By YINKA KOLAWOLE, GODWIN ORITSE & GODFREY BIVBERE
…Lagos moves to harness potentials, constructs 59 jetties across state
Stakeholders in water transportation, comprising operators and passengers, have lamented the apparent neglect of what they consider one of the fastest and safest modes of transportation by various administrations at different levels of government.
The sector remains largely an informal business sector which potentials have not been effectively harnessed for economic growth of the country. Lagos State, like other riverine states of the federation, is surrounded by waterways which make every area of the state easily accessible by water. From Epe to Badagry, Lagos Island to Ikorodu, water transportation seems to be the solution to the perennial traffic phenomenon on Lagos roads.
The state government recently stepped up its responsibility of harnessing the potentials inherent in the sector by establishing the Lagos State Waterways Authority (LASWA). Managing Director of the agency, Mr. Yinka Marinho, said the sole aim of LASWA is to monitor operations of water transportation, building of jetties and waterways’ maintenance in the state.
Marinho said that 59 jetties have been constructed across the state, and as a result, over 1.4 million people in the state now commute every month through water transportation. Four of these jetties, Vanguard gathered, are owned by private individuals.
Investigations by Vanguard revealed that this figure falls far below the huge potentials of water transportation in the state and its ability to reduce the prevalent chaotic traffic situation in the metropolis. This is due to the fact that this mode of transportation is still largely uncoordinated with minimal regulations, left mostly in the hands of locals who rely on locally-made boats to move people around.
There is, however, no doubt that the construction of jetties across the state has opened up businesses for ferry service providers and consequently employing thousands of Nigerians in the process. From Ogoloto in Ikorodu, to Marina on Lagos Island, from Ilakoji in Badagry to Badore in Epe, Lagosians are gradually abandoning their vehicles to take advantage of ferry services to move within and around the state by water with ease.
Except for places like Marina to Apapa and Marina to Ikorodu routes where proper structures and government presence is in place, others in several riverine areas of Badagry, Ojo, Satellite, Snake Island to mention a few, are being managed by the locals.
This was confirmed when Vanguard visited Ojo and Satellite Town. At Ijegun end of Satellite Town, one of the boat operators who preferred to remain anonymous, told Vanguard that there is no government presence at all. He explained that they transport people from the Ijegun terminal to Ibeshe and Ibasa for about N200 per passenger.
He explained that this used to cost N150 before the fuel subsidy removal. Another operator, Iliasu Sikiru, explained that they charge N250 per passenger in a boat load of 12 passengers from Ojo to Irewa and Okogbo, while passengers are ferried at N200 and N300 to Iyagbe and Agaja respectively.
He said they only go outside these areas when they get someone who is prepared to charter their boat. According to him: “We charge N7,000 for a trip to Badagry and N10, 000 for a return trip.” He also said that they collect N6, 000 for a return trip to both Mile 2 and Liverpool.
Sikiru noted that they don’t ferry regular passengers to Mile 2 and Apapa axis which is traffic-prone because they do not get passengers for those routes, adding that this is mostly due to the open boats that they use. He said they make between N10,000 and N15,000 daily when business is good and about N5,000 when business is not that good.
He added that there are days when they go home with nothing at all. Asked why they don’t use small vessels that are covered and can carry more people, Sikiru pointed out that it is largely as a result of huge cost of such vessels.
According to him, it costs about one million naira (N1, 000,000) to acquire one. He said they would be glad if government can put a scheme in place or work out modalities that would enable them get loan to acquire such vessels, and repay the loan gradually.
Some of the operators alleged that their greatest challenge is that officials of Marine Police and Lagos State Waterways Authority (LASWA) come regularly to collect money from them. He also alleged that they contribute money annually which they send to Alausa for them to remain in business.
At the Liverpool jetty, Head of LASWA operations in Apapa, Mr. Afolabi Toyin, said the authority is doing a lot to ensure that water transportation at the jetty was safe by ensuring that all boat operators abide by the rules and regulations governing water transportation in the state, including use of life jackets by passengers.
He said LASWA operates a weekly shift, adding that the state government is collaborating with private investors to establish befitting jetties around the metropolis. He stated that the Ikorodu jetty for instance, has been upgraded to modern standard for use by passengers.
Mr. Anthony Oguntibeju, a graduate from Ogun State, operates a boat service from Liverpool to Ilu-Agboon, Gbilejo, Summer Rock and other places across the waterways.
He said the recent fuel subsidy removal has a lot of implication on their operations as customers often react to their slight increase in boat fares from N70 per person to N100. A fish and provisions seller, Mrs. Lara Badmus, said though the trip was usually faster and safer but the fare is too high for the short trip, blaming it on the fuel subsidy removal.
Another passenger, Mr. Kola Emmanuel, said though the services provided are okay, the general cleanliness of the place needs to be improved, noting that most passengers find it difficult to disembark from the boats wondering what plan the government has for the jetty.
Chairman, Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria, Water Transportation Branch at the Liverpool jetty, Mr. Owolabi, who oversees all the canoes and speed boat operations there, was not around for his comment but the boat operators and the passengers said they have urgent need for a befitting jetty at Liverpool, while also urging government to provide ferries which are much spacious and safer for the large number of passengers who turn out there daily.
On the safety of the waterways, they said it is very safe as National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) in collaboration with LASWA are doing a lot in the areas of wrecks removal and water hyacinth clearance.
