could get in return.

On the other hand, the banning of dredging operations by Lagos State amidst the dwindling national economy is ill-advised
While it is agreed that there is need to sanitise and give structure to the sector, the provisions of the law should also be followed. 

NIWA should be allowed to do its job, to encourage investments that could create more jobs and give huge revenue to the government.