•’We’re being extorted, persecuted’
•Lagos lacks powers to regulate dredging, says NIWA
•We won’t allow adverse impact on environment – Lagos govt
By Tope Adeboboye
Right now, all is not well in the Addo-Badore area of Ajah, in Eti-Osa Local Government Area of Lagos State. A disagreement between the Lagos State government and dredgers pumping sand from the Lagos lagoon in the area might soon snowball into a major crisis.
The activities of the sand dredgers, the state noted, are creating environmental issues. It has subsequently directed that the dredgers and their dredge machines must leave the area.
But the dredgers are insisting that they are going nowhere. They aver that the state government has no powers to regulate their activities, asserting that NIWA is the only body so empowered by law.
Also caught in the crossfire are truck drivers and suppliers of sand and granite. They claim that the state government has barred them from transacting business with the sand dredgers. In the entire area now, uncertainty abounds like flies atop a festering heap of faeces.
It was gathered that the state government has already issued a stop-work notice to the dredging firms operating on the lagoon in the Ajah area. Different letters from the Lagos State Ministry of Waterfront Infrastructure Development to some of the dredging companies warned that stringent actions would be taken against them if the Lagos State directive was not complied with. The state government insisted that the dredgers must pay certain amounts to the state coffers before they would be allowed to continue with their dredging activities.
But the dredgers are crying foul. They accuse the state government of persecuting them in spite of a court ruling that the state had no business collecting revenue from them. The dredgers insist that they have no issues with the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA), the only agency constitutionally empowered to regulate their activities. To them, the state government is merely interloping in a matter it has no authority over.
Commissioner for Information and Strategy in Lagos, Mr. Steve Ayorinde, denied that the state is sanctioning the dredgers. But he said the administration has a right to address the environmental impact of the dredgers’ activities in Lagos.
But the sand dredgers are going to be having a shoulder to cry on. NIWA has insisted that the state authorities are barred by law from regulating the activities of dredgers. NIWA Lagos Area manager, Muazu Sambo, said his agency is the only one constitutionally empowered to manage Nigeria’s vast inland waterway resources, noting that sand dredging is one of such resources.
But the problem between the state government and the dredgers did not start today. Prince Tajudeen Abioye is the CEO of Ojibabs Nig. Limited, one of the dredging companies operating at the Addo-Badore axis. He explained that the dredgers had for long been operating without problems, paying all the necessary fees to the Federal Government through NIWA. He said the present crisis started a few years back when the state government insisted that the dredgers and others operating on the waters in the state must pay some revenue to the state coffers. The dredgers, he informed, then approached the Federal High Court in Lagos to seek clarification on the issue.
And in its judgment on March 28, 2014, the court ruled that the state government should jettison the thought of collecting any levies from boat operators and sand dredgers operating on waterways in the state.
The court, presided over by Justice John Tsoho, ordered the state government to stop collecting levies and taxes from or even conducting a registration of boat operators and sand dredgers in Lagos State. The court ruled that NIWA was the Federal Government agency constitutionally empowered to regulate, register, license, and collect levies and taxes from boat operators and sand dredgers.
The court held that Lagos State was not constitutionally competent to repeal the Federal Government law setting up the Nigerian Inland Water Ways Authority (NIWA), which is constitutionally empowered to provide regulations for inland navigation; ensure the development of infrastructural facilities for a national inland water, grant permit and licences for sand dredging and also grant licences to private inland waterway operators, among others. Justice Tsoho stated that the law enacted by the Lagos State House of Assembly or that of any state House of Assembly could not repeal the Federal Government law on the matter. The judge warned that Lagos State should not go contrary to the constitution and federalism.
But Abioye said in spite of the court verdict, the state government had been inflicting untold persecution on the sand dredgers. He said the state government started another round of agitation last year, shortly before the exit of the last administration led by Mr. Babatunde Fashola.
Abioye told Daily Sun: “They came to us that we should register with the state Ministry of Waterfront Infrastructure Development. To register with the ministry, the amount they gave us was simply impossible. To register one Upper Dredger machine, they said we should pay N10 million each annually. This is not for one company, but for just one dredger. For instance, I have 25 Upper Dredger machines. What that means is that I would be paying about N250 million in a year to the state government. And to get the permit from the Ministry of Waterfront Development, you would spend at least 100, 000 United States dollars to facilitate it. It is not everyone that can have access to the commissioner.
“Even after pumping sand from the lagoon, you must also pay some money for the land you’re using. But the Federal Government is very reasonable. For one Upper Dredger, we pay N250, 000 annually to NIWA. But Lagos State is demanding N10 million for one. And we don’t pay any bribes to anybody at NIWA.
