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Water transportation… Lagos goldmine trapped in myriad of challenges, crying for attention

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• How double taxation, NIWA/LASWA rivalry affect operation
• Safety issues, uncoordinated regulation, lack of high capacity boats hinder sectors potential  

With a population of about 28 million, Lagos is touted as the ninth largest megacity in the world, and one of the megacities listed by the United Nations with a total population of almost 330 million.

At a growth rate of six per cent yearly, the population is expected to hit 50 million in a few years time, and most probably, become the third largest megacity in the world.
    
In the last 25 years, the levels of efficiency and productivity in the state have been adversely affected by growing weakness in the physical infrastructure necessary to support the basic needs of the teeming population and productive sectors, paramount of which is transportation.
   
Without efficient and effective means of transportation, whether in the form of land (road and rail), air or sea, the movement of goods, services and people, as well as promotion of trade and commerce within and across the state and environs become seriously impaired.
     
Findings in a recent global research project on 25 megacities, including Lagos, conducted by GlobeScan and MRC McLean (two independent research organisations, sponsored by Siemens, the infrastructure provider), showed that transportation exceeds all other urban infrastructure concerns by a large margin.
    
However, transport infrastructure and services have remained at levels originally meant to cater for a population of no more than eight million people, 25 years ago.
     
The density of the bus public transport network in Lagos of about 0.4 km /1000 population is quite low even by African standards.

There are about 222 vehicles per kilometre of road in Lagos, which by far, outweighs the national average of 11 vehicles per kilometre of road.

This congested state of affairs is clearly unacceptable. In 2002, a major milestone was recorded in the state’s transport sector, with the establishment of Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA) through an Act of the state House of Assembly.
  
LAMATA is charged with the responsibility of coordinating sector wide issues confronting public transportation in the state.
    
With water bodies such as, Lagos Lagoon, Ologe Lagoon, Porto-Novo Creek, Badagry Creeks and the Atlantic Ocean as well as wetlands covering over 40 per cent of the total land area of the state, coupled with lagoons and creeks consisting 22 per cent of its area, the physical environment of Lagos is well-suited to accommodate sustainable and decent water transport.
  
To maximise water transportation’s potential, the state, in 2008, enacted the Lagos State Waterways Authority Act, which established the Lagos Waterways Authority (LASWA).

LASWA is charged with the responsibility for coordinating and managing reforms necessary for long-term growth and development of water transportation in the state, including the granting of ferry licenses and concessions for the operation of terminals to the private sector.

These reforms entail the creation of an enabling long-term regulatory environment that attracts significant private sector involvement in the provision of water transport services. The reforms also birthed the establishment of jetties across the state.

Experts, have, however, said these reforms are yet to meet the aspirations of a state with such huge water bodies.
According to experts, water transportation should not just be the most advantageous mode of transportation in Lagos, having the least impact on the environment, but the lowest cost for city transport, since it has enormous capacity reserves and least energy consumption.

Apart from easing movement of people, the inherent tourism potential is seriously affected by low investment and knowledge of water transportation.

Some of the challenges include rivalry between the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) and LASWA in the regulation of the system, resulting in double taxation.

For example, in the city of London, where the population is relatively about eight million and because they have the River Thames, they are taking such more from water transportation.

In River Thames, you could see the organisation of the water transport system, where a large boat could take more than 100 people and the system of embodying disembarkment from the boat, the safety measures and everything is top notch.

In such a technology-based system, there is passengers’ movement and there are tourist boats, where they work side by side without disturbing each other. 

However, the system is also organised in such a way that, if you are the type that is interested in seeing the skyline or the beauty of London, the tourist boat is there for you and with your ticket, a tourist boat will take you round River Thames.

But if you are the type that wants to cross where they have the London bridge from one part of the city to the other, the normal passenger boat is there and with your ticket, it will move you to the other side, just like when you are moving from Badore to Ikorodu in Lagos, but they do it at larger scale in that clime, an expert explained.

