By Foster Obi
Although water transportation presents attractive opportunity for the government to earn vital revenue to boost the economy, the sector had remained underdeveloped and under utilised for years while the authorities focus more on oil. Now that the price of oil has fallen in the international market, the government has suddenly gone back to basics, having been forced to put on its thinking cap.
The waterways, a tourist potential that would provide a near alternative to oil is lying waste with the National Inland Waterways Authority(NIWA) scratching the natural resource on the surface. This may however change if the promise made recently by the NIWA managing Director, Mustapha Boss is anything to go by.
Boss, while taking over from Danladi Ibrahim, at the NIWA headquarters in Lokoja last month pledged to restore the organisation to the path of profitability. He promised to initiate a reform to enable the organisation achieve its core mandate. He also promised to block leakages and cause the process of enforcement of laws guiding the usage of the nation’s inland waterways to enhance NIWA‘s Internally Generated Revenue (IGR).
The new managing director said the development of the inland waterways was very dear to President MuhhamaduBuhari and promised to do everything to enhance the development of the Nigeria’s over 10,000 kilometres inland waterways for the socio-economic prosperity of the people
‘’One key answer lies with the maritime sector. The National Inland Waterways Authority under my stewardship, intends to quickly bring together all critical stakeholders -Public and Private – to discuss, analyse and hopefully put together a sustainable road map for the speedy synthesis of the inland waterways subsector and its big sister, sea and ocean transportation, with a view to unleashing the trajectory of the huge potentials of this sector to the economy of our country, now and in the years ahead,’’ he declared. For analysts, talking is cheap.
In Lagos state, critics have wondered why the state government has not fully exploited its coastal environment to earn money. They contend that the government rather than go all out to harness the water resources hasbeen slow about it thereby relegating it to the background. To create revenue, the authorities resort to taxing to already emasculate populace reeling under the weight of multiple charges.
In a research by Akinbamijo, O.Ipingbemi, O and Bayode,T on‘In-Land Water Based Transport in Lagos State: Challenges and Remedies, they argued that “in Lagos State over 98% of movement is done by road, and cities of this size cannot survive on one mode of transportation.
“It is unfortunate that Lagos, a coastal city with abundant navigable waterways has its waterways minimally exploited. If optimized, it could help in eliminating congestion, pollution, and provide a low cost alternative to long haul passages. Though in-water based transportation system encounters a number of challenges, if managed; it will effectively complement and reduce the pressure on road transport in Lagos State.
The research lamented that there has been a considerable decline in the use of inward based transportation in Nigeria. This was attributed to several physical constraints impeding growth and performance in the IWT sector in Nigeria. It noted that this creates an urgent need for innovative actions and strategies to radically improve the sector for it to continue as the bedrock in facilitating trade, industrial and economic growth.
In Lagos State so much pressure is put on land that even bridges are threatening. Most Lagosians who spoke to SHIPS & PORTS DAILY said in spite of the heavytraffic they prefer to move about by road rather than water. “Sola Awodeyi an IT consultant said “I see people use all those ferry and boat and I just thank God for them. For me I can’t travel that route. The only day I used it from CMS to Apapa; I vowed not to use it again.
“The ferry was shaking; the environment highly unkempt and I even see how unprofessional the workers were. For me the state government is not yet serious with the water ways, the day they start, we will know.”
John Barber, a banker told SHIPS & PORTS DAILY that water transportation in Lagos state is not attractive “so I don’t waste my time going there. “Abroad you see the elites travel by water with joy because it’spleasurable. Try it here and you only see touts and area boys all over the place.” He said the first day he used the ferry they picked his pocket and he vowed not to go near there again.
“Who said the state government cannot make money through water transportation. If it is properly organised you will even attract patronage from managing directors of companies and high net worth individuals but at the level where it is, it is for area boys, touts and the low class,” he declared.
Besides the opinion expressed by those two, experts think the reason why 90percent of Lagosians shun water transportation is because the government has not given it proper attention. To start with there are regular accidents on the water ways. Many of these accidents are caused by dangerous practices by boat operators forcing Lagos residents to still patronize road transportation.
Other reasons given by Lagosians are fear of their safety, lack of control, rickety boats, and quack operators, lack of safety jackets, overloading, and absence of emergency rescue, amongst others.
The Lagos State Government however may have woken up from slumber as it expressed readiness recently to sanitize the water transportation system so as to ensure improved, efficient and safe mode of movement of people and goods on its waterways. Managing Director of the Lagos State Waterways Authority (LASWA), Ms AbisolaKamson in a statement said the government had recently embarked on stock taking and repositioning by putting efforts in place to ensure sanity on its waterways that would also prevent mishaps and wanton loss of lives. According to her, the current operations on the waterways do not conform to the international standard, so the State Government under Governor AkinwunmiAmbode intends to reposition it.
“Whereas in the quest to sanitize the waterways, government has taken giant steps to start from its home front, it has ordered the Lagos Ferry Services (LAGFERRIES) whose current fleet is not considered water worthy to dispense of them, and prepare to comply with new guidelines and standards as issued jointly by the NIWA and the LASWA.
“Implicitly, the sanitization and reorganization going on in the water transportation subsector is not limited to private operators alone. It is a cleansing that is aimed at ensuring the total safety of our people. Jetties, Terminal, Ferries and other water related infrastructure that is not worthy would not be allowed. The Ambode’s vision of a new prosperous Lagos is to pursue first class agenda and give Lagosians world class standards,” Kamson said.
