• Our constraints — Perm. Sec.
There is no controversy concerning the fact that water is one of the main features of Lagos State. This accounts for why it is regarded in many circles as the state of aquatic splendour.
Water had been the main mode of transport around the state before the Island and the mainland are linked together by long bridges and asphalt roads.
The life and survival of the people of Lagos was somehow inextricable from the waters of the lagoon and the Atlantic Ocean.
But the times have changed. Despite the fact that a huge part of Lagos is covered by water, water transportation is no longer a popular means of transportation among the residents, mainly because most residents of the state have developed a phobia for it.
They believe that the amount of infrastructure available for water transportation makes it a risky alternative means of transportation. That much was evident during the temporary closure of the Third Mainland Bridge last year.
Rather than resort to water transportation and get to their destinations in a few minutes, many commuters in the city preferred to spend long hours in the traffic jams on the roads to move from the Mainland to the Island and vice versa.
The lagoons and inland waterways are a huge part of the city. According to a research, about 22 per cent of the Lagos land mass is covered by the lagoon, cutting through and linking up different parts of the city. The lagoons have also helped to link up the outskirts of the city to the city centre and business areas. There are commercial ferry service linking up places like Ikorodu, CMS/Marina, Falomo, Ebutte Ero, Majedun, Badore, Oworosonki, Bayeku,
Langbasa and Five Cowries.
At rush hours, the free jetties like Addax, Ebutte Ero, Badore and Ikorodu are a completely different spectacles from the huge and long queues at bus stations in places like Obalende, Ikorodu and Oshodi. While some Lagos residents have embraced the use of waterways to move around the city, most of them are yet to buy into the idea of using them as alternative to road.
In the face of the difficult land transportation that makes commuters to spend long hours on the road, many believe that Lagos city should have no business with traffic congestion with the abundance of lagoons and inland waterways around the city. The truth, however, is that the Lagos inland waterways are poorly patronised. Many, who ordinarily ought to be using the waterways and reduce the long hours they spend on the road would rather avoid the waterways in the belief that they are unsafe. Many others believe that the state’s water transportation system is still not yet developed enough for them to commute on it.
Late last year when the Third Mainland Bridge was temporarily closed for repairs, it was a harrowing experience for many commuters as they would rather not go to the Island than risk their lives on Lagos waters.
Why residents dread the waterways
Mr. Taofik Balogun of Fiki Marine Services is a boat operator consultant on water transportation. Speaking on the current state of water transportation in Lagos State, he said: “We have a long way to go if we are to compare ourselves with the Western world. There is a lot of development that needs to be done.
“First of all, there are parts of our waterways that are not navigable because of the depth. They need to do some dredging. Other than that, what I think is most important today is to standardise or, if I may use the word, specify the kind of boats that can be used.
“I will be very honest with you, a lot of the boats that are used today will not pass the international safety regulations because they are grossly inadequate and not up to standard. International Maritime law, as they concern passengers, is that any boat that will be on water, passengers must be able to stand their full heights. But a lot of the boats, especially those that are running the Ikorodu route, are not of that height.
“This is a very serious problem because while it is nice and good enough that they are wearing life jackets, if a boat should have a problem, let’s say it hits a bridge or there is a sudden hole under the boat and there is water intake, the lifejackets will be there to keep you afloat to hit the roof of the boat which will impede you from being able to escape.
“There must also be some emergency exit. Everybody must be able to say if there is an emergency, where do I go? Because most times when such an incident happens, you might lose consciousness. So, those that are still there should be able to pull somebody out. But the way things are now, you who want to pull somebody out don’t even have a way of getting out yourself, so it becomes very difficult. That is why we have a lot of casualties when there is an accident”.
Balogun says there is also a need to educate boat operators through a kind of stakeholders’ training.
“For example, if a boat is coming, where you need to be for it to see you. It is almost impossible for one to believe that there are boats on the waterways that have no light at night. How do you see such? So, they rely on visualising when it is so close by, and some of them, with the speed at which they are driving, it will be too late by the time they get close. There is need to do some standardisation and lectures that will help us educate them. We are starting.”
