How to make inland waterways profitable, by stakeholders
• As Nigeria loses over N100bn to under-utilisation
Nigeria is losing over N100 billion yearly to the under-utilisation of her inland waterways, economists have said.
This comes as Nigeria recorded a total foreign trade of N12.84 trillion in the second quarter of 2022, whereas the inland waterway, as a mode of transportation, contributing not a dime to the trade.
According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the majority of commodities exported by Nigeria were by the sea (maritime transport), which accounted for N7.3 trillion of the total exports and N5 trillion of total imports.
Air transport accounted for N30.09 billion of exports and N264.55 billion of imports while road transport recorded N26.89 billion of exports and N44.03 billion of imports.
Recall that the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) said it inspected and registered 332 barges and 264 tugs of different categories nationwide in 2021 to enhance the movement of cargoes, while projecting over two million containers to be moved on the nation’s inland waterways yearly by 2025, with 500 daily trips of vessel traffic to and from the ports and eight million metric tonnes of cargoes conveyed on the inland waterways.
But with release of NBS data, the movement of cargoes via the inland waterways has not achieved the desired result due to under-utilisation of the mode of transport.
The Chief Executive Officer, Centre for the Promotion of Private Enterprise (CPPE), Dr. Muda Yusuf, lamented that the country has not optimised the use of the inland waterways to complement activities in the maritime sector.
He said rather, all focus is on moving cargoes with trucks, which put pressure on the roads, leading to the high cost of transportation, road maintenance, time loss and accidents, which takes a heavy toll on the economy.
He said leveraging inland waterways to move cargo within the country would aid evacuation at the ports, relieve the pressure on the roads and ease congestion, adding that it will be cheaper and make things easier.
Yusuf said there is practically no investment in the inland waterways, hence, it is not being utilised efficiently, especially in the aspect of regular dredging to allow usage of barges to move cargoes to the different parts of the country to states that have water.
“The NBS data on mode of transportation of trade is an indication that there are no investments on the waterways and we need to do a lot more to make better use of our inland waterways. It can be a very good alternative transport system.
“If we can invest and make use of the inland waterways for the distribution of goods within the country, we will be saving over N100 billion. It will also help reduce the pressure on the road, cost of road maintenance and accidents, which are a huge cost on the economy,” he said.
The Vice Chairman of Business Action Against Corruption (BAAC) Integrity Alliance, Lagos, Jonathan Nicol, said in the 1960s to 70s, barges were active, all through from the fairway buoy, with a lot of activities, where some self-propelled barges that offloaded vessels from the high seas to the terminals.
He said during that period there was a beehive of activities with proper monitoring and managing of the inland waterways and barge operations with fewer accidents.
“There was a whole beehive of activities within that period, but now, we have very inexperienced people managing and monitoring the activities of barges and they were not having accidents like they are having now. All these waterways accidents are alien to us, the accidents happen once in a long while, but now it is so rampant.
“When you have too many accidents people will get skeptical, they may not use those services. The cost of reparation for lost cargo is another thing that could make their activities not to be very recognisable. If I bring goods worth N500 million and I lose it and I place a refund from those who did not do their work properly, definitely the GDP will go down because it is ridden with accidents,” he said.
Nicol also frowned on the lack of experienced manpower in barge operations, which he said is the cause of barge accidents at the terminals and waterways.
He said barge operation has become an all-comer thing due to the monetary gains, adding that most of the barges used to convey cargoes are not for containers but for other purposes, which is responsible for the accidents on the waterways.
“Whether the barge is good or not, as long as it is called a barge, they just load containers without proper lashing and all these cause a whole lot of accidents when there is a water surge. You see the barges dancing and some of them were made to carry cement or building materials, you now bring them to carry containers. It is causing a whole lot of upset,” he said.
Nicol said NPA should hold regular seminar on the operation of barges; training and educating operators on the kind of barges used to carry containers so that when there is a very rough tide the goods will be protected and moved carefully to their destination for offloading.
The President of the Barge Operators Association of Nigeria (BOAN), Dr. Bunmi Olumekun, called on the Federal Government to commit 20 per cent of its railway budget to the development of inland water transportation, particularly barge operation.
He said such financial commitment would help the government to tap the huge barge resources that are worth over $3 billion for the country.
“We have not tapped what we are supposed to get from the industry. Barging requires a lot of capital; we cannot do it alone. Government needs to come to our aid. We will appreciate it if the government dedicates 20 per cent of the railway funding to water transportation,” he said.
Olumekun, who commended the efforts of the Nigerian Ports Authority on the regulation of barge business, said that operators, in the last three years moved three million TEUs in and out of ports in Lagos.
The Public Relations Officer, Association of Registered Freight Forwarders of Nigeria (AREFFN), Taiwo Fatomilola, blamed government’s negligence and corruption as reasons for the poor utilisation of the inland waterways for the movement of cargoes.
He said importers and agents do not patronise inland waterways due to safety issues, adding that the government has failed to maintain the waterways to secure cargoes.
A professor of Transport Planning and Policy, Lagos State University (LASU) School of Transport and Logistics, Prof. Samuel Odewunmi, said the transport sector is a cash cow, especially the road, and is bigger than oil in terms of revenue because people and cargoes must be moved daily.
He said all focus has been on the road, which carries more than 95 per cent of the total mobility in the country.
Odewunmi expressed displeasure over other non-performing transport section, despite their operations being regulated by authorities.
The professor lamented that the other transport sections have been neglected because of the huge money being made from the road.
He said with the activities of area boys and unions on the roads, the government is losing huge money, which would have been accrued as revenue into its coffers while enabling it to focus on improving other transportation sector.
The National Spokesman/Lagos State Coordinator, Institute of safety Professionals of Nigeria, Timothy Iwuagwu, said the multimodal transport system is not practiced in Nigeria, adding that the inland waterways trade business has not yielded dividends that can be reckoned with.
He said there has not been much about the movement of goods via the inland waterways, adding that the statistics on paper on the volume of cargo moved are not real when investigated or verified.
“There has not been enough volume of moving containers from Lagos to other states on water. We still see trucks moving cargo out of Lagos daily. We have not seen much about moving goods via the inland waterways. The volumes cannot be ascertained because that has not been the major area of focus in terms of moving agricultural produce from the farming communities in the states along the Niger,” he said.
Speaking on the safety of inland waterways for the movement of cargoes, Iwuagwu said: “The extent of dredging to allow conveyance of cargoes has not been effective. Some of the inland waterways and ports from Burutu and Baro have undergone dredging but the dividend so far in terms of its operational use has been very sketchy.”
Recall that the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA), Dr. George Moghalu, had last week told the Minister of Transportation, Mu’azu Sambo in Port-Harcourt, Rivers State, that the huge opportunities that abound in the nation’s inland waterways could only be maximised if there is sufficient funding and concerted efforts made to develop the infrastructure.
He also stressed the need for a regulatory framework for the development of infrastructural facilities for a national inland waterway network that will connect the creeks and rivers with the economic centres using the river ports as nodal points for intermodal exchange to position Nigeria as a leader in Africa.
On his part, the Chairman, Taskforce and Enforcement and Financial Secretary of Barge Association of Nigeria (BOAN), Nura Wagani, disagreed with the NBS data, stating that the movement of import and export cargoes via inland waterways has been immense.
He said the barge operators, through their operations, assisted in evacuating containers from vessel to barge, while also contributing immensely towards decongesting the ports.
“We even move some general cargoes from Lagos to other parts of the country. Also, the jetties are lined up from Badagry to Kirikiri, Agbara loading barges to Mile 2 axis, Ikorodu and Epe daily,” he said.