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Friday, 24 June 2016

Lagos Dredgers lament as Federal and Lagos State government flex muscle

Engr Ade AkinsanyaLagos State Honourable Commissioner for Waterfront Infrastructure Development
By Paul Ukpabio

Like the saying goes, 'when two elephants fights, its the grass that suffers.' And so it has been in the long drawn out struggle between the Lagos State Government and the Federal Government over who is to control the inland waterways especially around Lagos State.

The issue took a dramatic turn few weeks back when members of the Association of Dredgers were prevented from carrying out any of their duties or business in the inland waterways. The position being a grand follow up on the letter earlier served them which informed them to desist from such activities as they remained banned from such, due to their non compliance with the payment order of charges/taxes meted out to them by the Lagos State Government. A sum which Prince Babatunde Abioye a representative of the Dredgers Association says is huge! "N10million from each of us for a year, that will be running us out of business totally.

"They charged us N10m per year, that is on the surface because at the end of that payment other payments are asked. The federal government through grants us permit after a payment that is not even up to N200,000. So if Lagos state wants to collect money from us dredgers to give us permit, it means that they will kill all our businesses first because after paying such money, we wont have any left to run the business.

'The highest crime rate used to be in Ajah area. But when we started business there, we have been able to give gainful employment to the restive youths in these areas, taking them away from joblessness which may have contributed to their restlessness before. Moreover, we have endeavoured to ensure cleanliness wherever we carry out our dredging business. We clean the road where we use for instance at least once a week. The complaints from the Lagos state government is majority to raise funds from us through taxes. we are also paying money to the community.
Muazu Sambo

Austin Gbaraba
Police on patrol
"we were given letters to stop working because of our non compliance with the tax payment. We had to appeal to NIWA to give us assistance since we paid for permit from NIWA. I definitely do not see any dredging company that can pay both tax levies. It is too much for us.
Asked how they have you been working presently, Prince Babatunde Abioye replied, "we have been working under the protection of NIWA police that provided their personnel and jetty to protect us while we work, because we are usually faced with possibility of being arrested.
Confused of where to find solace or grace, the dredgers ran under the cover of NIWA, where they are only compelled to pay an amount T. B Abass remarked is a said is a pittance, compared to what the Lagos State Government is requesting them to pay.

According to Abioye, "The issue of who controls the water seems to have no end, despite the court judgement wherein the Nigerian Inland Water ways an organisation of the Federal government, was asked to take charge. We are tossed here and there between the Lagos State Government and the Federal Government. Presently, after paying our dues and taxes to NIWA, we have resumed work, but the atmosphere is still tense as we have to daily have the protection of the NIWA police, before we can carry our daily duties for fear of being arrested by people from the Lagos State government.

When contacted, the Commander of the Lagos Area Office of the National Inland Waterways Authority, Austin Gbaraba had this to say: "When this issue came up, we tried to manage it as much as we can to avoid crisis. It was raised with the AIG. It is court judgement, we have to enforce that order. We had to request for more manpower and more vehicle at least to make sure that nobody harasses the dredgers. We are not going to confront anybody, but to make sure that peace is maintained. We are presently setting up a unit to assist with investigation of the issues that are being raised by the dredgers. For now, we have to continue the patrol so that there is no break down of law and order there. Initially, I thought that the issue was environmental, but as I see it, it is more about taxes.

As it is, we also have to prevent just anybody from coming around the waters to dredge. You have to have a file and document that so authorises you to dredge. To prevent is better than to let the situation get out of hand. Our duty is to protect everyone using the waterways.
In a separate interview with Alhaji Muazu Sambo the Area Manager of NIWA Lagos office, he explained that "Section 8 and 9 of the Act that sets up NIWA, spells out the functions and powers of NIWA, among these, is our oversight of dredging in the Inland waterways all over the country: as a result of item 36 and 64 mentioned in the exclusive list of the constitution which falls under the federal government. If you look closely, the waters pass through most states of the federation even the River Niger and River Benue are even international waters, so no one state can make claim to any of them.
We have peace all over the country where we have offices except in Lagos.
Dredgers at work
We used to have trouble too in Rivers state, but we have been able to douse that. Since we obtained a court judgement empowering and enabling us to be focused on our duties and responsibilities, we have been dedicated to ensuring proper control of the activities on our waterways until the issue of the dredgers came up again here at our Lagos office. We have thus mobilised our police department, to take charge of the situation. As for the dredgers, we have authorised those whop have been able to pay their permit and charges to the Federal government, to continue with work." Asked about the issue recently raised by the Lagos state government on the environmental conditions of the places where the dredgers are working, Muazu Sambo had this to say: "it was the environmental issues that actually attracted us to attend a recent joint meeting called by the Lagos state government. Unfortunately, at the end of the meeting, not much was talked about in that direction. But while we are open to working continuously with the Lagos state government in areas of environmental protection of which we can see that the dredgers are already complying with, we are not going to encourage the Lagos state government requesting for levies and taxes from the dredgers because, that will amount to double taxation. A complaint which the dredgers have already brought to our table.
And as if pushed or indirectly lending a voice to the on-going disputation, Dr Kayode Fayemi the Minister of Solid Minerals while speaking at an economic summit forum on 17th March 2016 held at Sheraton Hotel, Lagos, remarked directly to the Lagos state SSG Mr Tunji Bello, that it is the duty of his (Fayemi) ministry to be in charge of everything about dredging in the country, though he understands that the Lagos state Government did try to raise taxes from that direction, which shouldn't be."
When contacted by our correspondent, the Lagos State Honourable Commissioner for Waterfront Infrastructure Development Engr. Ade Akinsanya had this to say, "my ministry is looking at the issue of the environment, and as it affects the people of the state. The state government looks at the interest of all citizens and not only of a particular section, I’m more particular about the damage done to the roads by the dredgers. I am aware of the court issue as regards the state not to collect taxes from the dredgers; I have no problem with that. But the environment has to be taken care of, if we do not do that, posterity will not be happy with us. If we do not do that we will leave a wrong legacy for people coming tomorrow.

"Whatever we have asked them to pay is inconsequential, it is safety that we are concerned about. What we have asked for is nothing comparable to what they have said, there is more to it than the revenue: their activities are affecting the environment and lives of the people in the area."Engr Ade Akinsanya went further to debunk the frivolous charges being said to be demanded by the government. "For the people selling sand for instance, the charge is just a million naira. I understand the idea of the multiple taxation, but the roads must be maintained by Lagos state government. It cost money to maintain the road and ensure the environmental safety of the people living around the environment."

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