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Lagos waterways… A hidden treasure untapped

By Gregory Austin Nwakunor, Anote Ajeluorou and Gbenga Salau   |   07 October 2016   |   5:52 am

The Majidun Jetty, Ikorodu, appears strange and new, yet familiar. From inside one of the boats, this reporter gazes out to the mass of floating water.

The morning sea is dark toward the horizon, and nearer shore. It is brightly sprinkled with early light. Gradually, the sun rises, casting its rays on the mass of canoes and boats spread out across the current of the Lagoon, while water hyacinth heave and swing, as though a special blanket has been arranged for the sea to mate with nature.

The scenic surroundings — nature at its best and water all around — present quite a picturesque view. From the outside, Majidun Jetty is a maze of dilapidated planks, resembling an old deteriorating neighbourhood. The area was once (and still is, though far less) reputed as dangerous, unsafe and a haven for thugs. For many, the place abounds with awe and mystery.

But it is actually not different from any other low-income community.

The jetty is busy this morning, as there are lots of people engaged in one activity or the other: local concoction or paraga sellers are moving about, while so many people are struggling to park their cars. In fact, some young men and women, in their 20s, are nudging bystanders to get their tickets for the next trip on the Ikorodu-CMS boat ride.

The same scenario played out at the popular Metro Jetty, Ebute, Ikorodu, when The Guardian visited. The increasing rate at which Lagosians are using waterways as alternative means of transport in the city was evident.

There are equally jetties in Badagry and Festac Town. But there are more terminals in Ikorodu than in any other part of the state because of the large water area there and its proximity to Ibeju Lekki and Lagos Island. The Ikorodu jetties are in Ijede, Igbogbo, Baiyeku, Ipakodo, Ebute and Majidun.

Waterways transport has been with man for centuries providing him a gateway for sundry activities. From dugout canoes to small boats, ships to luxury yachts and cruise liners, man’s quest to maximize the open waters for his entertainment knows no bounds. Indeed, from fishing to pure luxury, the world’s waterways offer man unlimited economic opportunities.

Lagos waterways are reputed for their abysmal neglect and under utilisation in spite of the abundant potential for business, tourism and leisure they possess.

For easy movement of persons, the state government re-introduced the mass transportation mode, LagBus and BRT that are private sector-driven. This has somewhat reduced the commuting time in the routes these buses ply, although challenges still abound.

In the 1980s and 1990s, commuting around Lagos was not limited to movement on the roads, as it is the case now. Back then, from Mile 2 there were ferries conveying residents to Marina, and it was common to hear, as early as 5am, cries of ‘go by ferry to Marina/CMS’, which alerted passengers to the opportunity. This has long ceased to be the case. All the ferries are now grounded. However, when The Guardian visited the Mile 2 Ferry Terminal, it was observed that some of the ferries were being repaired so they could be re-used again. Commuters that reside in that part of Lagos, who needed to be on the island have only the road route.

Also, train service that was available from Iddo to Ijoko became moribund until recently when efforts were made by the last administration to fix them. Otherwise, the road has been the only means of transportation for residents along that route. And, because there is no alternative means to move goods and persons on that route, the roads continue to bear the brunt of the neglect by government.

Although, after consistent outcry by stakeholders, the Federal Government rehabilitated the rail tracks, which are now being improved upon by the Lagos State Government through LAMATA. This is outside the ongoing rail project expected to link the island to Badagry.

It is, however, ironic that although the city is interlinked with a network of waterways, these are not being exploited optimally to help commuters to avoid the needless traffic gridlocks that pepper the city everyday. Stakeholders are of the opinion that since the city has a fine network of waterways that link its diverse parts, they should naturally be a motivation in making water transportation a viable option.

Ironically, when Lagos State was not as congested as it is now, ferry services were readily available. Records have it that the provision of ferry services date back to the early 1970s, when Lagos was the Federal Capital city. The Federal Inland Waterways then operated ferry services to Apapa, CMS, Ebute-Ero among other locations.

Perhaps, in order to complement the efforts of the Federal Government, Lateef Jakande, then Governor of Lagos State, also established the state ferry service. It purchased ferries, which were called ‘Baba Kekere and Ita Faji. And to manage the ferry service was the Lagos State Ferry Services Corporation, which recently gave way with the establishment of Lagos State Waterways Authority (LSWA).