She expressed concern that in recent times, some non-complaint private operators on the waterways had misconstrued the moves by the State Government as a ploy to harass and intimidate them out of business and had been peddling unwarranted falsehood, claims, counter claims and litigations in the media. She said some private operators had also gone further to accuse Government of wrongful takeover of properties and attempts to scuffle business people out of waterways transportation.
“It is therefore misplaced and self-seeking for any one, organization, or a group of people to masquerade themselves as messiahs in this direction. Where any organization feels short changed in this on-going exercise and has genuine claims, they are advised to lay their claims legitimately and through relevant bodies for redress where appropriate.” she said.
She noted that the Government has concluded a Master Plan which has identified 30 routes across the State which according to her, have been earmarked for channelization, dredging, lighting and demarcation specifically for water transportation. She listed some of the routes to include Badore – Five Cowries, Badore – Ijede, Baiyeku – Ajah, Baiyeku – Langbasa, EbuteOjo – Marina, Ijede – Marina/CMS, Ikorodu – Falomo, Mile 2 To Marina, Oworonsoki – Five Cowries, Ikorodu – Oworonshoki, Marina/C.M.S, Oworonshoki To EbuteEro. These routes have been earmarked for channelization, dredging, lighting and demarcation specifically for water transportation. She said the jetties in the State also require upgrade, modernization and addition of new constriction, saying the only solution is for government to be proactive in this direction.
“Consequently, government is also planning to embark on the rehabilitation and construction of existing and new jetties across the State. This include but not limited to the completion of Ikorodu and Badore Terminals for take-off, new terminals at Oworonshoki, EbuteEro/Marina, Five Cowries, construction of new jetties at Ofin Waterfront, IsaluAjido Waterfront, and the rehabilitation existing jetties at Ijede, Badore East. For the rolling stock (ferries), government is repositioning its operational arm LAGFERRIES to begin the process of actualizing this dream with work in progress,” Kamson said.
She explained that the magnitude of these activities requires thorough planning and carefulness. As the enormous funding required would come from scarce resources, and therefore must be properly scrutinized, appropriated and provided, hence the seeming delay being perceived by the public.
“While government is not relenting in the quest to achieve all of this, it would not fold its arms and allow the wanton loss of lives that has been experienced on our waterways owing to negligence, rickety ferries, and unsafe operational equipment and activities to continue unchecked”, she said.
Recently the State Government expressed readiness to partner Austria in areas of mutual interest in order to create investment opportunities, jobs and reduce unemployment.
The State Commissioner for Economic Planning and Budget, Mr.AkinyemiAshade disclosed this at a meeting with the visiting Austrian vice Minister for Foreign Economic Policy and European Integration, Mrs. Bernadette Gierlinger at the Secretariat, Alausa.
He emphasized that the present administration was desirous of taking advantage of technology by using the Austria’s vocational studies model to reduce unemployment in the State, adding that the opportunities inherent in solid waste management and transportation, especially the need for the development of rail and water modes of transportation to complement road transport system can jointly be harnessed.
Lagos is obviously not alone its renewed quest to reposition its water ways movement. Minister of Transportation, RotimiChibuikeAmaechirecently stated the preparedness of the federal government to partner with the State Government to improve on avenues of using the inland water ways to create effective transportation system in the state.
The Minister said recently in Lagos that it has become necessary for Lagos State to employ other modes of mass transportation as the roads alone cannot cope with the level of influx of vehicular and human traffic into the city.
Amaechi said that the ministry has forwarded the National Transport Commission and the Nigerian Railway Corporation bills to the National Assembly for consideration with the aim of enhancing regulation and further opening opportunities for private sector investment into critical transport infrastructure.
Al though the percentage of people that patronise water based transport inLagos may be infinistemal some people believe that even with little effort here and there especially by private operators, the sub sector is gaining momentum.Their argument is that the resurgence of the waterways has made it easier and quicker for commuters to keep appointments and go about their normal business on the island without much stress about the muddled traffic congestion on Lagos roads.
They also point to increased activities at privately owned water transportation service offices which suggest the increasing rate at which Lagosians are using the waterways as alternative means of movement in the city.
Some of them said they usually wake up as early as 5 am, to queue for tickets. One of them, a driver in one of the companieson the Island said: “I live in oshodi, and every morning, by 5 am, I am at CMS bus stop, to queue for ticket to board a speed boat to Victoria Island. And in a matter of 20-minutes, I am in my office. It’s quicker, safer and convenience to use the waterways.”
Another commuter, a woman who works in a courier company on the island said the waterways should be seen as another alternative to alleviating the stress of the traffic hold up that slows downbusinesstransactionin the state.
“ I live in Maryland, and work I Victoria Island. By as 5am, I would drive down to CMS bus stop, park my car and join the speed boat to Lekki, where my office is located. I have been using the waterways for more than 3moths now, and it makes my journey easier and less stressful, takingintocognisance the prevalent traffic congestion in Victoria Island.” she said.
Onecommondenominatoramong those for and against water transportation is that the governmentneed to sanitise it and give it class. Others also believe that the sector could serve as tourist attraction to earn foreign exchange to boost the economy.
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