“The way the state government is going, they’re going to kill the business of sand dredgers and sand sellers in Lagos State.”
Abioye said the companies involved in sand dredging, especially in the Ajah axis, have been great corporate citizens, making lives better for people in the communities where they operate.
“In times past, everyone knows that Ajah was a hotbed of crime and criminality in Lagos State. But we have done a lot to put a stop to all that. Right now, crime has reduced drastically. On each site where we work, there are between 15 and 20 workers drawn from Ajah communities.
“Again, we are involved in the cleaning of the environment. We employ people who clean the roads in the area at least once a week. Every Saturday, our workers are there making the road clean.”
Besides that, he noted that sand dredge machines hitherto being imported from abroad were now being made locally. “We train people, youths from the communities how to make those machines. We brought our engineers and welders from those communities, they trained under the expatriates and now, they can make those machines. So, we’re making life more comfortable for the people, employing people and helping the local economy.”
Abioye said in spite of all that, and even after the court had ruled that the state government had no powers to collect levies from them, sand dredgers were still being served letters threatening to shut their operations by the state government.
Daily Sun was shown copies of a few of such letters.
One of the letters with reference MWFID/ENG.19/148, from the Ministry of Waterfront Infrastructure Development was dated February 17, 2016. Signed by Mr. James I.A. on behalf of the Permanent Secretary, it was addressed to the Managing Director, Caybee Industrial Limited, Addo Road, Ajah.
The letter partly reads: “It was observed that your company has embarked on illegal dredging activities and the sale of sand for the past two years, despite several written and verbal warnings, thereby contravening the rules establishing the Ministry.
“Consequent upon this, you are hereby charged to pay a fine of 1.0million naira per annum, for operating without permit and two million naira per annum as outstanding haulage fees for the past two years.
“You are also enjoined to submit all requisite documents for the prompt approval of your operational permit. Any further dredging or selling activity undertaken by your company under the current circumstances will attract severe penalties.”
Another letter from the ministry to another firm, Seamap Nig Ltd, dated March 4, 2016, was also signed by I.A. James for the Permanent Secretary. It partly reads: “Consequent upon the stop work order to your company to stop all dredging activities, immediately demobilise all dredge machines (machine components) from the lagoon, remove all your machinery from site and completely evacuate all stockpiled sand from the foreshore, I am directed to inform you to comply earnestly.
You are by this letter requested to immediately vacate the foreshore as directed above without further delay. This order takes effect from Friday, 4th March, 2016.
In addition, I am to further inform you that failure to heed the above directive will result in stringent action being taken against you.”
He said it was a major hypocrisy for the state government to claim that the activities of sand dredgers were negatively impacting on the ecosystem. “When they wanted to build Eko Atlantic on the ocean, where did they get the sand from? Is it from Ghana? When they did Ilubirin and Banana Island, where did they get the sand from?” he queried.
Abioye said apart from threatening the sand dredgers, the Lagos State government has been employing some blackmail to force the dredgers to comply with their directives.
“They met with the sand sellers and said they should stop buying sand from us. They are sanctioning the sand sellers and the truck owners. We have petitioned the Lagos State House of Assembly, but we haven’t heard from the lawmakers.
“But the point here is that, if we are to be paying NIWA and we are also made to pay the Lagos State government, there is no company that will survive those taxations.”
He said NIWA had been quite helpful to the dredgers. “They said we should present our Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) reports in January. We’ve done that, and they’re fully behind us,” he stated.
NIWA is indeed giving the sand dredgers maximum support in their battle with the state government. Muazu Sambo, the NIWA Area Manager in Lagos, affirmed that his agency would protect the sand dredgers from being exploited and extorted by the state government.
The NIWA boss regretted that the Lagos State authorities were stoking needless controversies, all with a view to generating more revenue. He said Sections 8 and 9 of the NIWA Act empowered his agency to, among other things, grant permit and licence for sand dredging and regulate the activities of sand dredgers in the inland waterways of Nigeria, including those in Lagos. He asserted that in all the states of the federation where NIWA had offices, only Lagos State was poking its nose into areas that are the statutory responsibilities of the federal government through NIWA.
The NIWA boss spoke more about the activities of the agency. His words: “Only the Federal Government has jurisdiction over all inland waterways in the country, no matter where they are located. No state can lay claim to any of them. And sand that is mined from these waterways is a mineral, like crude oil or solid mineral. And because of that, only the Federal Government has jurisdiction over the mining. It is also an item under the Exclusive Legislative List. For that reason, no state government can legislate, manage, direct or control the exploration of sand. And that is where NIWA comes in. NIWA is responsible for issuing permits for sand dredging, among other activities.