The same thing is applicable in Copenhagen, where one of the key income generating modes of transport and mode of economic generating opportunities for the city of Copenhagen is the water transportation system.

Apart from using the lagoon, they equally use their canals. In addition to their land-based tourism transportation, the two-decked buses that move people around within the city, they equally also have large boats that have been specifically designed for tourism industry and when you get to the city you will see citizens from different parts of the world who want to have their weddings in the city, who want to have a look at what the water looks like and the skyline of the city.

In these cities, the open roof boats, sometimes, take more than 70 passengers around with their tickets, to the canal and to the point that the canal opens into the lagoon.

Also, the system brings a lot of patterns into the city and attracts tourist expenditure into the city of Copenhagen. 
But, when compared with the city of Lagos, the story is different. Though there are a substantial number of canals that are open to the lagoon in different areas, the tragedy is that many of them are blocked, thereby denying the city a huge revenue opportunity to market it to different people of the world.

ACCORDING to Lookman Oshodi, an expert in international development and urban governance, “when we have such a huge population in Lagos, where we have about 28 million people, water transportation should be doing more than what we are currently doing.”
   
Oshodi, the Project Director of Arctic Infrastructure (AI), Lagos, said there are quite a number of opportunities that should have been tapped into as a water-based city.
 
He stressed that in other water-based cities, such as Rotterdam in Amsterdam and Aberdeen, water transportation system has remained an integral part of their city transportation.
 
He said:  “When we look at a costal city like Lagos with abundant water resources, you will see that Lagos is not there yet, it is not in that category of those coastal cities that are utlising water transport models for their people. We need to do more, where we can have a boat that can take up to 250 people at a go from Badore to Ikorodu, or from Badagry to Marina.
  
“In the intercession between the lagoon and the canal, we can see what is happening, and there is no deliberate approach to use water transportation as a means of managing our canal, being a coastal city.”
  
In Ijegun-Egba Jetty, which can be accessed through the Satellite Town from the Upper Room Bus Stop, is a well T-designed metal shelter with petty traders.
  
A boat ticket is fixed at N2000 for a boat ride, while it takes less than seven minutes to sail from the jetty to Igbessa community, one of the 10 communities on islands.
   
The jetty leads to 10 Islands with an estimated population of 1,000 dwellers, which also houses the foremost Ibeshe beach in Lagos, regarded as the longest in Africa.
 
In the jetty, six out of seven safety life jackets were bad, while activities of the operators are not regulated. A regular user, Josephine Udeh, lamented the near absence of government agencies as most of the boats are privately operated.

She lamented indiscriminate charge of fare by operators, stressing that while non-indigenes pay N400 for the trip, indigenes are billed N300 with seven passengers, because of lack of regulation.

Udeh urged for more government attention in water regulation.  On her part, Zainab Adesokan, who has been patronising water transportation for years, is worried that boat operation is largely unregulated in Lagos.   

She stressed that despite the newly procured boats, private organisations, which are not really monitored, are still calling the shot.

She said: “I think the waterway guys are getting corrupt; the government officials that wear light and deep blue uniforms at the jetties. Sometimes, the boat operators, who allow them to overload their boats that can carry more than 20 passengers, bribe them.”

According to her, if government can monitor the activities of the local operators and modernise the operation with more boats, things will be better and many residents will take to water transportation.

Also, Iya Maruf, a fish trader, who lives in Ode-Omi, a border community between Lagos and Ogun States, complained of overcrowding in the boats by unregulated operators.

The woman normally boards a 45-passenger boat carrying passengers and goods, from Ode-Omi going Lagos Island, Adeniji Adele- Elegbata jetty on market days and other days. 

Iya Maruf said the journey takes them less than two hours to get to Lagos Island, which would have been a six hours journey by the road.

