Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Gida Mustapha granted the interview below as Managing Directors of the National Inland Waterways Authority , NIWA , well ahead of his new appointment .
In the interview below, he spoke with Godfrey Bivbere on the shallow nature of the nation’s waterways and what his organization is doing about it, his efforts at tackling the issue of lack of equipment to handle the challenges facing the Authority, inadequate ferries for effective waterway transportation, NIWA’s partnership with the private sector and many more. Excerpt:
WHAT are you doing about the challenges of dredging of the nation’s shallow waterways that is making water transportation difficult?
We are trying to institutionalize our maintenance dredging culture. We had a small dredger which was acquired years ago. When I got to office, I noticed that we have competent engineers, and then the question is why I should buy new machines.
I have repaired the old one and I have deployed it for constructive maintenance of River Niger by removing blockages. So much money has been invested in dredging of the River Niger, people talk about billions and billions of Naira. It is sad that it has not increased navigation for one day.
Our rivers are still seasonal, they are primitive and they have not been adequately dredged. So when you have very good rainfall this year, the navigation is extended ordinarily by nature, not as a result of our efforts. But with the maintenance dredging, what it does is that we come in and look at it and say where has silted up.
We would remove the silt, open up the channel so that there will be continuous navigation all year around. The machine that has just been unveiled (The Harvester) is a beautiful machine that works in areas where aquatic weeds have blocked traffic.
You saw it on the update, how water hyacinth just blocked a particular community. People who depend on the river for means of transportation to go to school, to go to the market, to live their social life, would not be able to do it because there is water hyacinth.
So this machine moves in and removes them or waits for the Swamp Devil to cut them into pieces, and it comes in to harvest it. That is why it is called a harvester, weed harvester. So we are acquiring small machines but budgetary constraints have militated against the acquisition.
What area can these few machines cover?
Very little! But we want to demonstrate the capacity and capability of NIWA so that people looking at us can say I can go into this. That is the reason why you find out most of the people here drawn from the private sector because they want to gain partnership; we want to get their buy-in. Not in the sense that it is only the government that can do this. I can buy a harvester as a businessman and deploy it and communities will be willing to pay me to open up their axis.
A lot of communities in Nigeria are self funded, they develop their infrastructure by themselves, they build schools by themselves and they construct roads by themselves. In some communities they even build market stalls by themselves. So the spirit of “Do-It-Our-self” has been a Nigeria culture. And I believe that we are just setting the pace and asking the Nigerian people to come and join us.
Are the private sector operators involved presently?
A lot of them, most of the people you see here are our partners; all these names you see here are our partners. We can do nothing without them. The sea coach, they are ferry operators, Texas Connection are also ferry operators. So we have them all over.
There are people that are already coming into the industry. But you see, as the regulator, we ought to give the lead and that is what we are trying to do.
What are your efforts in water transportation within the waterways in terms of local transportation of passengers, cargoes?
Can you not see that we have ferry boats? We have ferry boats, we call them sea bus. They operate from Marina to Apapa to other parts of Lagos.
What about other parts of the country?
We do. Basically depending on resource that is available to us.
There are also some special areas where people have called on NIWA to take the lead, I know specifically from Mile 2 to CMS in Lagos, it used to be very active years back?
We are looking at all that but most importantly, government cannot provide those services. We used to have Nigerian Airways. We don’t have it today. All the airlines that are flying in this country are privately owned. Nigerian Railways is just trying to get out of its sorry state. We only have few coaches that ply Abuja to Kaduna. Even that short distance, Few! And that is why they go in the morning, come back in the afternoon. All of you have travelled the world. Railway is a five-ten minutes thing. You arrive at a railway station, one train leaves, in the next five minutes another one is leaving. We will get there.
We heard that Onitsha port is non-viable. What has NIWA done differently that has brought it to the point where we can now say private investors can come in?
Whoever says the port is not viable does not have the economics. 40 percent, about 45 percent of the cargoes that come to Nigeria end up in the south eastern market. How are they going there, by road? That is why when you want to go home to spend Christmas you can spend three days because one trailer can just breaks down and blocks the road. So if 40 percent or 45 percent of the cargo that come to Nigeria is bound for the eastern market, then movement on the waterways is the most adequate in terms of cost, in terms of movement in bulk.
How about security?
That is another challenge. When I made my presentation, I alluded to that. That is why we have NIWA police. But we are also cooperating with the Navy and NIMASA to make sure that you have to understand that the agencies have overlapping function. Coastal security is mostly handled by NIMASA. We must reduce the tension in the riverine areas so that we can allow safe movement of boats and produce. It is a major challenge.
It has affected even our oil production; it has affected tribes and movement of goods. But a long time in the past one year, most of the oil companies had to relocate their headquarters to Lagos, so this are some of the challenges that we are facing.
But I believe that we are returning some bits of normalcy and I believe that it will take a while with government’s intervention in the communities.
What’s happening with MF Onitsha because the passenger ferry MF Onitsha was abandoned sometime at Oyingbo. So what’s the state and what is NIWA going to do with it?
It’s a Nigerian phenomenom. When I assumed duty, there were so many things I could have abandoned but I went back. Like support that is used for serving. When I started the maintenance dredging between Ajaokuta and Onitsha, I asked “when last was this boat put into operation?
They said “Oga this boat cannot work o; it’s over 15 years and we have not touched it.” I said, “Let’s see what we can do about it”. I called my engineers and we looked at it. Do you know that that boat today is serving as a boat house that can house 25 people; we have partitioned it and have put beds. Right now, my dredging crew lives in it on the water.
Are we going to see the same thing happening with MF Onitsha?
I would do everything to rehabilitate the equipment we have because we don’t have money to buy new ones. So whatever little money we have, we deploy and maintain. Since I got here, I’ve not got one new vehicle.
But I can actually say that I have rehabilitated over 20 vehicles, even as Managing Director I have not bought one but I can tell you that I have rehabilitated over 20 since I came on board.