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Water Transportation: Revving The Culture Of Mass Movement

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Ferry boat PHOTO: CHARLES OKOLO

Ferry boat PHOTO: CHARLES OKOLO

NOT many Lagos residents are from the littoral states and so cannot see the economic potentials in the network of rivers, canals and the lagoon within the Lagos metropolis. They cannot understand that the network of rivers could serve as alternative means of mass movement, especially from the mainland to the island areas of the city.

But recent investments in water transportation is gradually changing their knowledge of the rivers as alternative natural platform for movement within the riverine areas of the state. Lagosians have just suddenly realised that it is easier and safer to move on waters, using watercraft like ferry, to travel from the Lagos Island to some parts of the mainland.

Few companies like Metro Ferry Services Limited, Sea coach Ferry Services Limited, Texas Connection Ferry Services, and may be one or two others, have made water transportation popular in Lagos with their investment in modern ferry boats with which they are providing commercial transport services between Ikorodu, Lagos Island, Apapa and Victoria Island.

Many of the investors are however calling for a friendly environment that would enable them to render better service to their increasing clientele.

Specifically, they urge government to provide adequate infrastructure like jetties and navigational aids, just as they call for intervention in the form of easy access to foreign exchange for the procurement of spare parts.

The passengers, on their parts, have called for strict regulations by enforcing safety regulations so as to attract more users and to decongest the roads.

To Adebayo Otitoloju, one of the directors of Seacoach Ferry Services Ltd., there is need for the government to provide enabling environment for the business of water transportation to thrive in the country.

He condemned multiple charges in the sector, adding that it is stagnating businesses, as it does not encourage new investment in the sector.

‘‘There is this issue of multiple payment of charges to government agencies. The Lagos State government will collect charges. The same charges are paid to Federal Government through the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) and Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA). There is general lack of infrastructure. When we came in, we built our own jetties by ourselves, we built roads, construct channel and drainages. We were not supposed to do all these. We were supposed to come in with our boats and start business, which you cannot do until you put in place the needed infrastructure. We even built our own terminal after buying land and boats. There are a lot of other expenses, which we did not anticipate. Fueling is another problem. It is a major challenge. Boats use a lot of fuel. From Ikorodu to Victoria Island and to make a return journey, you will need not less than 200 litres. The cost of fueling is high. We just hope that government will support this sector like they have done to National Road Workers. Our operation is a one-way basis. You pick passengers from Ikorodu in the morning and you have no passengers to bring back on your return journey in the mornings. In the evening, you bring passengers to the mainland and you have no passenger to take on your return journey, so you go back to the Island with empty boat to bring passengers to Ikorodu. That is how we are operating. We are in the business because we wanted to change the face of water transportation in the country. That is why we are using modern and sophisticated boats. We are operating in Sierra Leone, where it is more profitable to operate because they use dollar. As you cannot compare darkness with light, so also you cannot compare operation in Sierra Leone with that of Nigeria. They are surrounded by water. The airport in Sierra Leone is surrounded by water and so people must move, using ferryboats. The environment in Sierra Leone is more friendly and conducive for business. Where we are landing now is unsafe. We wanted to show people how to operate. This has been difficult because government support is not there. People should be comfortable using ferry boat. Investors should be making profit. Here, instead of developing water transportation, the government is just interested in tariff. We have 14 boats. Our intention, as a company, is to manufacture boat in Lagos. But because these things are very difficult, we cannot do that now,” he said.

The General Manager, Metroferry Marine Services Ltd, Freda Adetula, said her company is enjoying a business boom with increasing number of passengers on the daily basis.

According to her, the company is transporting no fewer than 2,800 passengers everyday and not less than one million passengers per annum between Ikorodu, CMS, Ebute Ero, Maroko Sandfil and Falomo.

‘‘We are just six years old and we have increased our fleet of ferryboats to 28. We were only licensed to operate in Lagos and between Ikorodu, Ebute Ero, Falomo, Maroko Sandfil and CMS. We also operate on chatter basis. We dedicate a boat to you or a group of people if you can pay for it. Many people are still aqua-phobia. But, that notwithstanding, the patronage is encouraging. It could be more if enough awareness is created to tell people that water transportation is safer, especially with safety equipment we have on board,” she said.