She stressed that if government standardised the ferries available for use, people would not just go to their workshops and put three or four woods together and come back and say, I am a ferry operator.
FOR Bamidele Badejo, a professor of Geography and Regional Planning, water transportation is very important as a mode of moving people and goods, carrying containers and so on.

He said apart from Lagos, 28 states out of the 36 states of the federation could be reached through water mode from Lagos.

According to him, if water transportation is well developed or better developed, to promote efficiency, it is definitely going to add serious value to the economic prospect not only of Lagos, but the entire country and the West African sub region. 

The former Lagos State Commissioner of Transportation said there is need to train and retrain operators to improve their operations.

He said:  “Ferry operation is capital intensive, you can imagine the quantity of fuel they have to use everyday.    

“And you can imagine the cost on the passengers. If they are operating without government support, definitely, they will be operating on the economic gain, they want to have gains.

“So, if government has a way of assisting them, whether by organising them into an association, where they can have access to funds to improve on their services and operations, obviously, it will attract more passengers.

“For example, I live in Ikorodu and whenever I am going to Apapa, I go by water, you can’t believe it, it takes 28 minutes from Ebute to Apapa flour mills, whereas if I want to go by road, I will be talking of four to five hours. 

“So, in terms of economic timing and adding value to one’s daily activities, taking pains away from you, giving you better opportunities for your health and others, water transportation is there. But, we need to get that fact right, that it is more of a benefit than a problem to the state and to the country.

“I want to say that the potentialities are there, the benefits are there and the government is focusing on the development, that is why during the Babatunde Raji Fashola administration, LASWA was established, but you will discover that when the authority was established, NIWA was not comfortable with the establishment of LASWA, believing that it is an infringement of their constitutional right and mandate.

 “NIWA took Lagos State government to court and I am sure that they are still in court since 2010, arguing that the establishment of the authority is a constitutional breach, because the focus of NIWA is that, water transportation or inland waterways is under the exclusive clause of the Constitution, meaning that it is only the Federal Government that can legislate on it, it also maintains that it is only the concurrent areas that both the state and Federal Government have a hand shake, saying  that it purely on exclusive clause and therefore, they don’t have any right.
  
“But other states have gone ahead to develop water transportation, especially in Bayelsa and Rivers states.
  
“In the case of Lagos, it has been integrated into their transport infrastructure master plan development and it is being pursued from intermodality and multimodality point of view. The issue of safety and security affect all modes of transportation even at zero speed. A lot of people are not used to water as a mode of transport, this is where the issue of public engagement comes in.

“In terms of safety, there are minimum requirements, like wearing safety jackets, number of passengers per boat, speed to be maintained by ferry operators and so on.”
  
 “If they are operating without government support, definitely, they will be operating on the economic gains, they want to have. So, if government has a way of assisting them, whether by organising them into associations, where they can have access to funds to improve on their services and operations, obviously, it will attract more passengers.

“Government must also come up with some regulations. For example, why can’t these waterways lift heavy goods, such that these trailers that are carrying sand from Agbowa into Lagos Island into Apapa, across Ikorodu road, towards the whole of Apapa-Oshodi Expressway? If we have barges, you can imagine a 2,000 tons barge, it can ferry a 10,000 tons trailer load, meaning, it is going to carry 200 trailer loads of sand to the seashore, where they can be loaded. That will reduce their presence in the highway; it will also improve the lifespan of the road. All these are things that we need to take into consideration.
 
“So, water transportation is the way to go, but you know it has to do with physical endowment, you cannot dredge water to Ayobo or Abule Egba, because the geographical potentialities are not there,” Adesokan said.

STRESSING the need for more attention for water transportation, an operator and Chairman of Fiki Marine, Mr. Taofiki Balogun, said the operational atmosphere does not allow operators to express themselves the way they should because of government policies.

Balogun, the owner of Fiki Marine Boat Club in Lagos, noted the confusion over regulations and licenses of the sector between NIMASA and LASWA that was formed a couple of years ago during Fashola’s administration.

