Inland waterways traffic in Nigeria has increased tremendously because more people have now embraced waterways transport in order to beat the traffic gridlock on the roads.
The widespread sensitisation on the need to embrace multi modal transportation has also led to more cargoes being evacuated by barges from the various port terminals in Lagos.
Activities on the inland waterways have come alive, our prayers have been answered, the waterways are now very busy with more passengers, boats and barge operations.
But sadly, boat accidents on the waterways have become a recurring decimal with high rate of casualties, there is an indication that Nigerian waterways have now become waterways of death.
Hardly would any week go by without news of boat accidents either in Lokoja, Benue, Lagos area along Ikorodu, Badagry, Kirikiri, Ebute Ero, and so on. Navigation on the waterways have proven difficult due to wrecks, water hyacinth and other underwater derelicts.
Nigeria has an estimated 10,000 km of waterways with about 3,800 km navigable. From major waters in Delta state, to Cross River, Rivers and Lagos states, the inland waters are littered with wrecks.
In 2018, former Managing Director of the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA), Sen Olorunibe Mamora and his entourage escaped death on Lagos waterways when a floating log of wood hits the boat carrying him to inspect some facilities of the agency
In 2019, Flag Officer Commanding (FOC) Western Naval Command of the Nigerian Navy, Rear Admiral Oladele Daji lamented the near-death incident of ship wreck, involving one of the Nigerian Navy’s patrol vessels, NNS CALABAR.
The patrol vessel, strucked a submerged wreck around Tin-Can /Kirikiri channel, in Lagos, had its keel got damaged.
The incidences of boat mishap and its attendant casualties has generated serious concerns for maritime stakeholders, even as empirical evidences and investigations suggests that 75% of the casualties are mostly caused by human error.
In one weekend alone in July 2020, two deadly boat accidents were recorded, an overcrowded boat capsized in central Benue state and dozens of souls were lost, seven people were also confirmed dead in another accident at Ikorodu Lagos.
The latest accident that occured last week claimed the life of a pregnant beautiful lady, Zainab, a staff of Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA)
The accident took place around Kirikiri area of Lagos state. In fact, the accident that reportedly killed her was as a result of pollution on the waterways.
Out of the about 17 people that were reported to be onboard, only one person was rescued alive.
The propeller of the boat got hooked by dirts on the waterways, the rider stopped to remove the tangling, after which the engine refused to start, meanwhile, a towed barge was dangerously advancing towards the boat.
The rider and all the passengers, including Zainab had to jump into the water. She was among those who couldn’t make it out of the water.
We expect that the increased activities on the waterways should have come with increased and greater responsibility on the part of the various regulatory agencies, but we are shocked to discover that the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) is even understaffed to patrol the vast waters and ensure compliance to regulations by boat operators.
The Nigerian Inland Waterways Act of 2004 saddled NIWA with the responsibility of improvement and development of the inland waterways for navigation. The agency had come out with various regulations which includes restriction on night movement, use of life jackets, skilled operators to man the boats and so on.
But with the lack of adequate workforce and competence in NIWA, who would monitor these regulations and ensure they are complied with? The agency clearly lacked the regulatory capacity and capable manpower.
A survey conducted by our correspondent revealed that there is no adequate monitoring of boat activities on major routes, the operators are lawless, many of them are illiterates who believe they can make quick money due to lack of employment.
Majority of the boats seen our Nigerian inland waters do not meet required standard, many of them don’t have Personal Protective Equipment for passengers, there is no quality life jacket onboard, and even those who have the life jackets, they have turned out to be fake.
All these anomalies, coupled with reckless driving has increased the accidents and the death rate.
It is most painful that, at any time such accidents occur, government agencies saddled with responsibility of keeping the waters safe are quick to issue already-made statements to the public.
The government agencies battling for control, safety and security of the waterways are; National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and in Lagos, we have the Lagos State Waterways Authority (LASWA)
But it is surprising to note that between these three bodies, the waterways are still litered with shipwrecks, abandoned barges and a whole lot of illegal activities endangering the lifes of boat users.
It appears that the regulatory agencies are only after money and how to collect revenue from the waterways.
At NIWA, it has been motion without movement, in terms of regulation, NIWA has failed to ensure boat drivers comply with rules and regulations.
NIMASA on its part appears to be more concerned on how to make billions of Naira from selling-off shipwrecks abandoned on the waterways. Apparently, the marine pollution that NIMASA never removed from the waters have ended up killing one of its staff, Zainab
LASWA on its part is more focused on revenue generation from the waters through issuing licenses to boat operators and sand dredgers, little or no focus is placed on human life.
Our advise is that priority should be placed on human life and how to ensure safety of the waterways.
With an authentic life jacket, probably the story of Zainab and many other boat accident deaths might not have ended that way.
A maritime stakeholder said that an expired life jacket is worst than not having one at all, because, people will see you sinking and think you have a life saver on, but unknowing to them, you are dying.
Apart from these, with the traffic gridlock on Apapa roads, activities of barges have peaked, NIWA should pay more attention to movement of barges and should probably come up with a movement plan for them.
Barges are usually towed from behind, this makes visibility difficult for them to see the small speedboats ahead of them after they are fully loaded with containers.
The Director General of NIMASA, Dr Bashir Jamoh gave an indication recently that the age-long rivalry between NIWA and NIMASA on who should remove wrecks would soon be laid to rest.
At DAILY TREND NEWS, we are advising the government, especially the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi to quickly resolve the jurisdiction issues between NIMASA and NIWA in terms of waterways safety and he should also set up a “Search and Rescue” team that would patrol the waterways on 24hours basis.
Part of the functions of this rescue team would be to rescue passengers in terms of boat mishaps, and to ensure that human errors which includes reckless driving, overloading of the boats and poor handling are minimized.
Also, the team should look into substandard life jackets, substandard boats, and so on.
As more Nigerians embrace use of waterways as their fastest means of transportation, it is imperative for the various regulatory agencies to improve themselves and periodically carry out training exercises for boat drivers.
There should be constant engagement of the boat operators through their various unions; the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN) and the Association of Tourist Boats and Water Transporters Operators of Nigeria (ATBOWATON)
Also, effective life bouys should be placed on the channels to aid night navigation.