By DAPO OLAWUNI
Boat operators in Lagos State have lamented that the failure of National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) to repair its dilapidated jetties is destroying their boats, even as they complained of alleged extortion and arm-twisting by officials of Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN) on the waterways.
The boat operators also called upon the Federal Government to provide bailout funds for the sector, saying that the business is capital intensive and it requires a lot of assistance.
At a stakeholders meeting held in Lagos on Wednesday, one of the operators, Alhaji Akeem Balogun lamented that most NIWA jetties do not have fenders and this is destroying boats.
“All your Federal Government jetties are not well maintained, we are paying to use these jetties but there is nothing there to guide our boats, no fenders, nothing”
“Our boats are getting damaged everyday, and if our boats get damaged, you will arrest us that our boat is not up to standard, and it is your jetty that is spoiling our boats.
We are paying you for using your jetty, your jetty spoil our boats, and you arrest us that our boat is damaged” he told the NIWA management at the meeting.
Alhaji Balogun also said that abandoned logs on the waterways as well as activities of sand dredgers are responsible for most of the accidents on waterways.
“There are lots of dredging pipes around Ojo area, we have written a lot of letters to NIWA but these pipes are still there causing accidents”
Speaking on the needed government assistance, he said “If you look at the money we invest into this business compared to the returns we are getting, you will know that we need government assistance”
“The air transporters, government assists them and gives them bailout funds, but in the maritime sector there is nothing like that.
In terms of spare parts and amount we are buying engines, it is capital intensive”
On the extortion of boat operators by maritime workers Union, the boat operator, a member of Association of Tourist Boat Operators and Water Transporters of Nigeria (ATBOWATON) lamented double taxation.
“There are some groups of people, they don’t buy boats, they don’t buy spare parts or even fuel, don’t wear the shore so they don’t know where it pinches.
They would recruit themselves and stand at a jetty, they would start collecting money with force from the boat operators”
“We have reported the issue to NIWA but nothing has been done, they do anything to collect this money.
Most of our members had to pay them because if they fail to, they would fight our men”
“They have turned themselves to “Agbero” on the waterways, but we as an association are peace loving people, we invested our money in this capital intensive business”
“We pay local government, LASWA, NIWA and another group is coming up to extort us” he said
Responding however, Secretary of the MWUN boat operators unit, Comrade Owolabi Omotayo argued that MWUN is backed by the Trade Union Act to collect its statutory dues at the various jetties.
Owolabi said there is no ignorance in law, adding that all workers and operators of the boats across the country belongs to the union and they are automatic members.