Apart from the claim of which of the two agencies are in charge of waterways, there is also the issue of multiple taxation.

Expressing his frustration, he said: “If you don’t pay one, another will harass you and they will not allow you to operate.    

“The most recent one is the interference of the anti-narcotic agency. When you are driving your boat and you are carrying passengers, then National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) will stop you.

“You know we have picnickers going to the beach, they will stop a boat that is loaded with passengers and said they are searching their bags and clothings for illicit drugs.

“I don’t know where they got their information that people going on the boat are carrying drugs but our role is just to transport them. We have never see anyone with drugs, since we started.
 
“This is not helping tourism development in Nigeria because my boat business is mainly about tourism and we carry picnickers to the beach and tour around Lagos.

“We need what I will call the bulk passenger boats to ferry people to work, because all these kinds of boats are not really fit. They are not good, they are locally made, even if we are going to build them locally at least, we should do it right. The people that are driving the boats are not trained. I don’t think a lot of them know what they are doing, so, it is very dangerous. We have a few accidents here and there.  We are not happy about it, because it sends away a lot of people that would have been potential clients.  So, they need to improve on that.”

MEANWHILE, Lagos State Government said its water transportation increased from 0.8 per cent to 2.8 between 2020 and 2021.  Commissioner for Tourism, Arts and Culture, Mrs. Uzamat Akinbile-Yussuf, disclosed this, during a barge cruise from Falomo to Lekki-Ikoyi Link Bridge.
  
The programme was organised by the Lagos State Ministry Tourism, Art and culture, Lagos Ferry Services (LAGFERRY) and Goge Africa.
  
According to the commissioner, before the establishment of Lagos Ferry Service, the contribution of water transportation stood at 0.8 per cent.
 
“But in less than two years, the water index patronage stood at 3.2 per cent.
 
“Lagos is a state of aquatic resources and we are in a cruise ride to commemorate the Independence Day and also to showcase tourism potentials in the state.

“The state is trying to domesticate tourism in Nigeria and we also want people to go on boat, ferry or barges ride to enable them see the visibility of Lagos State.

“Water transportation is promoting tourism in Lagos, and I am encouraging Lagos residents to patronise water transport, which is easier in moving from one location to another without encountering traffic.”

Also, the Special Adviser to the Governor on Tourism, Art and Culture, Mr. Solomon Bonu, said they went on the cruise to experiment domestic tourism.

However, Lagos can take coastal transportation to a higher pedestal by heavy investment and opening the sector to foreign and local investors, as well as creating an enabling environment for it.

Bonu said that gone were the days when Lagosians went outside the state for entertainment, adding that Governor Sanwo-Olu had been working at ensuring tourism was domesticated in the state.
 
He urged Nigerians to patronise boat cruises, noting that it is safer, entertaining and economical, particularly for carriage of goods from the ports to other parts of Lagos.
  
Also, the Managing Director, Lagos Ferry Services, Mr. Abdul-Baqi Balogun, said the state was showcasing the water potential on social; business and entertainment as the service cruised over 300 people on barge cruise within Lagos.
Balogun said that whatever was being done on the road could be replicated on water without spending much energy and money.

He said that apart from using the barges to carry cargo goods, it was being used in transporting cars as well as entertainment such as weddings, birthdays, conferences and anniversaries.

To support the sector, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu recently flagged off the use of the new boats for commercial operations.

He also expanded the capacity of the Lagos State Ferry Services (LAGFERRY) with the delivery of seven additional high-capacity speedboats to shore up the agency’s fleet for rapid transit on the waterways.

To this end, the growing interest in water transportation by residents of Lagos State has received an encouraging response from government.

The Governor further unveiled the use of Cowry Cards for passengers, using water transportation to create a seamless payment scheme in line with the state’s multimodal transportation system.

This integrates the LAGFERRY services to an automated payment solution already created for the BRT services and the State-owned rail lines, which are coming on board.

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