“Before NIWA gives that permit, there are some technical and financial requirements that the applicant must comply with. The key technical requirements are 1. You must submit an environmental impact assessment report, which will signify that the activities you are going to carry out will not be injurious to the environment. 2. You must submit a sand search report telling us that there is enough sand in that location where you want to dredge. 3. You must also complete an application form issued by NIWA. The others are financial requirements. When you meet all these conditions, NIWA gives you a permit.”
Sambo said the Lagos State government must comply with the subsisting court order, noting that anything to the contrary would be tantamount to committing contempt of court.
The NIWA boss stated that the Lagos State government claimed that it was dabbling into the activities of sand dredgers because it was concerned that the environment might be degraded. But Sambo noted that, from the seemingly desperate approach of the Ministry of Waterfront Infrastructure Development as well as the letters to the various dredging companies, it was obvious that the concern of the state’s officials was inspired more by the quest to make money off the dredgers.
“We have met with the Lagos State officials, and in all the meetings, they never raised the issue of revenue. They said they were more concerned with the environment. But with what is going on now, it’s obvious they are only concerned with revenue generation. But NIWA will not be party to, neither will NIWA accept a situation where the court orders will be flouted,” he reiterated.
He said NIWA had decided to reduce the number of companies involved in sand dredging at Badore to between five and seven from the current 24 so that the impact on the environment would be reduced.
But how would NIWA help the sand dredgers if the Lagos State unleashes its enormous might on them?
That would not be a problem, Daily Sun was told. Sambo said any security agency that the state might want to employ against the sand dredgers would be acting illegally and against the court ruling. He expressed confidence that no security agency would want to be used illegally.
Austine Gbaraba, a Chief Superintendent of Police and Commander, NIWA Police Command, Lagos, said the NIWA Police was established in 2004 to protect the nation’s inland waterways from crime and criminals, among others and to ensure the protection of officials enforcing the relevant laws establishing the National Inland Waterways Authority. He said he had deployed more policemen to the area while more policemen were always on ground patrolling the inland waterways, just as they have been giving protection to the sand dredging sites and their operators.
He said his men would manage the situation between the state government and the sand dredgers with as much maturity as possible to prevent an avoidable crisis in the state.
But the sand dredgers, truck owners and sand suppliers are getting agitated. Akeem Taoheed, chairman of the truck owners in Addo-Badore axis, said his men had been caught in the crossfire of the feud between the state government and the sand dredgers.
“About two weeks ago, we received a letter from the state government that we should stop patronising the sand dredgers. We learnt that if we do, the government would confiscate our trucks. Since then, our members have been jobless. Even though the sand miners have assured us that nothing would happen to our trucks, we don’t want to dare the government.
“The government said we should not steal, yet the only work that we do, through which we feed our families, they are stopping us without giving us an alternative. We are not happy,” he noted.
Adewale Seko is one of the leaders of the Lagos State Central Sand and Granites Suppliers Association, Zone D. He lamented that the crisis between the state government and sand dredgers are causing major problems among members of his association.
“We cannot work. When sand dredgers don’t work, there is nothing for us to supply. Our members are more than 6, 000 in Eti-Osa alone. Can you imagine the number of those that are feeding from us and what they would be going through now? It’s pathetic,” he said.
Saheed Taiwo Adesina is the chairman, Lagos State Central Sand and Granites Suppliers Association, Zone D. He said the leadership of the association had been appealing to the members to be remain calm while the problem is sorted out.
“But our people are not happy. We are planning a protest at the headquarters of Eti-Osa Local Government Area, so that they would tell the people at Alausa that all is not well here. Government should do something quick about it so that the dredgers can start work again.”
On Tuesday, Commander of the NIWA Police, Austine Gbaraba, met with some of the sand dredgers, sand suppliers and truck owners in the area. He appealed to them to maintain the peace.
“We’re trying to find a solution to this problem. It’s unfortunate that you’re caught in the fight between the federal and the state government. You have been very mature about the situation, and I’m appealing to you to continue to maintain the peace. I can assure you that the problem will be resolved soon,” he said.
Lagos State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Steve Ayorinde, however, countered the sand dredgers’ allegations. He told Daily Sun: “Yes, it’s true that there’s a judgment in favour of National Inland Waterways Agency (NIWA), which is a Federal Government agency. But it’s not true that Lagos State government is sanctioning dredgers. The court says we can’t levy them, and we won’t, even if we may have plans to appeal aginst the judgment. But we have the right to address the environmental impact of what they are doing in the state, particularly along the Ado Road-Badore stretch.”
“We intend to work with NIWA on this and that does not in any way contravene the law. Lagos State is law-abiding and we expect everyone working or residing in the state to also respect the laws of the state. Dredging should not have adverse effect on the roads that Lagos State government spends several millions to build and maintain.”