by Ada Igboanugo
With the partial closure of the third Mainland Bridge, Lagos State government’s determination to open the waterways in order to create a realistic alternative to the frustrating road traffic is putting the waterways in the spotlight. But it seems a long way yet to that dream as OMOLOLA ITAYEMI and ADA IGBOANUGO discovered on a journey through Lagos waterways
Sometimes, people aren’t very happy trundling off to places by land (road rage, traffic congestion) and since the railway doesn’t yet cover every nook and cranny of Lagos, the best option left was the waterways. Asides from rising above your hydrophobia (as long as you have the life jacket on, even if you do not know how to swim, you can never drown) and sometimes rough water currents; it provides an awesome view, serene, non-chaotic environs and you get there in no time.
Mid-day last Wednesday, starting from Addax (VI) jetty, we (Ada and I) sailed to Badore, Ijede, Oke-Ira, Oworonshoki, Ikorodu, Ebute-ojo, Sabokoji, stopping briefly at all and more of the jetties mentioned. A heavy drizzle did cast an occasional gloom on our journey but otherwise it was smooth sailing and offered more than a glimpse into Lagos waterways.
With the partial closure of the Lagos Third Mainland Bridge to pave way for repair works which began few weeks ago, the increasing population of the state and corresponding number of cars on the road, Lagos residents are resorting to water transportation as the alternative means of transportation in a bid to escape the traffic grid lock.
But how prepared are the infrastructures on ground to manage the surge of passengers plying this alternative means of transportation?
JETTIES, FERRIES AND LAGOS WATERWAYS
It would seem as no surprise, and indeed ideal for the operators of water ways and LASWA to preach about the availability of such alternative services rendered as a breather to the congestion. And with 59 jetties in the State, it is indeed hunt season for water transportation services opening up routes such as Oworonshoki to Bariga, Ikorodu to Ebute Ero, Apapa to CMS down to Maroko and Victoria Island.
In an interview with Director of Operations, LASWA, Segun Adekoya, said “there are 59 jetties scattered all over Lagos”. However, as worrisome as that number mentioned is, the emphasis from Adekoya were on the mega-jetties such as Ikorodu, Badore and Mile-2, but what is the state of the smaller jetties presently serving over 1.3million passengers monthly (a figure he also mentioned)? Could it be that government is more focused on mass transit that accounts for their interest in mega jetty’s like Ikorodu.
The state of some of these jetties is not encouraging enough to prospective users and definitely need an upgrade. The government claims there are presently 59 jetties in Lagos state , but barely 10 are active. Some are still under construction though, with the likes of Ikorodu and Badore in near completion state.
Jetties, however small or big are the fulcrum of water transportation business. They provide a location for passengers to board and alight from and parking spaces, where available. With mega jetties like 16,000 square metres Ikorodu jetty, features such as ticket booths, shops, eateries, and banking halls are expected.
But the dilapidating state of some smaller jetties is enough to browbeat a prospective traveler. At Oke-Ira jetty, the structure was quite dilapidated, Oworonshoki jetty with its quasi-modern structure and ample car park was an eyesore with dirt and debris en mass found at the brink of the river, the stench oozing from the black water surrounding it is definitely not to anyone’s advantage.
In a survey done on ferry terminals, it was noted that a select few jetties such as LASU, Satellite town, Kirikiri, Festac, Mile 2, Olodi Apapa bridge, Liverpool, Marina and Osborne are in good shape for use, while Badagry, Oke Afa would be considered for future use.
ENCROACHERS OR DEVELOPERS
Accusations have been rife about private operators investing financially in the development of jetties and after some years loose ownership of such to the Lagos state government without any compensation. One of such operators is Ganiyu Balogun, CEO, Tarzan Marine, and president of the National Association of Nigerian Tourist Boat Operators and Water Transporters (NATBOWAT) who is currentlyat loggerheads with Lagos State over the concession given to him on Badore and Ibeshe jetties where a considerable amount of money, time and effort has been spent.
Adekoya dismissed this allegation, he said, ‘most of the jetties in contention were built by the former Lagos State ferry services, which metamorphosed into LASWA. Yes we are retrieving our jetties through legal means, though undecided for now but will be in the near future.’
Kayode Olowu, CEO Multi-modal tranport technologies with over ten years experience in the would rather advise a honest round-table discusion of all stakeholders in sorting out isues beleaguring the industry. ‘Lagos state government should look quickly into concessioning out the already existing ferry terminals so as to encourage movement as there are no standard jetties right now in effective use. Also, the whole issue of who owns what jetty should be sorted out as amicably as possible to put to rest the issue of encroachers or developers?
Boat operators are mainly in three categories in Lagos state, members of National Association of Nigerian Tourist Boat Operators and Water Transporters (NATBOWAT), members of Association of Waterways Transporters (AWAT) and independent boat operators. There is a third body nobody seems to remember their name.While the emphasis is on mass transportation, boat operators are mainly into charter business operating different types of boats.
But Lagos State is not resting on its oars as it intends to boost mass transportation with the acquisition of 60 new 200-seater ferries through Eko Water Buses Limited, a consortium of water transportation practitioners recently announced by the state governor.