Asked why Lagosians have not fully embraced water transportation in Lagos, he said: “If I may say, they are putting the wrong peg in the wrong hole. Some people that are put in very sensitive positions in this country, I will be very honest with you, they do not qualify for such positions. In a situation that has to do with the populace, they should look for the best to put in the right positions.
“The waterways, for example, Lagos State has no business with traffic jam if they are well utilised. That is where standardization and specification would have come in. If you are going to use a passenger boat, you have to use one that will be of a certain standard. Even our buses, we all know that they are overloaded. But boat is not the same, because the more you put on a boat, the more the thing goes down. It is not on tyres; it is floating. So, the boats need to be bigger and wider. I would say a minimum of 12 metres; that is what the government should approve for passengers on water.
“You know that a boat has a capacity of a minimum of 30 passengers. Imagine 10 to 20 boats taking 30 to 40 passengers each from a crowd. Before you know it, a lot of them are out of the way. And it will be the same thing in the evening.
“More importantly, the whole world is looking at pollution control. This is the time such a thing should come along. They need to implement it so that those people that are coming newly, when they want to buy boats, they have to buy the boat that has the engine we call four strokes. What they use today are the two-stroke engines, which is already outdated in almost every part of the world, especially in the western world and America.
“They no longer use two stokes because they produce a lot of smokes and pollute the air, and that is not good for you. Because we are now trying to build out water transportation, let’s do it the very good way that it will last for the future.
“They need the right people to do the job, even if they refuse to look for qualified people to do the job, if they must look abroad, America has qualified people in different spheres of their lives; the same thing with Dubai (UAE), Europe and so on. Bring in experts, at least to put down the regulations, rules and specifications and then Nigerians can take over from there.
“If those things are done, like I am telling you about the size of the boats, if they are all in place, more and more Nigerians will be interested in using water transportation because they know it is there and it is safe, and they are big enough.
“For the speed, you don’t need to be the fastest on water; just maintain a steady speed and you can regulate that with whatever timing your client wants to get to wherever he or she is going.
“For example, somebody who works in a bank and leaves in a boat from 6:30 am or even 7:00 am. From here (Victoria Island) to Ikorodu, unless the boat is too slow, it shouldn’t take more than 25 to 30 minutes. Which is perfect!
“Then we need infrastructure. Oworosonki which would have been used to stop this problem, there is supposed to be a jetty there. These are the things that the government should look around and see how they can help. How else can we enhance the lives of the populace so that they can know that there is governance? There are things that are almost taken for granted elsewhere but become monumental issues here.”
One would expect that the huge investment Lagos is making in jetties and other facilities would be an added incentive to using the waterways. But to this, Balogun said: “You can build jetties in the wrong place. You must first look at the way the population that would be interested is spread. Ikorodu has a jetty. From what I know, it has been there for so many years, grossly underutilized or not even utilised at all.
“There is the Oworosonki axis where there is supposed to be a jetty. If you see that there is a bus stop in this place and it has a good number of people, and you have access to water, something should tell you put a jetty there. You are not doing anybody a favour; it is just your responsibility. That is the way I see it.
“I mean all kudos to the governor of Lagos, Ambode. He is doing a good job. I will be very honest with you, Fashola started it, but he came and re-emphasised the need for us to explore further more our waterways.
“Taking about those that will do the job, the staff are there. But they need training. Like I said, it is not good enough that I bought a car, but I have gone through some lessons. Even among the things that you should learn, if for any reason there is an emergency, you should be able to dispense drugs.
“If somebody just got sick, you know you should be able to do first aid there and then before you take them ashore. But the boat boys that I know of, they learn how to drive. A lot of them came from Ondo State from what I heard, or Delta riverine areas. They just come to Lagos and somebody sees them and says I need a driver. Then he puts him in the steering and he drives the boat from here to there, then he says I have a driver. No. There must be a body to regulate all these things.
“For example, if there is fire. That is why the Maritime Academy, Oron is there. Everybody must have that certificate. These are human beings and not dogs. Even dogs should be taken care of. So, we have a lot of work to do.
“I think there is a need for them to look around for those that have been in the trade for a long time, recognise their effort and ask from them how else to get it right. Maybe these are such people you put on the board to help regulate your waterways. We have to do it right.”
