Why wharf fee collection by Lagos may remain controversial

Despite alleged arrogance of Chairman of the Lagos State Wharf Landing Fee Committee, Joe Igbokwe, in response to inquiries concerning the rationale for the continued collection of the fee by the state government, in the face of total disrepair of Apapa Wharf road, stakeholders believe that beyond legality, the collection of the fee by state raises a lot of moral questions.
Recently a maritime stakeholder, Prince Aderemi Olikuntuyi alerted on the implications of the non stop collection of the fees without the roads being fixed with the money. He said the Lagos state government should have used part of the proceeds from the fees collected to fix the dilapidated port access roads leading to where the money is being generated, insisting that the money, which according to him has run into “trillions of naira”, is currently going into the pockets of individuals.’
Most port users said the Lagos state government owes the public explanation on what this fee which it has been collecting since the days of Babatunde Fashola at Alausa has been and is being used for. Some even called on the governor to render proper account now, warning that it could have retroactive effect in years to come. But while the likes of Barrister Osuala Nwagbara, a maritime lawyer said that the government is obligated to take care of communities around the ports with the proceeds from such fee, Frank Ojadi, a lecturer at the Lagos Business School said that before people make uninformed conclusions on that, they should take time to find out how the money is being utilised.

But port users are not the only people raising questions on the fee collection. The federal government recently commenced move to retrieve the funds earned by Lagos government through its Wharf Landing Fees Law No. 5 of 2009 introduced by the administration of Fashola.
The federal government filed a suit, in this regard before the Supreme Court, urging it to among others, declare the law unconstitutional and order the state to refund all it had earned through the law since its implementation kicked off. The law imposes levies which vary from N300 to N1, 000 on consignments transported from Lagos ports to other parts of the state and the country.
The federal government also wants the court to declare that Lagos State has no power to make law on any maritime, shipping and navigation matters including “Wharf Landing”, exclusively reserved for the Federal Governments in item 36 of the Exclusive Legislative List, Part 1 of the Second Schedule of the 1999 Constitution.
It equally asked for an order directing Lagos state to account, refund and pay to it all the sums it has charged, received and collected pursuant to the implementation of the Wharf Landing Fees Law, which it estimated at billions of naira.
The federal government wants the court to authorize it to deduct the fund from the statutory allocation due to state from the Federal Account.The suit marked: SC/443/2010 was filed on behalf of the federal government by Olisa Agbakoba, using the name of the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF).

In its brief filed in support of the originating summons, the plaintiff argued that the motive behind the Wharf Landing Fees Law, was clear from the nature of the law itself, “which is to levy taxes and tariffs on goods and consignment imported from overseas through the sea ports in Lagos State”.It argued that the law encroaches on the powers of the Federal Government to collect import duties and customs duties.
Lagos, in a counter-affidavit deposed to by a former Senior Special Assistant to the state Governor on Justice Sector Reform, Olanrewaju Akinsola, stated that it had the power to authorize relevant local government councils to collect the fees in areas outside the jurisdiction of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), pursuant to Section 7 of the 1999 Constitution.
It argued that the law was aimed at stopping the incidence of multiple and illegal taxes in Lagos adding that prior to the enactment of the law, several local government areas engaged in indiscriminate imposition of levies on vehicles carrying goods and equipment in a bid to ameliorate the damage caused to their infrastructure by heavy traffics, especially those coming from the ports.
Notwithstanding the vexed inquiries many which remain unanswered, Igbokwe recently urged the port stakeholders to pay their regulatory fees to avoid the wrath of the law. He reminded the captains of industry, wet and cargo dealers and other operators in the maritime sector that the law regulating remittance of fees before moving goods from the port to any local government in Lagos was still in force.

Igbokwe told the stakeholders at an interactive meeting at the Apapa office of the authority that the government will resort to coercion, following the failure of pleas and dialogue. He said: “We are reinventing the tax culture. The Ambode administration will always make use of the tax to promote public welfare. We are moving away from expectation to manifestation.
“The law is in force. If the rule of appeasement fails, we will employ the instrument of coercion. We will seize the trucks.” He thanked some companies, including Flour Mills, Elephant Group, Dangote Group, Total PLC, Sahara Energy, Eternal Oil and Fatgbems, for complying with the regulations, urging other companies to emulate them.
He explained that the authority has not relented in agitating for more infrastructural facilities from government to enhance business operations in Apapa, especially the Apapa and Tin -Can road networks.
Urging the operators to pay the fees, Igbokwe said: “We do not think N 1,000 for 40ft container and N 500 for 20ft container is too much for the owners to pay to the government. Again, cars are meant to pay just N 300 while SUVs are to pay N 500.But, in most cases, the drivers of these cars refuse to pay, especially at the PTML bounded terminal at Otto Wolf, Mile 2 and elsewhere. We do not think that N 1000 is too much to pay for 33,000 litres of wet products, which is about three kobo per litre.”
Igbokwe lamented that while the operators pay varying degrees of fees to many unions in the sector, they are eager to resist the fees mandated by the government.
“Why should associations and unions which are not responsible for the provision of amenities charge exorbitantly while the state government which bears the brunt and burden of the wear and tear the roads are subjected to cannot collect a mere N 1,000 on a trunk laden with 33,000 litres of fuel?
“Since we came on board, we have issued 240 invoices to the various companies and got only 81 responses in terms of payment, representing 34 per cent. This is not a good advertisement of what is supposed to be a cordial and symbiotic relationship. Government needs all funds for sustainable development.”

Igbokwe, said the authority has 304 clients in its payment bracket. He gave the breakdown as dry cargo (225), bonded terminals (29) and wet cargo customers (50).He urged those in the payment bracket to henceforth route their payments to the state government through the authority, using designated banks.
The Nigerian Ports of Authority (NPA), the landlords at the port do not seem to be in tandem with explanations of the Wharf Landing Fee Committee on the rationale for collecting the fees. Recently, it’s Managing Director Ms. Hadiza Bala Usman, made moves to stop the collection.
She questioned the legality behind the wharf landing collection in Lagos as there was no provision in the NPA Act of 1958 or as amended or any National Assembly legislation backing the fees currently being collected by the state government on every container of cargoes that comes in to the country through the ports in Lagos.
Source: Ships and Ports news

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