But elsewhere at the Oyingbo jetty, also in Lagos, where a large volume of trade in household items and passengers are transported between the riverine states of Lagos, Ogun and Ondo by water on a daily basis, the challenges are much. Quite unlike the intra-state transportation operated at the Marina and Liverpool jetties, the Iddo and Oyingbo jetties which serve the neighbouring states, have need of some necessary facilities to make the trips safe and economical.
At the inter-state level, an official of the Towing Vessels Owners Association, owners of haulage barges which haul timber logs from Ondo to Bayelsa and Rivers states, Chief Kola Oguntola, said members of his association would like NIWA and LASWA to establish floating fuel stations on the waterways. He said this will save them the usual harassment his members suffer in the hands of police in obtaining fuel which they use in their barges.
According to him, the volume of fuel they need to tow logs of wood for that distance is always between thirty to forty drums, alleging that police always label them illegal bunkerers and sometimes seize the fuel. He remarked that floating fuel stations are operational in the South-Eastern region and wondered why such cannot be operational in the West.
Water transporters, under the umbrella of National Association of Tourism Boat Owners and Water Transporters (NATBOWAT), on their part, made a strong appeal to governments of the Western states of Lagos, Ondo and Ogun, to clear the water hyacinth along the waterways especially at a spot they called “Agon”, close to Ondo, to enhance boat movement. They also want the governments to provide some life buoys along the waterways as navigational guide as their boats sometimes run aground due to the shallowness of the waterways.
Marinho said LASWA, through its contractors, has mobilised men and material to the affected areas in Lagos and commenced the clearance of weeds from the waterways. One of the affected ferry companies that spoke to Vanguard said that despite the non-operation of their boats, salaries still have to be paid.
According to Mrs Freda Adetula of Metro Ferry, the menace of the water hyacinth has grounded their boats since October last year, adding that the initiative of the management of the LASWA has brought them some respite. “These weeds have really affected our business tremendously because it has blocked the waterways and made it impossible for the boats to move.
“Even if we try to move, we end up incurring a lot of damages on the propeller, the hull and we burn more fuel in the process. LASWA has done quite a lot; they moved and pegged these weeds to a level they could create a path for boats to pass through. We have lost our customer base, now we need to rebuild that,” she lamented.
Speaking in a similar vein, Captain Wale Odukoya of Bell Marine said that their boats have been stocked in the last four weeks, adding that they can work now because of the effort of LASWA.
Meanwhile, Lagos Area Manager of NIWA, Mr. Ororo, has declared his agency’s readiness to ensure safety along the waterways by making sure that water hyacinth was cleared, adding that clearance work is ongoing along the Ikorodu and Badagry axes. He advised the leadership of the various water transport associations to write a letter requesting where they want the life buoys to be located along the waterways to the General Manager of NIWA for quick action.
On the issue of fuel supply, Ororo explained that his agency is not in a position to provide fuel for the transporters but they could approach the State Police Commissioner as a group to obtain permits which would allow them free sourcing of fuel for their operations.
He also advised them to approach Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, and the Northern Nigerian Development Company, NNDC, for collaborative efforts towards providing a floating fuel station for them.
Director of Operations, LASWA, Engr. Segun Adekoya, told Vanguard that LASWA is projecting that five million Lagosians will be travelling by water monthly in the next five years, noting that there has been a steady increase in the ridership survey of people using the waterways.
Adekoya further stated that there are plans to light up the waterways so as to make it possible for people to travel even at night. “The role of LASWA in this project is to ensure that both providers and users of the waterways are regulated for safety and security of everybody.
“We are particular about the use of life jacket while on board any watercraft, as well as ensuring that all equipment, including vessels, are tested and are safe for use. We also preach against the use of alcohol while operating a watercraft as this could jeopardize the life of both the operator and passengers,” he stated.
LASWA has also made it mandatory for every passenger and boat operator on the state’s waterways to have insurance cover as part of the measures to safeguard the lives of commuters in the event of any accident. Marinho, however, noted that the agency is yet to achieve a total compliance on the use of live vests by commuters, adding that there are still a few stubborn passengers who object to the use of live vests.
He added that the insurance must cover accidental death and medical cost of passengers and crew on board in case of injury sustained in an accident. He also explained that the insurance policy covers the crew, passengers and the boats, adding that a biannual inspection of these are carried out by the agency as part of the safety measures. He said there has been an increase in the number of people using the waterways transports.
“What we do is that we count commuters that board and disembark from boats in our jetties across the state, from Iya-fin to Epeme in Badagry Ikorodu, Bayeku and Ijede. This has been made possible due to the presence of Lagos water guards stationed in every jetty in the state who feed us with these figures from which we have created a database.
“Many people are embracing water transportation because of the traffic congestion in some parts of Lagos like Ikorodu and Mile 12. “It is now a Lagos State Government policy that all vessels on Lagos State waterways must have insurance cover. This insurance cover must at least cover the accidental death and the medical cost in case of injury,” he stated.
Vanguard gathered that there are 18 registered ferry service providers currently operating in Lagos. Some of these include: Metro Ferry, Bell Marine Transport Services, Royal Cowries Ferry Services Ltd and Pinic Boat Ltd. Others are Precious Ride Ltd, Cruiserve Ltd and Seacat Ltd, Bluewaters Transport Ltd and Dominion Logistics Ltd.
There are however other numerous wooden and fibre boat operators scattered around the state who also provide ferry services in their own small way. He explained that there are different rates for different types of motorized vessels and watercraft ranging from N10, 000.00 to N5 million as registration fees.
It is believed that if government, industry operators as well as private sector operators will take a closer look at the viability of water transportation and put basic infrastructure in place, the sector’s contribution to national economic growth will be invaluable.