By Chinedu Eze
The Lagos State Waterways Authority’s (LASWA’s) plan to
end activities of boat operators through the waterways may threaten the movement of over 1.2 million Lagosians who travel through the waterways every day to work and school.
President of Association of Tourist Boat Operators and Water Transportation of Nigeria (ATBOWATON), Ganiyu Tarzan Balogun, decried the plan in a chat with THISDAY.
Balogun who is the managing director of Tarzan Marine Enterprises, also condemned what he described as the unlawful manner in which the Lagos State Waterways Authority, led by its managing director, Abisola Kamson plans to evict the firm from, despite the lease agreement it dully entered and paid the state government for a period of 25 years for the Badore, Ijede, Oke-Ira Nla and Ibeshe Jetties in Lagos.
Tarzan Marine Enterprises is major operator on the waterways, which also lifts most of the passengers and promotes water transport in Lagos.
Speaking during a press briefing in Lagos at the weekend, Balogun alleged that he has been intimidated and harassed by the authorities of state government over the years despite his contribution to the development of water transportation in the state.
He disclosed that the jetties, which LASWA gave him eviction notice to quit was leased to him by the former Governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu administration for a period of 25 years at N2.1 million in 2004, and payments were made and receipt to that effect was issued and documented.
He wondered why the LASWA management led by Kamson wanted to evict him from the jetties, which he had spent over N5billion to upgrade to standard jetties, despite presenting all relevant documents to back his right to the lease agreement.
“We wrote LASWA and met with the managing director, Abisola Kamson to explain all that relate to this controversial lease agreement, despite presenting all relevant documents to back our right to the lease agreement. Kamson insisted that we must vacate the structure where we have spent over N5 billion to upgrade to standard jetties”, he said.
Balogun advised the state government to always appoint competent people who are knowledgeable about water transportation business in the state to manage LASWA.
He expressed concern that the same government that encourages Private Public Partnership (PPP) investment in the state also drive potential investors away with their actions, stressing that with what is happening, he would find it difficult to invest his money in PPP because of the insincerity of the government.
“I wonder how the same government would be speaking from different positions and invalidating a lease agreement dully entered by its predecessor,” Balogun queried.
Balogun stated that the eviction notice is a strong sign that the Lagos state government has no regard to its claim as an investment destination.
He said apart from bringing the issue to the public court, the firm has resolved to approach the Federal High Court to determine if the directive of the state is justified in view of huge investment and sacrifice that Tarzan Marine Enterprise has made to upgrade and sustain the infrastructure in question.
“In weeks to come, our lawyers will do all in their powers to prove to the world that we have been victimised, intimidated and harassed by a government that wants to create a land of hope and justice for all and sundry, ” he said.
According to Balogun, “today is a sad day for me as an investor on the water transportation in Lagos and also as a face of private sector investment in Nigeria. In recent time, I have not only been called names, but subjected to probes, investigation simply because I chose to invest in Lagos water transportation when nobody including the state could dare to fully unlock the potential of this sector”.
Narrating how he entered the lease agreement with the state government, in 2004, the managing director of Tarzan Marine Enterprises explained that: ” In 2004, we applied to the then Lagos Ferry Services Corporation to run ferry services and provide boat services to the rural communities in Lagos. We have a pedigree and experience of 30 years in managing and running water transportation in Lagos state. This probably informed why the government of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, through the commissioner of transport, Mr. Muiz Banire invited us to take over the abandoned jetties in Badore, Ijede, Oke-Ira Nla and Ibeshe. It should be noted that these jetties were located in unfriendly marshy and waterlogged areas of the state and no sane investor with eyes of quick returns would dare touch these infrastructure as these places could then be regarded as wild- wild west water logged areas.”
He continued: “The state literally encouraged and begged me to help revive these places and give the rural people who travel over six hours by road to get to Victoria Island and other parts of the city, a window of movement to civilisation without stress. As a responsible and patriotic Lagosian and lover of development, Tarzan Marine Enterprises dully applied for an initial lease hold for 10 years and latter upped the application to 25 years, fully paid.”
He explained further that the state government through LASWA invited him three years ago to explain certain supposed grey areas on the lease agreement, adding that the directive of the then Governor, Babatunde Fashola was to investigate and if found guilty prosecute him for using state infrastructure without payment and due diligence.
“I must report that after investigation, I was not found guilty and was not prosecuted, but my name was never in any way cleared from the whole rubbish generated by this issue. As a law abiding citizen and responsible investor, I took all these development in good stride and continued to offer affordable boat transport services to the people of Lagos state, Balogun emphasised.
He said on May 16th LASWA wrote to him directing him to quit the jetties in question, claiming that the state Governor, Akinwumi Ambode has directed it (LASWA) to evict the firm from Badore, Ijede, Oke-Nla and Ibeshe Jetties over the same issues that they were investigated by Governor Babatunde Fashola’s administration.
He maintained that what LASWA should be doing is to provide facilities like filling station on the waterways, clearing of debris, wrecks, water Hyacinth, and illegal dredging of sand on the waterways instead of blaming boat operators anytime there is accident.
However, official statement from LASWA explained that the Lagos took the action in a bid to improve the quality of water transportation on “our waterways, efforts are ongoing to effectively regulate operational activities with a view to ensuring that standards and guidelines are adhered to strictly.”
Kamson said in the statement that the State Jetties were earmarked for improvement, while taking stock of operational activities at jetties, breaches were identified and needed to be addressed.
“Concerned parties have been communicated with and directed to comply,” the statement said.
Kamson also said it is the responsibility of government to ensure compliance through enforcement.
“Subsequently, rehabilitation and improvements of jetties will be carried out where necessary. We therefore take exception to any attempt by individuals serving their personal interest in their attempt to blackmail government. The public is hereby informed to see this exercise as part of the restructuring efforts aimed at repositioning waterways operational activities in line with international standards for the benefit of all Lagosians,” it added.