Worried by dropping volume of revenue at a time the economy is in recession, the Federal Government has gone to Court seeking not only the abolition of Wharf Landing Fee instituted by the Fashola administration in Lagos few years ago, but total refund of all receipts so far collected.
It would be recalled the former Governor Babatunde Fashola, now Federal Minister of Power, Works & Housing has hurriedly sent an executive bill to the state lawmakers which was given the fastest speed in passage seeking the legality of Wharf Landing Fees Law No. 5 of 2009.
Observers say since the passage of the Act, Lagos State may have raked in over N100 billion.
But a twist is on the way as the apex government has 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 plaintiff 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.
Another relief sought by the federal government include but not limited to 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.
Cash strapped apex government also wants the court to authorize it to deduct the fund from the statutory allocation due to state from the Federal Account.
Coming under the suit with registration number as SC/443/2010, it was filed on behalf of the Federal Government by Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), using the name of the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF).
The brief filed in support of the originating summons, quoted the plaintiff as arguing 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”.
Federal Government was of the view that the 2009 State Law encroaches on the powers of the Federal Government to collect import duties and customs duties.
But 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.
The State posited 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, as several local government areas had been engaged in indiscriminate imposition of levies on haulage vehicles coming from the ports.
Another angle that may have angered the federal government is the fact that upon collecting the fees, the State law did not make provisions for maintenance of the port assess road on which the vehicles charged will move which are federal roads.