Boat Mishaps: Who Will Bring Sanity to Nigeria’s Inland Waterways of Death?

Boat Mishaps: Who Will Bring Sanity to Nigeria’s Inland Waterways of Death?

In 2018, cases of fatal boat mishaps were numerous. Despite this, the masses are still being encouraged to travel by water to reduce the gridlock and strain on the roads.

But the recent ugly experience involving no less a personality than the managing director of NIWA must serve as the spur government needs to put things right and ensure the waterways do not continue to be a channel of untimely deaths.

Izuchukwu Ozoemena writes.

Of all cases of boat mishaps on inland waterways in 2018, the one that jolted Nigerians most was that which involved the new managing director of the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA), Senator Olorunimbe Mamora.

Mamora escaped death on Lagos inland waterways by whiskers when the boat he was travelling in as part of his maiden tour of the Lagos area office hit an abandoned wreck concealed by the brown waters of the lagoon.

As this made major headlines, it became a huge concern to all and underlined the fact that accidents know no personalities or social class. This particular one, many people say, ought to spur the authorities to take a serious look at ways and means to assure the populace that as they are being encouraged to travel by water, the federal government was prepared to go the extra mile to ensure that inland waterways do not turn out a channel for untimely deaths and loss of properties. It was a reminder that all is not well yet with safety, regulation and security.

According to reports, Mamora and his entourage had finished inspecting the agency’s facilities in Lagos, including the NIWA Lagos Area office on Marina, Apapa, Ijora and Oyingbo jetties. Shortly after, his train was headed towards Osborne Foreshore to also inspect Texas Connection Ferries when a floating log of wood hit the boat conveying them.

In his reaction, Engr. Emmanuel Ilori, Technical Adviser to the NIWA chief executive, identified the obstruction as an underwater wreck. The present management of the agency is seriously concerned about safety and security in the nation’s inland waterways. But to what extent does this concern translate into action for a government noted for not being proactive in managing hazards and preventable catastrophes?

“Safety and security of inland waterways is the priority of the present management of NIWA. It is not only the issue of wrecks removal but causes of the wrecks”, Ilori stated. He said that these are what the agency would be looking at fundamentally to prevent boat mishaps on the inland waterways. He also stated that it would be necessary to ensure that when wrecks are removed, they are not dumped into another place where they would constitute another hazard.

“What we are looking at is to survey the wrecks. It is not only wrecks that we see on the surface alone because we also have wrecks under the water and these are underwater issues. That is why we say when people remove wrecks; we want to understand how they will dispose them so they won’t cause another hazard elsewhere.

“Don’t forget that the boat the MD was inside was going over the wreck, thereby unsettling the boat. The primary thing is to survey the water and identify whatever it is so that we ask boat operators to avoid the area. Wreck removal is not the immediate solution but to identify where the wrecks are and begin to remove them and know how to dispose them,” Ilori explained.

Incidences of boat mishaps on the inland waterways involving the loss of many lives are becoming rampant in Nigeria, prompting calls on relevant agencies to review existing safety measures with a view to improving on them. If the NIWA boss or any other person in that class was not involved this time around, could it have made the headlines?

This occurrence brings to the fore a number of critical issues. As the government tries to encourage commuters to travel by water, how efficient is the enforcement of safety regulations on the waterways to ensure people do not experience what the NIWA MD and his entourage passed through?

Since NIWA and the Lagos Waterways Authority (LASWA) got engrossed in a legal tussle to determine who supervises activities on the inland waterways in Lagos, who has been responsible for clearing the waterways of wrecks and debris?

In the interim, which agency now supervises movement on the waterways to ensure, for instance, that people who ferry logs from various places into Lagos do not drop some in the water? Does the control and supervision of operations on the inland waterways begin and end with registration of boats/ferries, collection of taxes, levies, etc?

Does it involve dredging, wreck removal and regular channel surveillance to ensure people do not drop unwholesome items that accumulate to block the waterways?

It is recalled that last August, a boat travelling from CMS to Ikorodu capsized and five passengers drowned. In a similar incident of May 25 also in 2018, close to the Ojo Terminal, 24 passengers escaped death at 7:45 pm when two boats collided and capsized in the Ojo area of Lagos State.

On August 20, 2017, twelve passengers perished in another boat accident in the Ilashe area of the state. It was gathered that the boat capsized shortly after leaving an illegal jetty. Similarly, a police sergeant, Mary Adesoba, attached to the Zone 2 Police Command, Onikan, Lagos, lost her life on October 10, 2017, after a boat conveying her alongside 21 other passengers capsized on the Third Mainland Bridge waterways.

The mishap happened at about 10 am when the boat sailing from Ikorodu to Ebute-Ero hit a submerged object. Also, on May 25, 2016, a woman died when a commercial boat en route Victoria Island, Lagos, from Ikorodu ran into a log of wood and capsized. Twenty-seven other passengers on-board escaped with varying degrees of injuries.

Elsewhere in Kebbi State, six traders died last February while 12 other persons got missing after a boat mishap on River Niger. The incident happened in Barikin Sakace in Shanga Local Government Area following a head-on collision of two canoes carrying traders and their goods at about 8:30 p.m. This prompted the state governor to order NIWA officials and Marine Police to prohibit night operation by boats and canoes.

One of the major cases in 2018 was a journey from Ojo to Liverpool in Apapa. Few minutes after cast-off, a boat carrying 20 passengers without life jackets capsized between Liverpool and Coconut Bridge in Lagos. Three persons were confirmed dead. But Aisha Ibrahim, one of the survivors, has kept thanking God ever since. “I was saved by the His grace. My mind was sealed; I thought it was over, but God said no”.

