Another accident at the Ikorodu channel last weekend, again brought home the danger of condoning marine litters and may just be one major factor demarketing waterways transportation in Lagos State, writes ADEYINKA ADERIBIGBE
At the last count, six persons have been confirmed dead, when a ferry carrying no fewer than 21 passengers, which took off “illegally” at the Ebute-Ero Jetty a little after 8 pm capsized on its way to Ikorodu.
It ran into an unforeseen object in the waterways, causing it to capsize. The immediate rescue efforts deployed saved 16 persons.
The Lagos State Commissioner for Transportation, Dr. Frederic Oladeinde, and the Lagos State Waterways Authority (LASWA) General Manager Damilola Emmanuel who were at the scene of the incident last Saturday, confirmed that the rescue efforts were carried out by the combined team of LASWA Search Party, Local Boat Operators search team, the Marine Police and the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA).
Commiserating with the bereaved families the Commissioner for Transportation assured that the incident would be investigated and anyone found culpable punished.
Oladeinde urged ferry operators to desist from flouting laid down safety protocols, restating that no operator is permitted on the waterways at night. He outrightly declared any travel on the waterways beyond 6 pm illegal and punishable.
Emmanuel disclosed that any operator who violates waterways safety regulations, especially the no night travelling rule, would be arrested by the Marine Police and his vessel or boat confiscated.
He implored passengers to stop night journeys, adding that any passenger found onboard such boats at night will be prosecuted in accordance with the relevant laws of the State.
Though it has accounted for more than 60 per cent of incidents on the waterways, other factors have continued to make the Lagos waterways one of the most imperilled.
It was an incident that drew most graphically the evils that embed uncontrollable litters on the waters, an advocacy the state government launched with some fanfare in February.
Lagos’ littoral assets have been a mishmash of waste, largely as a result of human activities. The wastes range from abandoned shipwrecks, logs, to human and vegetal refuse, such as nylons and pet bottles and water hyacinth, all of which contributed to making the state’s waterways one of the most unsafe in the world.
It was the reason the government had made travelling after 6 pm on the waterways a highly risky venture and made such illegal.
Until lately, huge fatalities had trailed waterways accidents of factors related to none use of life jackets. To arrest the ugly trend, the government through LASWA had yearly donated free life jackets to vessel operators.
In the last five years, no fewer than 3,000 life jackets were distributed free to all operators and residents of riverine areas from the five divisions of Ikorodu, Badagry, Ikeja, Lagos Island and Epe.
All are expected to venture into a boat and embark on any journey, no matter how short the distance without it. Operators and passengers were forbidden from using any craft on the waterways without a jacket, regarded as life insurance against turbulence on the water.
The incident forced the Lagos State Inland Waterways Authority (LASWA) to issue yet a very stern warning against night travelling on its waterways.
In a statement signed by its General Manager Damilola Emmanuel yesterday, ferry operators violating the ‘No night travelling’ on the waterways would henceforth be prosecuted.
But that wasn’t the first time such a directive was issued by the state government. The challenge was that it has always been obeyed in breaches. Successive administration had warned against night travelling as the waterways are not lit at night.
Interestingly, it is not only the state government that requests total compliance to safety on the waterways. The nation’s flagship regulator – the Nigerian Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA), had mounted similar advocacy for total compliance to safety standards on the nation’s waterways.
NIWA insisted that 90 per cent of all incidents on the waterways could be avoided if there was strict compliance to safety tips by operators of any water vessels on the nation’s waterways.
Not only did it and LASWA insist that life jackets were crucial to water transportation for operators and passengers, but it also made illegal acts, such as riding on the waterways at night, carrying passengers overload, drunk driving or over-speeding.
Lagos State with about 187kms of Atlantic coastline and extensive lagoon waterways which altogether constitute 22 per cent of its landmass under-developed or untapped resources, largely dominated by private operators who use all manners of vessels, from dugout boats, with rows or with fixed speed engines.
