FG’s Ports Take-Over Plan Receives Knocks

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The Governor of Lagos State, Raji Fashola, the former chief of general staff Mike Akhigbe as well as other stakeholders in the maritime sector, have kicked against government’s plan to take over all the ports across the country, as provided for in the bill which seeks to amend the Port Act 1999.
Fashola and Akhigbe made the observation at a two-day public hearing on the Amendment of Ports Act Bill 2009, organised by the House of Representatives Joint Committees on Transport and Justice.
They warned that such a move was unconstitutional and could hamper ongoing efforts to attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and development of intra-state waterways by some State governments.
Fashola, who was represented by Bamidele Badejo, Lagos state Commissioner for Transport, noted that section 123 of the bill states “It is important for you to know that the constitution contemplates that states can own ports with a view to developing intra-state waterways for the states that are willing. We believe there is a need for the definition of what port means.”
He explained that Section 31 of the bill should be deleted, considering the fact that only the ports outside intra-state waterways can be controlled by Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), adding that the federal government only has the constitutional rights to control inter-state and international waterways.
Fashola also drew the attention of the lawmakers to the need for NPA and other government agencies to comply with the provision on the payment of tenement and other rates on property within the jurisdiction to the states and local governments.
The governor who expressed concern over certain sections of the proposed bill, stressed the need for NPA to be empowered to play the role of regulator rather than acting as service provider.
His words: “Private investors are very skeptical when they see government agencies playing dual roles as regulators and service provider. The power to regulate activities of inter-state and international waterways is vested in the National Assembly.
“We agreed that the National Assembly can declare any ports as federal ports, but it is not without limitations. Within intra-state waterways, a lot of people will be surprised for the National Assembly to declare such as federal ports”.
Akhigbe also called for the review of section 123 of the bill which provides that the federal government can take over all state-owned ports across the country except the ports in Lagos, stressing that such attempt could discourage foreign investment in the sector.
He also admonished the lawmakers to reconcile the Port bill with Cabotage Act and Merchant Shipping Act, in order to avoid conflict with other existing Acts.