The Supreme Court of Nigeria in a land mark judgment delivered in the case of NATIONAL INLAND WATERWAYS AUTHORITY & OTHERS VS LASWA, GOV. OF LAGOS STATE & ATTORNEY GEN. OF LAGOS STATE on January 5, 2024 by JOHN INYANG OKORO JSC leading other four Supreme Court Justices declared null and void Lagos State Waterways Authority Law, 2008.
The supreme Court noted on page 31 of the judgment that the views expressed by Femi Okunnu (SAN) in his book ‘’Contemporary State land matters in Nigeria. The case of Lagos State’’ heavily relied on by counsel for the first to fourth respondent to argue that waterways in Lagos State do not come under item 36 of the constitution and are the personal opinion of the learned author.
They do not represent the law and certainly cannot bind this court. The law is the law irrespective of whatever legal sentiment or opinion which may be thrown up.
The court went further in page 37 “I have read through both National Inland Waterways Authority Act 2004 and the Lagos State waterways authority law 2008. I have no doubt whatsoever that both statutes have identical provisions.
“Section 22 of the LASWA Law defines under the control of the first respondent to include all waterways, Rivers, Creeks, lakes, tiled land and lagoons within the boundaries of Lagos State”Similar to definition of “Inland waterways” in Section 29 of national inland waterways authority act which includes all waterways. Rivers, Creeks, lakes, tiled land, lagoons below the water based line.
The Supreme Court held; “both enactment must not and cannot subsit side by side. The National Inland Waterways Authority Act being a Federal law must prevail whereas the identical law enacted by the Lagos State act of Assembly must be and is hereby declared null and void.”
In reaction, Olajide Ajana, a Lagos based Legal Practitioner and Real Estate Advisor said the recent position of the Supreme Court has lots of dire consequence with respect to lots of sand filling projects going on within the inland waterways in Lagos State particularly at the Lekki axis and Orange Island of Lagos State.
“One of the universal fundamental principle of Law is the MAXIM: Nemo dat quod no habet. Which means ‘No one can give what he doesn’t have’.
“Relating the above principle of Law to the recent Supreme Court Decision clearly means that Lagos State Government does not possess the power to issues Title or any form license to anyone within the zones and areas that falls within the Inland water ways which include all waterways. Rivers, Creeks, lakes, tiled land, lagoons below the water based line.
“Therefore claims to the above described areas by the Oba Saheed Ademola Elegunshi and others who are clinging to titles issued by Lagos State Government has no foundation, as the Laws relied on by Lagos state has been declared null and void to the extent of its inconsistency with a federal legislation. EX NIHIL FIT ; YOU CAN NOT PLACE SOMETHING ON NOTHING AND EXPECT IT TO STAND.” he added.
Olajide Ajana is a Lagos based Legal Practitioner and Real Estate Advisor with Office in Victoria Island Lagos.