Before now, the Mile 2 Ferry Terminal was converted to a motor park by LASTMA, where seized vehicles were kept. This was at the climax of a non-functioning ferry corporation. But sometime in 2012, all the seized vehicles within the terminal were evacuated and the car park renovated.

When The Guardian visited, the renovated terminal it was again in a dilapidated state. The administrative building was looking uninhabited. It was also observed that the terminal is once more returning into a parking lot for seized vehicles by LASTMA.

The chaotic traffic congestion in Lagos has forced many commuters to explore the ferry and speed boats as alternative. The Guardian’s check revealed that a large number of people living in Ikorodu patronise the waterways, because they are either working or trading in the Island, whether Victoria, Ikoyi or Lagos (Eko).

Though, it is more costly to go by boat, people enjoy the waterways because it is safer and faster. A boat trip from Ikorodu to Lagos Island, which takes between 20 and 25 minutes on the average, costs around N600 at Metro Jetty in Ebute and N500 at Bell Marine, Majidun. The same trip takes between two to three hours by road, depending on the traffic, and costs N300.

According to data available at the Lagos State Waterways Authority (LASWA), close to 2 million people patronise the waterways, every month in 2014. The increase in the patronage is attributed to the improved regulation governing the use of the waterway.

Kayode Olatunji, a banker, is one of the Lagosians abandoning stressful road transportation for the more comfortable waterways. He rises at 5am and drives out of his home on Ladega Street, on to Italewa and Ayangburen Road, and then, the highway that leads to Ebute, where he hikes a boat to the Island every morning. Until recently, he was among the thousands of residents, who spent endless hours in the heavy traffic congestion on the Lagos-Ikorodu road.

Olatunji told The Guardian that before he considered the waterways, the situation had become alarming such that, both white and blue-collar jobs workers in the area found it difficult getting to office on time. The man-hour loss on the road had become worrisome that the best alternative for me was water transport,” he said.

Lagos-Waterways-2He added, “the human and vehicular traffic in Ikorodu make ferry operation a necessity. All I do now is to go to the Metro Ferry, queue for ticket, and minutes, I’m in my office in Lagos Island.”

According to Suwebatu Akande, a trader in Ladega area of Ikorodu, “the resurgence of the waterways has made it easier and quicker for commuters to keep appointments and go about their normal business on the island without much stress about the chaotic traffic congestion on the Lagos roads.”

… The paradise lost, the paradise regained?
In the past few years, there have been efforts to tap the opportunities in water transportation in Lagos, though, it has not yielded much fruit because those who commute through the waterways are an insignificant number compared with those using the roads. This figure may further drop drastically as a result of the frequent boat mishaps on Lagos waters.

For about three years now, there had been no less than six accidents claiming over 20 lives. There was a boat mishap at Irewe Island in Ojo area of Lagos. It was said that the boat was travelling at night without light and got capsized after a bigger boat coming from the opposite direction hit it. The occupants fell into the water but they were rescued alive.

Also, there was a boat accident in Igbede area of the city where some pupils of St. Mary Anglican Nursery and Primary School, Igbede, were drowned when the boat they rode to school capsized. Before the latest accident, 18 people died in an accident at FESTAC area.

With these mishaps it is becoming increasingly hard to woo more city residents to commute using the water channels since the boats are not the modern types used in other parts of the world. To make matters worse, when these incidents happen rescue time is usually slow. As always, these accidents occur due to negligence on the part of those who should protect the sector from abuse, especially the Lagos State Water Transportation Authority (LSWTA).

On the water surface are waste products floating and moving in different directions. The operators say such waste objects could get hooked to the engine of the boat and create untoward consequences including damaging the engine.

For commuters in these handcrafted boats, life can be torrid and precarious. When it rains or shines as the seasons dictate, there is no hiding place. Whether wooden or fibre boats, there’s no roof for either the operator or commuters. Jennifer Laffin, a student of United Christian Secondary School, who commutes to and from school everyday on the boats, says the rooflessness is a source of worry as passengers are exposed to the elements either way. Getting drenched up on her way to school is not uncommon, and she wishes better boats could be provided to help ease commuters’ suffering.

The country’s waterways boast untapped economic and recreational opportunities. However, getting the most out of them has been the problem.

“That can happen here when the needed support, incentives and appropriate laws are in place,” said a tourism expert.

To this end, in the last few years, there has been call on governments, federal and state, to invest more in water tourism and also open up the inland waters across the coastal states in order to improve on water related tourism and transportation system in the country.

