Enhancing Inland Waterways for More Efficient Transportation

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Nosa Alekhuogie writes that with improved controls and a visionary strategy, the Nigerian Inland Waterways Authority could turn the country’s waterways into gold mines

The movement of people and goods along inland waterways is one of the oldest means of transporting goods and services from point to point. Inland water transport offers the most economical, energy efficient and environmental friendly means of transporting all types of cargo from place to place. It also offers safer and cheaper rates in areas where water exists naturally. This facilitates commerce, promotes wealth creation, poverty alleviation, and creates job opportunities for youths within such regions..

Despite the immense benefits to the economy, inland water transport in Nigeria has had a long history of neglect by both the government and the private sector. Little efforts were made to develop inland water transport facilities prior to the 1980s. This stems largely from policy inconsistency, limited private sector involvement, and conflicts by agencies involved in the management of inland water transport in Nigeria.
However, since the 1990s, the federal government has been taking a number of initiatives to turn the sector around and make transport attractive.

The initiatives taken by the government include capital and infrastructure improvement, channels dredging and maintenance and installation of safety facilities.
Industry watchers and analysts have argued that with efficient control systems, the Nigerian Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) could function appropriately to realise significant economic benefits from the sector.

Their arguments, no doubt, are based on the efficient operations of the Inland Waterways Transportation of the United States with about 25,000 nautical miles, out of which 12,000 miles have been commercialised and maintained by the government.
The American inland, intra-coastal and coastal waterways and channels, available statistics reveal, accommodates about 3,008 businesses and 24,908 employees as well as makes a whopping $8 billion annually.
More than 60 per cent of America’s grain exports, about 22 per cent of domestic petroleum products and 20 per cent of the coal used in electricity generation is ferried via America’s water transportation system.

The Nigerian Situation
The case is, however, not the same in Nigeria. For years, the growth of water transport and other ancillary businesses have been impeded by numerous obstacles prominent among them is the battle for control.
Virtually all the state governments with this geographical advantage are engaged in subtle regulatory or supremacy battle with the federal government.

Nigeria has 36 states plus the FCT owing a land area of 924000skm with an estimated population of about 170 million. The country is blessed with a coastline of about 870km and about 3000km of inland waterways.
Nigeria currently has six major ports (Tincan Island, Apapa, Warri, Port Harcourt, Onne and Calabar) and 10 crude oil terminals. Some of them are Escarvos, Bonny, Sapele, Forcados, Tuma and Okrika.

According to the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA), traffic into the major ports excluding tankers is about 35, 000 vessels per annum and overall cargo throughout (excluding crude) was 222.23 million tons. The total number of passenger that patronise the sea ports is estimated at 35000 per annum. Statistics from NPA indicate that 4,070 vessels with 121,350,844GRT visited Nigeria in the year 2000 alone, having an overall cargo throughout at 28,859,274 million tons.

Sequentially, container traffic at major ports was 119,458 (outwards) and 204,299 (inwards). However, there are l other ports along the 300km of inland waterways including Onitsha, Oguta, Opobo, Lokoja, Baro, Jebba.
Nigeria being major oil producing and exporting country records about 2,000 petroleum tanker vessels calling at her ports annually, with an average tanker size of about 95000.
Industry analysts therefore wonder why the federal and states government cannot take advantage of the huge opportunities in the sector to create jobs.

“Pause and reflect on the import and export statistics in terms of numerous trade opportunities and the never- ending operations on the Nigerian coastal ways nationwide. Such transport or activities over waterways is especially effective when the source and/or destination are a water front location, which is a main infrastructural advantage that regularly needed to be trained, maintained and upgraded, of which Nigeria is specially blessed with such infrastructure as waterways unlike the hinterland states,” an industry watcher said.

According to him, the Nigeria inland waterways operations and management has been in service for a very long time but are yet to meet with its expectation seeing the various natural features on ground as tools to facilitate its operations.
“Nigeria aspires to be amongst the top 20 largest economics by the year 2020 and successful operations and management of the inland waterways by the actual implementation of the enacted cabotage laws in Nigeria is critical to the success or otherwise of the plan because of the indispensable role shipping plays in not just the movement of goods and services around the country but also the revenues collected as tax from the various actors in the sector,” he added.

Cabotage Act Impact
Experts also believe the effective implementation of the Cabotage Act will catalyse the growth and development of the transportation sector and reduce the over dependence of the nation on road transportation operations and its consequent damage of the roads since the collapse of the railway system in Nigeria.
Others believe the growth of the sector is expected when the dredging activities on in the nation’s inland waterways are concluded.

“However, the initiatives and strategies projected for the future still do not move a foot if the problem of enforcement geometrically progresses due to the infallible and unchangeable management governing the corridors of power in this sector, seeing actually that most of them still lack the rudimentary understanding of its existence and how it operates,” said the industry analyst.

The LASWA Example
Meanwhile, all hope is not lost if the effort made by the Lagos State government to develop the sector is anything to go by.
Recently, the Lagos State Waterways Authority (LASWA) confirmed that about two million people shuttle the Lagos waterways on a monthly basis.
The Managing Director, LASWA, Abisola Kamson, who disclosed this, noted that the number of people that ply the state’s waterways has grown rapidly over the years, saying that measures are being put in place to strengthen the authority’s water guards to enforce safety rules.

Kamson also revealed that new safety rules for the growth of water transportation sector in the state is underway take care of challenges being encountered by LASWA on the waterways
She also said that they are in partnership with the National Inland Waterways Agency (NIWA) in order to regulate various activities on the state’s waterways and ensure that it is safe.

She stated that the new guidelines would focus on the quality of boats, size of the boat, size of the engine, and general safety for commuters.
The LASWA boss said operators would be given a period to comply with the new guidelines after which government would begin strict enforcement of the guidelines, adding that the agency would employ more water guards to enhance patrol on waterways.

She said the water guards of the authority provided statistics on daily basis on the number of passengers plying the jetties in the state, saying that many people were now used to commuting on the waterways and that the number still kept on growing.
“The core function of LASWA is to act as a regulatory agency for all movements on waterways. We are to provide enabling infrastructure that will promote water transport.

She said the authority is working closely with the Marine Police in order to beef up the security and also, curb illegal access on the waterways adding that plans were underway to ensure that jetties and boat operators not licensed by the state government were not allowed to operate on the waterways,” Kamson said.

She added that there would be proper channelling of boat routes to prevent boat users from interference.
This, she said, would enable the authority to monitor the number of approved vessels plying certain routes, which would make for safety of the waterways.
The MD appealed to Lagos residents to desist from dumping refuse and open defecation on water as such practice could impede movement on waterways, adding that efforts were underway for mechanised clearing of the waterways.