Like other operators, Adetula said one of the major challenges militating against their operations is the menace of water hyacinth, which has rendered the lagoon and the rivers around Lagos non-navigable.

‘‘Our major challenges is water hyacinth. They are on the waters year round. But we have, on our own, created a channel of 2,700 feet through them and that is where we are navigating now. We are asking the government to do something on that. Another problem is non-availability of foreign currency with which to source spare parts. We are buying parts in dollars and we are doing business in naira. But John Holt is planning to bring Yamaha to Lagos, where they want to establish a service centre. If that is done, business will become easier because we will not be buying parts again from foreign markets.

Many commuters in Lagos are beginning to take to the rivers as alternative means of transportation in view of traffic gridlock that is hindering movement on the roads.

These can be seen from the increasing number of people that are now patronising ferryboat services at various takoff locations in Ikorodu, CMS and a handful of others.

One of the ferry passenger, Mr. Omoniyi Peter Abai, an engineer with Moongate Nigeria Ltd., Lagos, said it is more convenient for him to travel on water than on road because of the traffic snare that usually characterise the Lagos road. Besides, he said, it is faster and safer.

The 45 year old engineer said travelling on water is not strange to him because, ‘‘I am from a littoral state. I am from Ilaje-Ese-Odo area of Ondo State, although I was not brought up in that area.”

‘‘I have been using these ferryboats since they started operations into Ikorodu. It is faster and safer. The journey of three hours on the road will take you just 30 minutes to CMS. You can save a lot of manhour. Life itself is about risk. So, I don’t see any risk in travelling in a ferryboat. It is even safer than road transport because accidents are occurring everyday on the roads. Provided the boats are not overloaded and captains are not drunk, there can be no incident. That, I am sure. I know it is safer and faster because there is no gridlock on the waters, like we have on the roads. The regulatory agencies should be up in their responsibility to ensure safety is not compromised. The boats must be in good condition, passengers should wear life jacket and ensure they don’t overload. I am from Ilaje-Ese-Odo in Ondo State, but I have been in Lagos for 30 years,” he said.

The managing Director of the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA), Mr. Danladi Ibrahim said Inland waterways transportation is under the exclusive list and so state governments have no right to collect charges or regulate operations on them.

‘‘Everything called water in Nigeria is under our regulation, except the international waters. It is under the exclusive list and so no other level of government has any control over the rivers, channel or the lagoon. It is the sole responsibility of the Federal Government that WIWA is working for. Under the law, any areas, which is 100 metres perpendicular to any river bank is owned by the Federal Government and anybody who is interested in doing anything on the land, including state governments, must get the Federal Government’s permission to do so and for a fee.”

According to him, for a ferry operator to do any business on the rivers or waterways in any part of the country, they would need to obtain permit and pay a fee. ‘‘Our enabling act speaks volume on these regulations,” he said

Responding to complaints on multiple charges, Ibrahim said only NIWA is statutorily empowered to collect charges from operators, adding that the courts are opened for any aggrieved operator to seek redress on matters relating to multiple tariff. He said some people had gone to court to get clarification on the matter, adding that the court judgment is there for anybody to read in order to insist on the right thing in area of charges.

On the provision of the enabling environment, as it relates to infrastructure, he said the authority had since dredged the River Niger, built river port each at Onitsha and Baro in Niger State, while the construction of river ports in Oguta, Imo state, Lokoja in Kogi state and Makurdi is ongoing.

‘‘We have built jetties for operators to use and we are working on the provision of navigational aids in next year’s budget. We want to chart the waterways and we want to provide the navigational buoys to guide operators. All these you shall see in the new year,” he said.


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2 Comments
  • emmanuel kalu

    These are the kind of investment that our leaders need to be focusing on, investment that would aid the people, provide jobs, generate revenue and can be done timely and less money. However because we have leaders that are solely focus on looting and oil money looting, they can’t think outside the boxes, they can figure out small investment that would lift the lives of Nigerian’s. plus any venture they see that they can charge fees, they swamp it with every kind of taxes and fees.

    • Dap Sijuwade

      The problem of our Country is short sightedness, too much regulations so government officials can enrich themselves. Who will save our Country is the big question. I am thinking of investing in the ferry business, but after reading this article, I am not so sure, will have to thread carefully before jumping into it.