Why progress is retarded —Perm. Sec.
Reacting to some of the current issues bedeviling water transportation in Lagos, the Permanent Secretary, Lagos State Ministry of Transport, Mr. Taiwo Salami, said the state government is doing so much to open up water transportation but the current face-off with the Federal Government through the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) has hampered progress.
His words: “The Lagos State Government is developing road, rail and the third leg is water transportation which we are developing. Unfortunately, we are having issues with NIWA, and the two judgments from the High Court judgment and the Federal Court of Appeal favour Lagos State. Yet they went to the Supreme Court. What they want, we don’t know.
“We are going ahead to provide infrastructure for Lagos waterways. We want to clean our waterways. We got some companies like Coca Cola, Nestle, Seven Up and others coming together to partner with Lagos to clean the waterways, because we discovered that over 73 per cent of dirt on Lagos waterways are either pure water bags or plastic bottles. So, they are ready to assist us. This is in addition to the problem of water hyacinth. So, we are cleaning our waterways.
“The second leg is that for us be able to make the waterways effectively utilised and safe, we have to dredge. So, we are going on dredging. Again for safety, we have to remove wrecks. The third one is to build jetties. So, we are now building jetties. We have just finished that of Bariga. If you have passed the Third Mainland Bridge at night, you will see it. We have at Ikorodu, we have Elegbata. There is one at Ijora that we are going to develop, Oke Afa and so on. These are things we are doing.
“As I am talking to you, we have taken delivery of two ferries. Another two will come in tomorrow, plus one that will be ferrying cars across the waterway.
“What are the issues? NIWA are saying that they are the owners of the waterways, which they are not. NIWA is saying that we cannot take charge of the waterfronts; that we have to take permission from them. NIWA is saying that any boat along that corridor has to register with them. These are the issues.”
The Public Relations Officer of Lagos State Waterways Authority (LASWA), Mrs. Nkechi Ajayi, reacting to some of the issues raised, said the state government was doing so much to improve water transportation both in the area of infrastructure and safety.
She said: “It is a gradual process. Government has invested a lot in the water transport sector, especially in the provision of needed infrastructures such as jetties and terminals, improvement in safety standards while creating enabling environment for new investors to participate in ferry operations.
“The impact of all these is that more Lagosians are getting attracted to the waterways on a daily basis with these visible investments they are seeing and there seems to be more confidence, unlike in the past when there was apathy largely because of inadequate infrastructures and low level of safety regulations. So, with time, a large number of our people would embrace water transport and you would see our roads decongested, we are already taking giant strides towards this.”
On the low standard of some commercial boats on Lagos waterways, she said: “The locally made commercial boats may be lower in standard compared to the imported boats/ferries. However, they are mostly water worthy because we carry out a Bi-Annual inspection on them to be sure they are safe to be on our waterways, and we sanction the erring ones.
“However the government, through LASWA, has licensed about 20 new ferry operators, some of whom have started to bring in new standard ferries that are now plying our waterways.
“In addition, the state government, through LAGFERRY, has just acquired some commercial passengers’ ferries that would be plying our waterways as an alternative to the locally made ones usually called banana boats and to supplement the Private Operator fleet.
“However, you can’t just do away with the old ones until you have the adequate number of new ones as replacement. It is just like the transition from molue to BRT; it was a step by step process.”
Ajayi said LASWA was doing much to also improve the training of the boat drivers and their deck hands, saying “as part of activities marking the 10th anniversary of the Lagos State Waterways Authority, over 200 boat captains and deckhands were trained at a 2-day workshop on HSE awareness with a theme ‘Building Capacity for a Safer Lagos Waterways.’
“The event, organised by LASWA, was held at Five Cowries Terminal in Falomo and Ebute Ojo Terminal in Ojo on 12th and 13th of September 2018 highlights of the programme include Incidents Review, Health Talks, Boat Maintenance and Safety, Emergency Response/CPR and presentation of safety kits. We shall in 2019 continue to consciously engage boat drivers and deckhand in a bid to ensure safety.”
While the traffic congestion in Lagos continues to bite, it is difficult to see a solution to it without residents embracing water transportation.