It is believed that when government invests more in the waterways, those whose lives are dependent on water can use their skill to open up more riverine communities to boat services and economic development.

A major business best suited for that stretch of waterway is tourism, as the sandy beaches along the lagoon with the coconut trees make for ideal relaxation spots. At the moment only Inagbe Grand Resorts and Leisure, located at Ilado Island sharing borders with Ilashe Island is operating. It has reached advanced phase of development, but already catering to the needs of clients who desire a location that provides an exquisite scenic view both from the still water lagoon and the roaring ocean waves washing the shoreline on the other side. When it becomes fully known to leisure seekers, its tranquil location is ideal for getaway vacation and relaxation from the hubbub of Lagos.

But there are challenges, which Ajibola Obasa, who manages the resort, said could only be overcome if Lagos government gives priority to that flank of the city. Proper dredging of the channel and a modern boat service would open up the area and expose it to serious tourism business. At the moment, the resort has arrangement with Radison Blue Hotel at Victoria Island, from where patrons are ferried to it, as its high-flier clients could not patronise the wooden fibre boats that ply the route. With such provision, Obasa is convinced that the business potentials on that axis would explode and give employment to youths of the area.

Ask anyone who has spent time in a jetty outside Nigeria, and the person is sure to tell you that it is much more than boat ride. The activities available on waterfront are truly extensive expanding beyond ferrying passengers and rental facility to include spot entertainment and relaxation.

In fact, in well-managed economies, jetties are becoming one-stop destinations for singles, couples and families to take part in crabbing, picnicking, hiking, camping, clamming, fishing, birding, wildlife watching and eating some of the best fresh seafood. You can relax and read a book in a secluded nest of driftwood or walk.

But this is not so on Lagos jetties. The story is akin to what the weird one, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, likened as, “sorrow, tears… Joy.”
For a maritime operator, Captain Ishola Adewale, to ensure a better appreciation of water transport in the state, there should be adequate publicity on the advantages of water transport over other modes of transport, including its availability, safety, comfort and quick delivery time. He also insisted on dredging of the waterways for better navigation. He said, “The issue of the waterways being dredged to make it navigable is important. The state also needs to ensure that there are jetties on the routes and create awareness to encouraging people to use water transport; to let people know that they can save a lot of time using the waterways than using road with the hectic traffic jams”.

He continued, “There should be a Public Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement that will enable government to provide conducive environment for operators to take full advantage of the opportunities. For instance, government can bring in good and efficient boats, then allow the private sectors to run them. I think that would be a good way forward”.

He also suggested the provision of navigation buoys along dredged routes to make navigation better. This, he said, would allow the captains to know the deep and shallow ends on the routes, adding, “They need to mark the channels so that people will know where to pass.”

Majority of those who operate the canoes and fibre boats are young people who also live in the small island communities that dot the Liverpool and Ojo areas of Lagos.

According to one of the operators, the business is not bad in spite of the challenges. On the average, he takes home N6,000 and N10,000 a day depending on the level of patronage. He also said that though fibre boats run faster compared to wooden boats, most of the local operators prefer the wooden boats because they are more durable. He says wooden boats suffer less damage when they hit any hard object.

The Managing Director of Holywabab Nigeria Enterprises, Mr. Kudus Idris, whose company is into building of fibre boats, stated that he charges between N280,000 and N300,000 to construct a 15-seater fibre boat, which takes two weeks to finish.

But Mr. Saliu Agbelega, who is also in the business of boat and canoe construction, specializes in wooden canoes used for sand dredging and conveying of passengers. He said the ones for sand dredging cost N450,000 while the wooden canoes for commuting cost N200,000 to make. This is basic design. He further said to design canoes with roofs would cost additional N50,000, which he said operators are not keen to pay for the comfort of passengers.

Repair and servicing of boat engines are other aspects of waterways economy. This is besides those who engage in fishing. One of the elders of Nanti Village, Chief Esau Aduralokun said fishing business is, however, dying out, as only the elder members of the communities along that stretch of the lagoon engage in it. The young ones, he said, are not interested in fishing any more, preferring instead in search of white-collar jobs.

However, if you want to experience the pounding surf of the Lagos Lagoon, you only need to open your window, if you are in the waterfronts of Ikoyi or Victoria Island, and see members of the boat club.

According to Abayomi Sonuga, owner of Bras Motors, there are many like him who are not able to live their dream and fulfill their aspiration, because they are discouraged by the lack of mooring opportunities — where to park their boats.

