The feud over Lekki link bridge

By The Rainbow

THE feud between the Federal Government of Nigeria and the Lagos State Government over the Lekki link bridge brings to the fore once again the structural as well as institutional deformities and encumbrances inherent in Nigeria's federal system. These defects are exacerbated by the negative dynamics in interpersonal and intergovernmental relations usually pronounced when the party at the centre is different from the one in a state, a function of conflicting political interests and aspirations. Rather than patriotism, statesmanship and the best interest of the citizenry being the guiding principles and indeed fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy, what predominates basically and tragically is the political interest of the individuals in power. In other words, partisan political consideration more often than not holds sway over and above the issue of general well being of the citizens. This may well be the undercurrent of the cold war which the Lekki link bridge has generated between the Lagos State Government and the Federal Government which led to the outburst of the state governor, Babatunde Fashola at the 13th National Council on Transportation where he described as absurd the requirement that his administration should apply for a permit to build the Lekki link bridge over the lagoon or to develop municipal water transportation facilities. This he considered obnoxious on the ground that the project is too beneficial to Lagosians to deserve any impediment from whatever quarters. Not only has the agency insisted on its demands, it has also threatened to drag the state government to court if they are not met.   There is therefore in the horizon a conflict between the law, as insisted upon by National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA), and expediency, being Lagos State government's justification for its action.

Looking at the provisions of the law, it will appear that NIWA, in respect of its claim, stands on a firma terra. It is hardly contentious that all governmental powers in the maritime belt or territorial waters are vested exclusively in the Federal Government of Nigeria going by the relevant statutory provisions, particularly the Territorial Waters Act and the Sea Fisheries Act both of which received Supreme Court's  interpretation   in Attorney General of the Federation vs. Attorney General Abia State & others where the court held that the provision of the law 'is consistent with the notion, that is, the Federal Government, and it alone lawfully qualifies to exercise governmental powers over the maritime or the territorial waters of Nigeria'. If therefore lagoon falls under the territorial waters of Nigeria, as it does, it will be of no moment that it is inside Lagos; it will be subject exclusively to the control and mechanisms put in place by the Federal Government the same way it is so in respect of mineral resources located in certain parts of the country but their use and control completely regulated by the Federal Government or its agencies. In the circumstances, Fashola's outburst and resolve not to have anything to do with NIWA may not survive the scrutiny of the law. Governance in a democracy is regulated by law which defines the scope, limit and sphere of authority of each tier of government. This admits of no sentiment. If a tier encroaches or forays into spheres exclusive to the other, it should not hesitate to eat the humble pie however genuine, robust or well intentioned the reason for doing so may be. The only way out then will be dialogue, as aggressive outburst will not help in building cooperation or understanding.

This is what Lagos State government should explore for all the reasons Fashola may have to justify the foray into the spheres exclusive to the Federal Government.  Be that as it may, it is important to stress that what is lawful may not necessarily be expedient. There is no gainsaying the benefit which the construction of the bridge will confer on public transportation and its potential as a catalyst for socio economic growth which incidentally was the theme of the discourse. That is where expediency comes in, which in turn calls for maturity and understanding between the two tiers of government. It is not likely that any injury would be done to the Federal Government by the construction of the bridge beyond the circumscription of administrative rules that are involved. Strict adherence to the rules where compromises are required may do more damage than good and will certainly not be in the best interest of the people for whose sake government exists and laws are made. We cannot push the asymmetrical pattern of relationship inherent in the poor federalism practised in Nigeria out of limit as it is a whirlwind that blows no one any good. What is in vogue now is a transition from dual to cooperative federalism as in the case of USA, Canada and India where the emphasis among the federating units 'under conditions of expanded government activity' is on 'bringing their concurrent powers into play rather than emphasizing their separate spheres of authority'. This is in recognition of the dramatic increase in the velocity of government over the years which makes dual federalism, as we claim to have in Nigeria anachronistic, inefficient and ineffective. It is high time Nigeria embraced true but cooperative federalism; something even more  desirable in the Nigerian context. It is the only way the kind of friction Lekki bridge has generated can be avoided.