Lagosians are reputable for complaining about the regular traffic gridlocks in different parts of the city. The Lagos life is synonymous with wasting valuable hours in excruciating traffic jam on a daily basis. Successive administrations have introduced many measures to alleviate the situation. However, it appears Lagos will cease to be a megacity without the traffic jam. It is what defines Lagos. The reasons for this situation are simple: our roads are bad, there are too many vehicles on the road per time; we have poor road network, many Lagosians are impatient and drive disorderly and dangerously. However, the chief of our challenges is the poor transportation system in the state. Lagos indefensibly prides itself as a megacity, yet without a functional integrated transport system. Intra-city rail transportation is apparently non-existent and water transportation is essentially underdeveloped. Water transportation in Lagos is not non-existent; however, the system has been unable to attract the necessary patronage because of the many challenges facing operators and weak regulatory atmosphere that allows for malpractices. Boat mishaps are now common events on Lagos waterways. The CMS to Ikorodu axis has become a notorious route for misfortunes. Boats capsize continuously with no lasting interventions. In one instance in 2017, a total of twelve lives were lost.
And most recently another disaster occurred that claimed five lives whilst the state emergency team and marine section of Nigeria Police were able to rescue 16 people, who were on their way to Ikorodu from CMS. But for the swift response from the emergency unit another mishap would have claimed lives in Badagry area last week. Whilst the state emergency response has considerably improved, the preponderance of boat mishap is a scary trend that requires urgent intervention. The latest disaster has again brought to the fore the need to make our waterways safer. The unsafe state of our waterways is deterrence to existing and prospective patrons. No one wants to die. The ultimate burden of this reality is borne by our ineffective road network and the attendant effect is increasing traffic gridlock among other consequences. The reasons for this unfortunate state of affairs are known and can be easily addressed with the right attitude. And all stakeholders – operators, government and patrons – should share in the blame. The operators in a bid to maximise profit and in the regular Nigeria negligent behaviour are weak in their maintenance culture. Some of the boats that are deployed for transportation are poorly built and in many instances very weak. The irresponsible attitude of some operators is even more pronounced in the way they treat passengers. In some instances, boat engines are poorly serviced and they even refuel the boat midway to the voyage on the water. Many of the boat operators operate the same way Danfo drivers operate on the road forgetting the danger such behaviour poses to the passengers. The greedy ones sometimes allow more than the capacity of the boat, which is usually the major reason for recurring mishap. This behaviour has continued unabated owing to the weak regulation from regulatory agencies. Water transportation is a sector that requires close regulation and monitoring, yet one rarely notices the presence of a regulator at the berth.
Government that should have empowered the operators to enable them deliver quality service has left them with no choice than to exploit the system to maximise profit. If the Cabotage Fund had been judiciously deployed, operators would have had access to funds. And they would have been more empowered to provide quality service. Sadly, we are still unsure of what to do with billions lying unused. On the part of the patrons, many are too stubborn to adhere to basic safety precautions like wearing a life jacket before entering a boat.
Perhaps our waterways would have been safer if there was effective synergy between Nigerian Inland Waterways (NIWA) and Lagos State Waterways Authority (LASWA). The continued rift between the two agencies has further contributed to the inefficient services provided by the water transportation operators in the state.
In the wake of the recent mishap, NIWA has threatened to ban rickety boats as part of measures to safeguard our waterways. Good move but insufficient. Our problems cannot be completely addressed by banning rickety boats. Our waterways need constant dredging in order to clean up the entire space and allow for smooth trip. In the same way, government should ensure empower passengers to be the check on operators. Passengers should know their right and be ready to demand for it from operators. This can be done through an aggressive sensitisation campaign using the various media platforms. Such campaigns should also be visible at every boat station. Ultimately, the government must intervene to provide the necessary support for the operators, through access to funds to acquire the right kind of equipment. The commitment of the Lagos state government to increase investment in water transportation is laudable, but we need to restore confidence in the sector.