“The few boat clubs in Lagos — Apapa Boat Club, Lagos Auto Boat Club and Civic Centre Boat Club — the problem, which members face is lack of after sales service, availability of spare parts and engineers. They also don’t enjoy that full complement of owning boats, because our waterways are dirty, so, the boats suffer a lot of over heating, and most of the time, they are down. The clubs are more of social organisations,” he said.

Lagos-Waterways-3The Lagos-born investor revealed that what should be a pleasure ride very often results in agony driving round Lagos, largely due to traffic gridlock. “We need to encourage people who are investing in our marine transport. Recently, government placed a 70 per cent duty on boat and marine related import. Marine transportation is key to unlocking our potentials even in other sectors and to reduce the losses. What is happening in Apapa is very instructive, with the total lockdown that is reported there for some time now. The Lagos State government should build jetties. If I’m coming from VGC to the Marina or Apapa, I do not need to go on the road. You can get to Oworonshoki in 10 minutes from the Island. It takes 15 minutes to get to Ikorodu. You can get to Port Harcourt in seven hours of luxury cruising. If we have passenger boats that can take between 100 and 200 persons to these destinations, that would be very good. Every year, the Lagos state government stages a regatta to complement the aquatic environment of the state; it should not stop there. Investors in water transport will provide more employment,” he quipped.

According to Captain Tolu Ehinmowo of Bell Marine, the state is not making proper use of the waterways, considering that it is blessed with abundant water. Through taxes from increased volume of activities, it will be indirectly contributing to national development projects such as roads, medical care and education services.

For the Ilaje, Ondo State native, developing the waterways is capital intensive. To this end, he called on government to help in the area of finance. “Government should establish micro-finance scheme that will provide soft loans to jetty operators. This will help sustain economic development, including tourism, expected to have a multiplier effect on the local economy.”

An opinion also shared by Zakari Dekina, Operations Manager of Metro Ferry Services. He believes that government should subsidise an aspect of the business. Though it takes between one and two years to recoup investment, The Guardian gathered, Dekina, however, says that jetty operators cannot charge less because of what it takes a boat to move. “The fuel that a boat consumes on a trip will last a vehicle three weeks on same route,” he harped.

According to Dekina, some of the problems they face include, boat mishaps, which usually happen due to heavy storm, poor vision, logs — remains of capsized boats — and water hyacinth, which is capital intensive to clear. At a point, Metro Jetty had to relocate to another jetty because of this water hyacinth.

Dekina said channelisation of waterways by the state government could guarantee security and safety. “We expect that these would help guide our boat captains to identify bad spots and tell them where to navigate.”

He continued, “they should give us a channel where the commercial boats operators would be operating. If the regulatory authorities do this, it would go a long way to ensuring that accidents are reduced.”

Dekina added that a situation where various categories of users plied the same route was unhealthy for water transportation.

“At the moment, boat operators, fishermen, loggers and even dredgers travel the same route on our waterways. This is not safe. We have had situations where their nets spoil the propeller, which can also cause an accident.

“On many occasions, when loggers lose logs on the water, they are left to float aimlessly on the lagoon. These pose serious dangers to our boats,” he noted.

The manager said, however, that apart from being beneficial to boat operators, having dedicated routes could douse tensions between fishermen and loggers.

Many passengers, who spoke to The Guardian, emphasised the need for people to be knowledgeable of basic safety precautions in case of emergency. These include the use of life jackets, confidence and courage; find a way out of the boat when there is a mishap and to remain calm during the ride.

It was also gathered that disruption of traditional coastal activities, as a result of boat mishaps, pollution arising from oil spillage and other disasters can have negative consequences on businesses such as, hotels, restaurants and bar owners, and many others, whose livelihood depends on tourism.

All said; the largely undeveloped Lagos Waterways rob fun-seekers of the potential water tourism Lagos has to offer. When the state bought a Yacht a few years ago, there was hope that the vessel would be put to good use. But it turned out a poorly conceived idea that soon ran into troubled waters. The waterways in Lagos, as in most cities of the world, ought to have been turned into tourism haven, with even cruise boats offering music, food, and bed on board to fun-lovers. The impressive aquatic life and alluring vegetation along the shorelines ought to offer alternative views away from the hassle and bustle of Lagos life. Alas, such offerings are dreadfully lacking leaving otherwise rich, touristic life of water-loving Lagosians drastically reduced!

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