Not many boat passengers across the country are as lucky as Aisha. Their lives had been cut short due to recklessness and negligence by boat operators. The inefficiency and poor implementation of policies by government agencies mandated to monitor and create smooth sail on the waterways are also unpardonable.

In a particular case on October 27, 2018, about four persons died in a boat accident in the Ashangwa, Lafia East Development Area of Nasarawa State. One of the survivors, Mrs. Felina Agwale, reportedly said the boat paddler was too young to handle the boat. Earlier on October 24, about 20 persons had died in a boat, which left Logo at 8 p.m. and capsized on the Buruku side of the River Katsina-Ala.

Also, in August, a boat travelling from CMS to Ikorodu had capsized, claiming five lives. This was about two months after a May 25 incident in which 24 passengers escaped death when two boats collided and capsized in the Ojo area of Lagos State. The accident occurred at 7:45pm close to the Ojo Terminal.

However, some 12 passengers were not as lucky on August 20, 2017. They all died in a boat accident in the Ilashe area of the state. It was gathered that the boat capsized shortly after leaving an unauthorized jetty. Last December, about 22 people billed for a traditional wedding ceremony in a community in Lafiagi, Edu Local Government Area of Kwara State, drowned when their boat capsized while crossing River Niger.

In one of the incidents last year, at least 25 people survived when two open fibre boats collided in Ojo area of Lagos. Damilola Emmmanuel, managing director of the Lagos State Waterways Authority (LASWA), who confirmed the incident, said one of the boats was driving at full capacity with 22 passengers, while the other had just the captain and deckhand on board.

Immediately the accident occurred, he said, the patrol team at the Ojo terminal was able to move swiftly to rescue the situation.

“One boat was going from Liverpool to Ojo while the other was doing a return trip from same location,” he said.

“LASWA response team was able to rescue all passengers from the capsized boats and transported them to shore. No live was lost,” he disclosed.

In all the reported cases, the mishaps are traceable to human factors such as wilful neglect of repairs, over-speeding, night voyage, over-loading, piracy, collision, etc. Wrecks and natural causes such as rainstorm and turbulent weather also share in the blame.

Stakeholders are worried that the agencies saddled with the responsibility of managing the waterways are less proactive on best ways to handle critical safety issues on the waterways. Instead of cooperating to ensure sanity on the waterways, they are busy doing other things. “It is ridiculous that two agencies are quarrelling over a stretch of water without being able to utilize it for the benefit of the country.

The whole thing is just about generating revenue not for the economy. They are fighting over it because of their own benefits. It’s about rent- seeking: who is going to collect money from here and there?” This was the damning verdict of Austin Zurike, managing director, Arion Energy Services and current president of the Alumni of the Maritime Academy of Nigeria, Oron (AMANO), in a recent interview where he described as shameful the lingering contest between NIWA and LASWA over who controls activities on the inland waterways.

Rather than ‘fight’, he advised, NIWA should develop the jetties and lease them out to LASWA. He explained that because of the assets they have, NIWA should be one of the richest government agencies. “Those areas they have their boats should be developed in partnership with the private sector to make money. NIWA owns the assets and should be able to partner with the private sector to develop some sections of them.”

In other climes, use of inland waterway transportation has become a veritable alternative to roads for public transportation. Nigeria has not been able to tap into the immense opportunities Mother Nature has provided through the waterways all over the country for this purpose. Can the federal government really claim that she has been faithful in equipping and empowering the agency to achieve the objectives?

Considering the plethora of complaints from the public regarding issues of safety, regulatory control and adherence to standards in inland waterway operations, can NIWA claim that she has been living up to her billing as enshrined in her Business Case?

As NIWA battles with various operational challenges deserving prompt attention, Port Manager for the Onitsha River Port, Mr. Baba Spencer, recently highlighted insecurity as his greatest challenge even as the Onitsha and Warri Area offices lamented lack of functional vehicles, inadequate staff and conflicts with sister agencies such as the Ministry of Solid Minerals Development over jurisdiction.

According to Baba Spencer, the collapse of the perimeter fence by the port slipway and the piece of land leased to M & E Dredging Services as dumpsites exposed the port, making it prone to security risks. He called for the reinforcement of the perimeter fence, maintenance of the port equipment, rehabilitation of the dilapidated fire service station and allocation of an operational vehicle. At the Warri Area Office, the Area Manager, Engr. T. Fiberesima, said dockyard services like the slipway have stopped. He admitted problems posed by lack of functional vehicles, lack of functional boats for revenue drive and general patrol and inadequate staff and training opportunities.

Sen. Mamora recently pledged that during his tenure, the lingering dispute between NIWA and the Lagos State government (represented by LASWA) over the management and supervision of activities on the inland waterways would be resolved amicably to the satisfaction of all.

Rather than toe the stiff and tortuous legal route, he stated, out-of-court settlement remains the magic wand needed to put the issue behind for the interest of effective and seamless inland waterways management in Nigeria and the national economy.

He was contributing to a special presentation on the topic, Effective Maritime Security and Safety for Sustainable Maritime Development during the 2018 World Maritime Day conference in Lagos. Mamora who described Nigeria as a blessed nation through her waterways, said that transportation through waterways would no doubt reduce pressure on Nigerian roads. According to him, when passed into law, the NIWA Amendment Act currently before the National Assembly would ensure a more effective and operationally efficient NIWA.

Source: Business and Maritime West Africa