By Isdore Ndubuisi
The activities of the National Inland Water Authority (NIWA) using contractors or agents to collect revenue in Onitsha River have generated tension between NIWA and Sand-miners.
The move by NIWA to use its agents to collect revenue in Onitsha River Niger waterways is being contested by the Sand Miners Association of Anambra State.
The sand miners have refused to pay any tariff to NIWA through an agent, arguing that the agent will use the opportunity to harass their members.
Recently, the NIWA appointed one Negro Nwafor and Sons Limited to collect access fees from watercraft and dredgers on its behalf in Anambra and Delta states.
A letter of introduction/recommendation signed by the NIWA Area Manager, Onitsha office, Yakubu Anthony, read, ‘In furtherance with the implementation of enabling Acts: Cap N47 LFN 2004, establishing National Inland Water Authority, Negro Nwafor and Sons Limited has been appointed as its agent for collection of access fees from watercraft and dredgers on its behalf in Anambra State and Delta North. Kindly accord the agent with all necessary support’.
This new development did not go down well with the sand miners who felt the agent collecting access fees every day from all craft plying River Niger in the state was not captured in the NIWA Acts.
They accused NIWA of conniving with some people to inflict pain on them in the name of Tariffs in Anambra State.
The miners claimed paying yearly for the access fee for their crafts and wondered why NIWA would come up with an agent to be collecting daily fees which, they said, had never happened.
Expressing disappointment, the President-General of the Sand Miners Association of Anambra State, Sir. Chris Mbaegbu, vowed to resist the new tariff through all legitimate means because it was not captured in NIWA’s Acts.
According to him, over the years, they had been paying all legitimate fees to NIWA and they had never paid daily fees. He said the payment of the daily access fee was uncalled for and not acceptable to them unless shown the minister approved it.
The president-general said that NIWA’s Acts stated that before any fee could be imposed, the Minister must approve it but this time there was no evidence that the minister approved the payment.
‘Even as the court favoured us, we are not saying we are not going to pay lawful tariffs, but let them tell us under which NIWA Act they decided to employ somebody to harass us in the name of tariff collection,’ he stated.
Also speaking on the tariff, the Chairman of the sand Miners, Iyiowa Odekpe Beach, Mr. Udoka Oformata said the recent introduction of a daily fee for River crafts was uncalled for.
Mr. Oformata said that NIWA and Negro Nwafor and Sons Limited never talked to them about the new tariff, but just woke up one morning and decided that they could make money from sand miners, and thus slammed the tariff without notice.
‘Asking us to pay N4, 000 to N5, 000 every day means that they want us to fold up our business, and we have over 3000 employers in the organisation. All our crafts are locally fabricated and they are not the kind of dredgers government is talking about in the Acts,’ Oformata said, appealing to the federal government to intervene.
Speaking on the Tariffs, the Onitsha River NIWA Area Manager, Mr. Yakubu Anthony, said that the tariffs were legitimately charged according to the NIWA Acts.
The NIWA Area Manager appealed to those affected to cooperate with the agent to avoid any misunderstanding, stating that people should report any harassment and charges above the approved prices.
Fides investigation reveals that those canoes plying the river pay N333, 000 every day.