Nigeria’s vast outlay of inland waterways was supposed to be an alternative means of transportation but, this has turned out to be a death trap due to regulatory hitches, inter agency rivalry, non-adherence and enforcement of safety rules by respective stakeholders. YUSUF BABALOLA writes
In West and Central Africa, Nigeria has the most dangerous inland waterways. This is to the extent that boat mishaps are recorded on a regular basis due to lack of regulation by the agency saddled with responsibility to regulate the waterways.
There is no doubt that, with the decrepit state of roads, the high cost of travelling by air, which is affordable only to a few, and virtual-existence of few functional rail system, water transport, especially the inland waterways, offers a viable alternative for the free movement of people and goods.
Sadly, never before in the history of inland waterways management in Nigeria has emphasis on the use of waterways as a means of public transportation received attention as it is doing now. This is of course, not unconnected to the unpleasant number of boat accidents recorded in some parts of the country. In fact, this ungly development has once again brought to the fore the imperatives of according priority to safety in water transport across the entire country.
The National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) is the agency saddled with the responsibility of regulating the inland waterways but recent happenings is a clue that the agency has low human capacity to ensure effective transportation on Nigerian waterways.
LEADERSHIP Sunday gathered that in the last 18 months, Nigeria has recorded well over 100 deaths across its inland waterways with no respite in sight to end it.
This is even as concerned stakeholders in the maritime sector have blamed 70 per cent of the mishaps on over-loading and diversion of passenger boats from original channels to avoid arrest , over-speeding , night voyage, rickety crafts, in-experienced drivers, and absence of life jackets for passengers, poor lighting and collision with hard objects submerged in water.
The mishaps ranging from Lagos to Kebbi, Niger, Sokoto, Bayelsa, among others, have led to avoidable loss of human lives and properties worth several millions of naira.
These stakeholders further argued that perhaps, most of these mishaps, which they maintain are avoidable, would have been prevented if NIWA and other regulatory agencies saddled with the mandate to do so carried out some form of forceful compliance through arrests and prosecution of violators of safety standards.
LEADERSHIP Sunday also gathered inter-agency rivalry between LASWA and NIWA over who collects revenue from dredgers, boat operators and loggers remains a major challenge to curbing the menace. This factor, experts say has contributed immensely to the number of deaths on Lagos waterways.
Disappointingly, the precarious nature of water transportation in Nigeria is not restricted to managerial inefficiency, unhealthy rivalry and manpower ineptitude alone as the level of ignorance displayed by boat riders and passengers in ensuring safety measures has proven to be worse.
Boat riders rely on their over-rated, archaic knowledge of the water channels to convey passengers and goods to different destinations without adequate training and certification in safety measures and navigational techniques. Often times, boats are overloaded with goods and passengers, a situation that further compounds incidents of boat mishaps. Passengers on the other hand fail to utilise life jackets during journeys.
RECENT BOAT MISHAPS
There have been series of boat mishaps in Lagos in the last few months. The mishaps, according to reports, occurred due to over-loading, trans-loading of passengers on water, sub-standard life jackets, sub-standard or rickety boats and movement of boats after the approved time of navigation.
For instance, eight persons were confirmed dead after a 20-passenger boat capsised at Owode-Ibeshe, in Ikorodu local government area of Lagos. Five persons were initially reported dead and others missing,including the captain of the boat.
LEADERSHIP Sunday gathered that the 20 passenger capacity boat; “Lalek Marine” left Ebute Ero Jetty around 8.00 p.m. (after the approved sailing time of 6.00 p.m.) and didn’t arrive at its destination which was Ikorodu terminal.”
Few days after the Ikorodu incident, another 10 persons were confirmed dead while five others were rescued and four said to be missing after a passenger boat
sank into the river following sea turbulence.
The boat which was said to be heading to Badagry from the Kirikiri area of the city embarked on a night voyage and sank in a heavy current.“A total of 19 persons were involved in the incident. LASWA had said in a statement announcing mishap.
Another tragedy which also claimed 3 lives also occured within the period under review as a boat 20 passenger boat also sank between Liverpool and Coconut under Bridge in Lagos.
The incident happened at 8:20pm when the boat driver embarked on a night voyage against the extant rules banning night voyage on Nigerian inland water.The boat which was en route Ojo from Liverpool sank few minutes after take-off.
In June 23, a local boat with four adult males on board capsized due to water turbulence; three of the passengers were rescued while one was reported missing.
In addition to the Lagos incidents, mishaps had occurred in Benue, Plateau, Kebbi , Bayelsa, Niger and other areas in Nigeria.
In Benue, 21 persons were declared missing after a boat they were traveling in capsized in the Benue River, a major tributary in North central Nigeria was reported. The said boat was transporting 23 passengers when it sank midstream while sailing toward Makurdi, capital of the state.
The passengers were identified as members of a local church who were attending a conference at the time of the incident.
In Nigeria, passenger boats are not equipped with state-of-the-art gear such as disaster alert transmitters, GPS and so on, which can alert authorities in case of an accident . The absence of this gadget have contributed immensely to the mishaps recorded across the country.
When contacted, the managing director of NIWA, George Moghalu said
“It is either life jackets are not won, vessels are not certified, boat operators and captains are not qualified, vessels are overloaded, over speeding; the right vessel is used for the wrong purpose and vice versa.”
Moghalu confirmed regulatory incompetence in waterway management across the country , especially in Lagos. He said ,”for mishaps to end on the waterways, protocols such as compulsory use of life jacket, zero alcohol consumption by captain and crew members and ending movement of vessels after 6pm must be strictly adhered to.
He accused boat owners and operators of allowing vessels to move even when the weather was not good for navigation, adding that in vessels where the captain and crew over-speed, there are likelihood of losing control the moment they run into an emergency.
“You find situations where they refuel the vessel in the middle of the sea with the passengers on board. The question is , Shouldn’t they check their fuel level before take off?
He disclosed that , “NIWA will henceforth enforce all the conditions , even as they have decided to put a new law in place to certify all vessels no matter the size.
He said: “there is going to be re-certification of vessels, there is going to be re-certification and retraining of captains. “No captain will be allowed to ply Nigerian waters if he is not certified. Any vessel that is not certified by NIWA will be impounded.”
The NIWA MD added that the authority has decided to have a stakeholders’ buy-in, and that no boat will leave NIWA-controlled jetty after 6pm. He however, buttressed hat NIWA does not have control over all the jetties , hence, their consultation with jetty operators and owners
Moghalu revealed further that some of the boats were not built for night navigation and that they needed to be fitted with navigational aids to allow them sail at night.
The status of some of the boats was not even known because they were not certified, he explained. Insisting that people will be prosecuted if they break protocol, the NIWA boss who said that so far, no defaulter has been arrested or prosecuted, warned ferry operators sector to hear up for strict implementation and enforcement of operational rules and regulations to ensure safety on waterways.