Concerned about making the waterways safe, the state government had moved beyond the realm of the regulator to be an active player in the sector.
With its increasing investments in the acquisition of modern ferries through the Lagos State Ferry Services (LAGFERRY), the government had intended to provide safer and more comfortable alternative waterbuses available to Lagosians who would want to travel on the water.
The waterways system is the tripod in the modes of transportation which the Lagos State government had intended to fully explore.
Under its THEMES Agenda, the Sanwo-Olu administration, building on successive government’s efforts, had posited that waterways could exponentially account for over 2 million passenger count per annum. With 54 per cent of its landmass covered by water, the state has a very strong comparative advantage.
With nine modern ferries deployed to the seven water routes fully developed in its three senatorial districts, the state had intended to promote an intermodal system of transportation that seeks to make waterways an integral mode, with the construction of terminals that encourages intermodal transportation.
With 26billion population, Lagos, arguably, is bigger than countries such as Ireland with 4.773 million population, New Zealand (4.693 million), or Australia (24.13 million), or some West African countries such as Togo (7.606 million) or Cote d’Ivoire (23.7 million), though tagging behind Ghana with a population of 28.21 million.
However, while most of these countries have out-paced Lagos, with robust and thriving inter-modal transportation – road, air and water, Lagos is still tied to primordial land mode on which movement of 95 per cent of goods and passenger traffic are still primed.
Statistics from the Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority, (LAMATA), showed that though the road element remained the heaviest and most popular means of transportation, waterways, despite its huge potential, accounts for about one per cent passenger traffic.
The result is gripping daily traffic congestion, which has made road travel a nightmare. To relieve the roads, the other modes of transportation, especially the waterways, the government said, must work; and to work, the government must have effective control of the waterways, said Emmanuel LASWA’s chief.
Emmanuel insisted operators must raise the bar as the government seeks sustainable development of its waterways.
Admitting that the sector is ever-changing, Emmanuel said the onus was on operators to join hands with the government, which would continuously work towards creating the right environment for operators to thrive and flourish.
LASWA said it would soon begin the regularization of all water vessels to develop a database of all operators on the waterways.
The Chairman of boat operators in the state, Mr Ganiu Tarzan, said the initiative would stimulate local competence in boat technology.
He advocated that such would boost artisanal producers who abound in Ajegunle, Epe and Ikorodu, who according to him, can produce fibre vessels and boats, adding that such industry would drive more participation in the water transportation sector.
Tarzan said: “You can imagine if boats and ferries are produced locally. A huge economy can be jump-started as all coastline states would begin to look towards Lagos to purchase seaworthy boats. Again, you conserve foreign exchange and crash the soaring cost of acquiring good boats.
Right now, one seafaring boat with good engines could cost between N5 to N8 million. I bought one for N10 million.
All this could be brought down with the government coming up with plans to support operators who can form a cooperative society with loans to grow their business.”
But the Managing Director of Halo Waters, operators of Waxi Taxis (water taxi services), Mr Lana Andrew, said while government must continue to explore ways of boosting water transportation and making the sector safe, efforts should be made to safeguard investments of operators who are facing untold challenges meeting government’s vision of a viable water transportation sub-sector.
He advocated a transportation policy that would be clear on the government’s intentions in the sub-sector. “Without a policy, the government’s investment in water transportation would be a waste.
The policy would ensure the regular clean up and protection of all water channels against all environmental degradation and abuses,” Lana said.
The Halo Waters chief said such cleanup intervention is most welcomed by operators because only the government has the capacity to clean the waterways, just as it was its responsibility to ensure motorable roads. “We believe that the government would clean up every inch of the state’s waterways.
He believed marine litters may just be the single most potent factor contributing to making the sub-sector unattractive to foreign or local investors, adding that a clogged engine from a floating litter is as much of danger just the same way as a capsized boat.