Adekoya re-iterated the state government’s commitment to opening tup he waterways. ‘Already ferries have been put in place and are transporting people from and to different parts of the state. it is faster and safer (when safety rules are strictly adhered to). Though the fare may be a bit high, the convenience makes up for the difference. We have four patrol boats and a water ambulance and is expecting more. Also, the Ikorodu jetty will soon be opened up to public use. The Mile 2 jetty is being upgraded and will include a fuel dump and 600 car-park capacity, Badore jetty is also almost completed. Our responsibility to commuters and operators in opening the waterways for free flow of traffic is non-negotiable,’ he explained.
Multiple taxes to different agencies such as LASWA, NIWA (Nigerian Inland Waterways Authority) and NIMASA is another sorepoint operators have to deal with. Considering the fact that their functions dovetails into each other, where is the enabling environment being preached by the government? LASWA’s registration fee for commercial passenger and cruise boats is N5million. Annual fee for ferry route concession is N1.5million. For an operator to commence operation, he requires an operating license from NIWA, has to registerhis business with LASWA and has to deal with NIMASA’s charges too and in some intances local governent authorities too.
Balogun, speaking from experience (over twenty years) admits that this business has a razor-thin margin. ‘Its unfortunate the situation on ground can further paralyse the water transport promotion in Lagos, multiple taxation and excessive fees should be looked into, although the ferry business should not be an all-comers affair because of its sensitive nature and also because it’s quite capital intensive, but the truth is that if you can’t pay some of these fees, you don’t have any business in the ferry mass transit as there are greater costs along the line. So really the fees should be looked at based on what level of operating license you are granted.’
Adekoya refuted this allegation of multiple taxes stating that the Lagos State Waterways Authority act (2008) repealed the National Inland Authority Act. ‘After the law was repealed, the inland waterways of Lagos has to be regulated by LASWA not NIWA. NIWA has no control over Lagos State waterways.’ But the Lagos Area Manager of NIWA, Mr. Ororo disagreed insisting that LASWA is being economical with the truth. ‘How can a state repeal the federal law. LASWA has actually replicated everything NIWA is supposed to do. Maritime is under the exclusive purveyor of the federal government and is clearly provided in the institution which means that all bodies of water in Lagos are within the purveyor of the federal government and held in trust by NIWA,’ he explained.
On multiple taxes, boat operators fall within our jurisdiction and we charge a token for safety inspection to see how applicable the boat is for the purpose it was bought.
Ororo said, ‘We ensure safety and cleanliness along the waterways by making sure that water hyacinth are disposed of, adding that clearance work has just been done along the Ikorodu and Badagry axes. The citizens have to change their attitude towards the environment as per cleanliness. Niwa’s objective is to upgrade the waterways to a more sophisticated one. Hovercrafts are a more pleasant way of travelling and could possibly be used here in Nigeria. It looks to boost intercity and intra-city travels by water.
Modupe Lawale, MD, Texas Connection, a private boat operator sums it all up: ‘From what I have seen LASWA has tried in the short time they’ve been established although I query them for the amount of money they asked operators to pay to register. I haven’t paid all although I’ve paid like 70 per cent of it. I query them because you (LASWA) do not have any jetty we are using, at least for now, you’re proposing to have all these jetties but they’re still not being used. So if it’s to monitor us, why do we need to pay? We’re crying because passengers don’t patronise water transport as much as land. We do not have public operators here, what we have is private. Government does not need to have, but should encourage private operators that are investing and making sure the sector isn’t moribund. I know how much I spend on my jetty now, maintenance wise. Let government give us good jetties that are properly maintained and we pay berthing fees. There are no jetties, where are the jetties. I only operate Marina to Apapa, though I do mainly charter. I have the capacity to go to Ikorodu and Badore,’ she revealed.
WHERE THERE ARE REEDS, THERE IS WATER
Water hyacinth and reeds however natural to aquatic habitat constitute a nuisance to the waterways. Artificial and non-natural challenges such as refuse emptied into the waterways, fishermen’s bamboo pegs and nets, logs falling from loggers plying the waterways add to the problem encountered by waterway users.
The waterways no doubt present excellent investment opportunities if the enabling conditions prevail. ‘There’s a world-class jetty in Ikorodu, what are they waiting for to open it up for business. There is also the need to provide fuel dumps in most jetties, above-ground fuel storage presently used by the US marines an be reprlicated. What is wrong with creating a water transportation fund, a fund where they get reduced interest? Majority of boat operators business is charter and not mass transportation as purported by the government and can you blame them,’ he said.
“A fund whereby credible investors can tap into to provide for more sophisticated boats, most of the boats being used for mass transportation are old, crude and uncomfortable, which is what the investors can afford. Also the issue of lip service been given to water ways mass transit operators, government both federal and state should look at a way where this subsidy savings can get to the operators via a fund such as the airlines or bus mass transit funds for those in the industry and also reduce duties for mass transit vessel imports,’ he finished off.
*Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.