Exploring the waterways to ease transportation in Lagos
These are avoidable recurring incidences, among other militating factors, that have made water transportation somewhat unattractive to many residents of Lagos State in spite of the advantages and allure attached to traveling by water.
The fear of uncertainties on the waterways is, perhaps, what made Dare Benjamin resolve it is never an option for commuting. Benjamin lives in Ojo but works in the Ikoyi area of Lagos State. Ojo and Ikoyi are parts of the state-linked by its expansive water, and travelling to work through the waterway could have been faster and less stressful for Benjamin. But since securing his new job two months ago, he has commuted to and from work by road, wasting lots of valuable time in traffic and spending more money on transport.
To make it to work before 8 a.m, Benjamin wakes up by 4 a.m and leaves home by 5 a.m in order to beat most of the traffic gridlock on his route. But on his way back, he often spends more than five hours to get home if he leaves office by 6 p.m. To circumvent the stress of commuting every day, he later took to living with a friend, whose residence is closer to the office, during the week. He returns home at the weekend. That decision was buoyed by the energy being lost to travelling daily, the adverse effects on health, and efficiency at work, in addition to the immense out-of-pocket cost.
The story is similar for Joy Ani, Grace Edema, and Yemisi Abiona, all residents in Lagos.
Ani, a lawyer, prefers road transport simply because she feels safer. “In the event of any contingency, like an accident, one can easily get passersby to rescue or help you. Unlike water transport, which makes one more vulnerable to danger, especially if you do not know how to swim.
“Even if you have a life jacket and there is an accident, you might be so overwhelmed with the fear of drowning. This can make a person pass out or suffer some form of trauma. More so, it is not so easy rescuing a drowning person, most times both parties end up drowning,” Ani said.
The disadvantages Ani listed apart, she obviously now has a big phobia for water transport. “Even if there is an alternative, I will still prefer to travel by road and get myself stuck in traffic jams than to board a ferry or boat via water,” she added.
Edema is always devastated by the news of how people have died while commuting on water. But she notes that if convinced that it is safe, residents would use water transport. “Safety here means the government is dedicated to ensuring everything needed to make it safe for people is available – functional speed boats, presence of safety medics around and the life jackets, to mention a few,” she said.
Abiona’s boat experience between Ikorodu and Falomo is, however, not totally bad, save for the long queue of passengers always waiting to board at Ebute Jetty. She said passengers would be glad if there were more boats on Lagos waters, as more people, especially on the Ikorodu route, have resorted to water transportation because it is faster. She disclosed that her journey on water from Ikorodu to Ikoyi takes between 30 and 35 minutes.
Aside from the phobia of commuting by water, made worse by constant boat mishaps, unguided waterways, high fares of ferrying and boat services, and the non-availability of ferry services at night are some other limitations highlighted by respondents.
Recently, Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu said that the state’s traffic situation indicates that 95 percent of transportation is done by road. For a city of over 22 million residents, easing transportation challenges require the effective use of more than one mode of transport. And the percentage of residents who commute by water at the moment falls way below the capacity the state’s waterways can carry.
It would be recalled that in the 80s and 90s, there were some routes that Lagosians easily used for water transport, but those routes are no longer active. One such routes is the Mile 2 – Marina – CMS corridor. Back then, from Mile 2, there were ferries conveying residents to Marina, and it was common to hear, as early as 5 am, eches of ‘go by ferry to Marina/CMS’, which alerted passengers. This has long ceased to be the case. All the ferries are now grounded, and none of the new ones bought by the government has been deployed on the route.
When The Guardian visited the Mile 2 Ferry Terminal, there was no single ferry at the government jetty, but barges. The barges operated at government and illegal jetties built around. The barges, it was learned, convey articulated vehicles to the ports. This was aside trucks and tankers stationed within the ferry terminal car park, waiting to be ferried too.
Sometime in the past, the Mile 2 Ferry Terminal was even converted to a motor park by LASTMA, where seized vehicles were kept. It was the height of a non-functioning ferry corporation. In 2012, however, all the seized vehicles within the terminal were evacuated and the car park and terminal renovated. Yet, it was not put to any use before it was demolished again. It has since not been rebuilt.
Records show that ferry services in Lagos 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 destinations.
Ostensibly, to complement the efforts of the Federal Government, former governor, Lateef Jakande, had established the state ferry service. It purchased ferries, which were called ‘Baba Kekere and Ita Faji. The Lagos State Ferry Services Corporation managed the ferry service. That recently gave way to the establishment of Lagos State Waterways Authority (LSWA).
Stakeholders are of the view that with the city’s network of waterways, there ought to be a motivation to optimise water transportation, especially as it would greatly help to decongest the roads.
For instance, The Guardian’s check revealed that a large number of people living in Ikorodu patronise the waterways to connect Lagos Island.
Though it costs more to go by boat than the road, commuters who spoke with The Guardian say they enjoy the waterways because it is faster. A boat trip from Ikorodu to Lagos Island takes between 30 and 35 minutes on the average from Metro Jetty in Ebute and at Bell Marine, Majidun. The same trip takes between two to three hours or more by road.
Speaking on the challenges in the sector, Lagos State Chairman, Association of Tourist Boat Operators and Water Transport of Nigeria (ATBOWATON), Babatunde Lawal listed water hyacinth, wrecks on waterways, and double taxation as major issues the operators were grappling with. He stated that the state government would collect revenue through Lagos State Waterways Authority (LASWA) while the Federal Government also collects through the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA).
