Justice Saliu Saidu of the Federal High Court in Lagos has ruled that the collection of toll on the Lekki-Ikoyi Bridge is illegal.
Delivering judgment in a suit filed against the state government by a lawyer, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, the judge said there is no law in Lagos State authorising the collection of toll on the bridge by the government.
Justice Saidu held that the power to control the Lekki Lagoon and other Federal Navigable Waterways lies with the Federal Government.
He said although the Federal Government has given some authority to the state to construct the bridge, there is no law authorising or permitting the collection of toll fee on it.
Justice Saidu said: “The bridge is not a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) initiative for which the collection of toll can be allowed. The question is: Has the third respondent, Lagos State government, made appropriate law to enable it collect toll on the bridge?
“The third respondent only cited Section 27, 28 and 29 of the Lagos State PPP 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 PPP Law.
“The fact before this court is that the bridge was built with the third respondent’s money. I 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. Before the state can collect toll on the bridge, an enabling law must be in place.”
Attorney-General/Commissioner for Justice Ade Ipaye however said the state would appeal the judgment.
Addressing reporters at Alausa, Ipaye said the claimant never sought a declaration that there was no law to cover the collection of tolls on the bridge.
Ipaye said Section 29 of the state’s Public Private Partnerships (PPP) Law allows it to collect toll on any public infrastructure.
He said the court’s pronouncement was out of place and was not one of the nine declarations sought by the applicant.
Ipaye said the judgment by Justice Saliu Saidu contained, at least, two fundamental errors, adding: “We are, therefore, filing an appeal as well as an application for stay of execution.”
Ipaye said the court was wrong in holding that the N10 million payment made by Julius Berger to the Nigerian Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) before building the bridge amounted to a concession that NIWA was the only authority to regulate the inland waterways in Nigeria.
He said: “With utmost respect for his Lordship, the Lagos State government never made such concession. The payment of N 10million was made by our contractor when NIWA was stalling the multi-billion naira project.
“In fact, we expressly indicated to the court that we filed the proof of payment by our contractor without prejudice to our very comprehensive arguments on the right of the state to control its inland waterways. It was not a concession to the applicant’s claim.
“There is no constitutional requirement that for any tolling, there must be a separate law backing it. Tolls chargeable under the law can clearly be on any public infrastructure or asset, not necessarily on those built with private sector partnership.
“In any case, the maintenance and tolling of the bridge is, in fact, by a private sector company to which a concession was granted by the state government.
“The judgment did not specifically address many of the questions raised by the applicants; neither did it grant any of the declarations sought. No order was made. However, the pronouncements are capable of being interpreted as court orders, hence our decision to appeal and seek a stay of execution immediately.”
Adegboruwa said that “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 PPP 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 impunity and taxes that have no backing. We are going ahead to challenge other taxes imposed on our people.”