A Federal High Court in Lagos has stopped further collection of tolls from users of the Lekki-Ikoyi bridge.
Justice Saliu Saidu, in a judgment on Thursday, held that there was no existing law in the state conferring the power on government to generate revenue from the bridge.
The judge was delivering judgment on the suit instituted by a civil rights lawyer, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, challenging the power of Lagos State Government to collect toll on the bridge.
The suit was instituted against the Attorney General of the Federation, the National Inland Waterways Authority, the Lagos State Government and the state Attorney General.
Adegboruwa had urged the court to declare that the imposition of tolls on the users of the bridge amounted to violation of the rights of the users and residents of Lekki Scheme 1, Ikoyi, Ajah, Ibeju-Lekki and Epe communities.
In his judgment, Justice Saidu upheld Adegboruwa’s contention that the power to control the Lekki Lagoon, upon which the bridge was built and other Federal Navigable Waterway lies with the Federal Government.
He said although the Federal Government had given some authority to the state to construct the bridge, there was no law authorising or permitting the collection of tolls on it.
The judge held that from his findings the bridge was built by public fund and that the bridge was not a Public-Private Partnership initiative for which the collection of toll could be allowed.
He said, “The question is, has the third respondent, the Lagos State Government, made appropriate law to enable it to collect toll on the bridge?
“The third respondent only cited Section 27, 28 and 29 of the Lagos State Public Private Partnership Law 2011 as making provision for collection of toll.
“There is nothing before me to show that the subject matter in this case was as a result of the Public Private Partnership Law.
“The fact before this court is that the bridge was built with the third respondent’s money. I agree and uphold the construction of this bridge as of right.
“The third respondent has power to generate revenue from the subject matter, but the existing law does not cover it.
“The third respondent can only give a law to that effect before it can collect tolling on the bridge.”
Adegboruwa, while speaking with reporters after the court proceedings, commended the judgment but added that he would challenge any law the state might make to validate toll collection on the bridge.
He said, “For now, everybody in Lagos State should be free to pass through that bridge without paying any money.
“It was built with the peoples’ money. We cannot pay tax to build a bridge and pay another money to use it. It was not built through concession.
“The court said they cannot apply the Private-Public Partnership Law to a bridge that was built with state funds.
“This judgment is a warning to all statutory and government agencies, because our people are burdened. The economy is bad.
“On behalf of the people of Nigeria, we must continue to challenge all impunity and all taxation that have no backing in Lagos.
“We’re going ahead to challenge other imposition of taxes on our people.”
But Lagos State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice Ade Ipaye, who represented his office and the state government that the state would appeal against the verdict “immediately.”
He told Justice Saidu after the judgment was delivered that there was an existing law authorising toll collection on the bridge.
He said, “We’re grateful for the judgment and we hope to get the full reasons soon.
“There is actually a law, but this is not the place to talk about it.”
Adegboruwa had sought a declaration that under the National Inland Waterways Authority Act, the 1999 Constitution and the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, and other prevailing statutes, the state government had no jurisdiction, authority or power of control or management over “any federal navigable waterway in Nigeria, and in particular, the Lagos and Lekki Lagoon, as to entitle it to impose toll fee”.
He urged the court to hold, among others, that the collection of tolls or any other fees on any road from him and other citizens of Nigeria constitute a contravention of their fundamental right to free movement.
The lawyer said the imposition of N500 (which was reduced to N250) was per trip per vehicle, for an indeterminate period of time, “is arbitrary, exploitative, oppressive, inhuman and callous in the circumstances of the economy of Nigeria, and is therefore illegal, unconstitutional, null and void.”
Adegboruwa said the government did not carry him and other Lagosians along or consult with them in the process leading to the proposed imposition of the levy.
He also argued that people who lived and worked within the Lekki and Ikoyi axis, including him, were opposed to the levy.
He sought an injunction restraining the defendants – the Attorney General of the Federation, National Inland Waterways Authority, Lagos State Government and the state Attorney General – from collecting any form of payment from the applicant and any other citizen of Nigeria for the use and enjoyment of any part or portion of the Admiralty-Ikoyi Suspension Bridge.
Lagos had, in its defence, said there was no law in Nigeria which compelled it to always provide roads and other public infrastructure “totally free of charge” as it was not engaged in trading activities for the purposes of making a profit, being public authority.
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