He said, “The security on Lagos water is not adequate. A boat would be parked at a jetty or shore, and by the time the owner returns, the boat is no longer there. If the case is reported to the Police, the process of laying a complaint is cumbersome. So, many boat operators do not bother to report.”
He called on the government to improve the security of the waterways, noting that sometimes boat captains are attacked on water, with their boat and engine stolen, especially if they move on routes that are not busy or when on the chartered operation.
Reacting to complaints by passengers that boat fares were not friendly, he said petrol consumption contributes to the high fare. He disclosed that petrol consumption for boat engines is higher compared to vehicles.
Lawal also said that while vehicles could easily be driven into a filling station to buy fuel, it is different with boats. “To fuel our boat engine, we have to buy with kegs, and the petro dispensers at the filling stations would surcharge you for buying with kegs while Police officers will also harass us for buying fuel in gallons, forgetting that boat engine cannot be taken to filling stations to get refilled. When Police officers see us with gallons of petro, they often dubbed us oil bunkers. We have complained about this and we hope there would be a floating filling station to service boat operators.”
On how the ban on the late operation is affecting their business, he said the recommendation from the government that boats should not move beyond 7 pm was not friendly.
“In some areas where people live on the islands and work on the mainland, there is no way they can get to their communities without using boats. So, they are still given the privilege to move.
“However, if any boat would move at night, there should be a navigating light to help indicate that a boat is ahead for anyone coming from the opposite direction. Some operators, however, move without the navigating light, which is not too good. But we believe the state government can extend its Light up Lagos project to the waterways by illuminating the water channels,” Lawal said.
The Guardian checks revealed most passengers do not use the lifejacket. A recent trip to Agboyi waterside vividly revealed this. While the boat operator did not have enough lifejackets to go round, some of the passengers were also not keen on wearing the jackets on the trip. When the boatman and the passengers were queried, they expressed a false sense of security that nothing no mishap could happen on the trip.
But Lawal said the government should help to sensitise the people more about the importance of using the life jackets because, according to him, “at times, a passenger is given a lifejacket and he wonders why the operator is bothered, asking if the boat operator is the owner of his life.
“Some of the passengers will accept it, but will not wear it properly or even unbuckle it midway into the journey. So the people need to be enlightened.”
He also called for support from the state government to review downward the yearly dues being paid by operators.
Having found out that most operators still travel at night regardless of the ban, The Guardian sought the views of the General Manager, LASWA, Mr. Damilola Emmanuel.
Emmanuel said one of the challenges LASWA was facing in the enforcement of no night travel is the lack of required tools to carry out daily night patrol on the waterways. He added that a lot of riverine jetties were not owned by the state government. As such, it could not close their jetties’ access gate, just as LASWA water guards and Counter Terrorist Unit (CTU) at the jetties find it difficult to stop operators from operating and enforcing penalties for defaulters.
Recently, Governor Sanwo-Olu, at the launch of a new fleet of ferries for LAGFERRY, observed that the commencement of commercial operations on waterways would promote healthy living and restore the aesthetics of the environment through the reduction of carbon emission.
He charged private investors to move in and harness opportunities in the value chain, noting that the government had solved the teething problems associated with the mode of transportation and infrastructure.
“Before the end of the year, we will double the capacity in the fleet from 14 to 30 boats. This is to enable the agency to discharge its mandate to ease the movement of Lagosians from various parts of the city to another through the waterways.”
Chief Executive Officer of LAGFERRY, Abdulbaq Balogun also said that before the fourth quarter of the year, LAGFERRY would extend its services to all 40 water routes licensed for Lagos.
Commissioner for Transport, Dr. Frederic Oladehinde, had announced the six routes of LAGFERRY’s operations to include Ikorodu to Falomo; Ikorodu to Ebute Ero and Marina; Ebute Ojo to Ijegun Egba, Apapa and Marina; Bayeku to Oke Ira Nla and Falomo; Mile 2 to Marina, and Badore to Ijede.
When The Guardian contacted the Public Relations Officer of LAGFERRY, Mr Akeem Odusina, on why the Mile 2 Jetty was not functional for ferrying of passengers, rather barge operators had taken over the jetty, he denied it, claiming passengers were being ferried daily from and to Mile 2.
He added that ferries move from the jetty thrice in the morning, 7 am, 8 am and 9 am while return trips in the evening start from 2 pm and another by 4 pm. He, nonetheless, said to improve their activities and cover more routes, the waterways would be dredged to ease navigation.
A transport expert, Prof Samuel Odewumi, however, said many aspects of water transport must be improved significantly to make it not only viable but attractive, noting that the first is to ensure that access to the jetties was motorable and secure.
Odewumi said, “What is the structure and type of the Jetties themselves? What happens to its utility during low or high tides? Are there solid shelters to protect passengers from the sun, rain, and other weather elements? Are there parks for cars and other means that bring passengers to the jetty and how safe are they for lives and property?
“Another aspect is the routes on the waterways. Under the seemingly smooth Lagos, water surfaces lie wrecks that can capsize the boats and ferries. They must be cleared. Also, there are seasonal water hyacinths that are terrible clogs for the boat engines. There must be harvesters of these weeds to make the waterways passable all through the seasons. There is also the issue of shallowness that grounds boats or ferries because the depth is not sufficient. There should be constant dredging of the pathways. In addition, these routes must be properly marked to guide the navigation of the operators.”
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