Nigeria’s Unsafe Inland Waterway

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Eromosele Abiodun calls on the federal government to urgently remove wrecks, dirt, hyacinths that have led to the death of many Nigerians and almost claimed the life of the Managing Director of National Inland Waterways Authority, Olorunibe Mamora, last month

Late last month, the Managing Director of the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA), Senator Olorunibe Mamora, narrowly escaped death on Lagos inland waterways when a floating log of wood hit the boat carrying him and his entourage when he went to inspect the Lagos facilities of the agency.

According to a staff of the agency, who pleaded anonymity, “It was a close shave with death as the log of wood, which was floating underwater, hit our boat which the MD was also on board. The incident occurred shortly after inspecting the NIWA CMS office facility, Apapa, Ijora, Oyingbo jetties and the boat was heading towards Osborne foreshore to also inspect Texas connection ferries.

“By the time we got to Texas jetty, water was already tricking in into the boat. After inspecting the Texas connection ferry terminal, the NIWA team then called for a change of boat to continue with the facility tour of other jetties across the state, as water inside the boat was already disturbing,” he said.

Confirming the near mishap, the Technical Adviser to the NIWA MD, Emmanuel Ilori said the wreck that almost sank the boat was under the water.

He said the present management of the authority is seriously concerned about safety and security in the nation’s inland waterways.

According to Ilori, “Safety and security of inland waterways is the priority of the present management of NIWA. it is not the only issue of wrecks removal, but causes of the wreck, and that is what we will be looking at fundamentally.

“So, to prevent boat mishap on the inland waterways and to be sure that when wrecks are removed they are not dumped into another place where it will become another hazard.”

Ilori, who is also the Public Relations Officer of the Nigerian Shipowners Association (NISA), said the authority would also survey under the water and place danger signs on the area where there are wrecks.

“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 the wrecks so it won’t cause another hazard elsewhere.

“Don’t forget that the boat the MD was inside 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.

“Wrecks removal is not the immediate solution but to identify where the wrecks are and begin to remove them and know how to dispose. Also, identify where the wrecks are and mark them so that people are aware of where the danger lies and avoid it,” he said.

On the entourage of the MD were: the Area Manager, Lagos office of NIWA, Muazu Sambo, the one-time acting Managing Director of NIWA Danladi Ibrahim as well as journalists.

Needless Deaths
Over the years, there have been calls for the removal of wrecks on the inland waterways which contributes to mishaps on the waterways. But nothing was done. As a result, many Nigerians have lost their lives and families traumatised.

For instance, in August this year, a boat travelling from CMS to Ikorodu capsized, claiming five lives.
The August accident came two months after a May 25 incident in which 24 passengers escaped death when two boats collided and capsized in the Ojo area of the state.

The accident occurred at 7:45 pm close to the Ojo Terminal.
Twelve passengers were not as lucky on August 20, 2017. They all died in another boat accident in the Ilashe area of the state. It was gathered that the boat capsized shortly after leaving an unauthorised 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 capsized on the Third Mainland Bridge waterways.
The boat was en route to Ebute-Ero from Ikorodu when the mishap happened around 10.00 am when it hit a submerged object.

The boat that claimed Adesoba, was conveying 21 passengers. Other passengers were rescued by the Marine Police.
Also, on May 25, 2016, a woman died after a commercial boat en route Victoria Island, Lagos, from Ikorodu ran into a log of wood and capsized.

Twenty-seven other passengers on board the speedboat escaped death with varying degrees of injuries.
That is not all. Last month a passenger, Aisha Ibrahim, did not insist on a life jacket. She took the risk, even when everyone in the boat had a life jacket. The journey was from Ojo to Liverpool in Apapa.

Few minutes after take-off, the unexpected happened, and she was full of regrets.
The boat carrying 20 passengers capsized between Liverpool and Coconut – under the Bridge in Lagos. Three persons were confirmed dead, but Aisha Ibrahim was among the survivors.
“I was saved by the His grace. My mind was sealed, I thought it was over, but God said no,”she said.

The Unlucky Ones
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 the government agencies that are mandated to monitor and create smooth sail on the waterways are also unpardonable.
River Niger and River Benue constitute the major channels for inland navigation, which include, but not limited to the Cross River, Port Novo – Badagry-Lagos waterways, Lekki and Lagos Lagoons, Ogun-Ondo waterways, Benin River, Escravos channel, Nun River, Imo River, Orashi River, Ethiope River Ugwuta Lake, Lake Chad and the numerous creeks in the Niger Delta.
Sadly, high rate of fatal accidents on the Nigerian inland waterways has assumed a worrisome dimension in recent times.

Apart from wrecks, dirt, hyacinths, and other non-renewable items thrown into the water are sometimes responsible for accidents on Nigerian waters.

All over Nigeria the story is the same. On October 27, about four persons reportedly died in a boat accident in the Ashangwa, Lafia East Development Area of Nasarawa State. One of the survivors, Mrs. Felina Agwale, 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, on May 25, 2016, a woman died after a commercial boat en route Victoria Island, Lagos, from Ikorodu ran into a log of wood and capsized. Some 27 other passengers on board the speedboat escaped death with varying degrees of injuries.

Although, investigations revealed that human factors such as mechanical faults, over-speeding, over-loading, piracy, attacks, collision, are responsible for some of the accidents, natural occurrences like rainstorm and turbulent weather also share some blame.

Stakeholders are worried that the agencies saddled with the responsibility of managing the waterways are taking a backseat and less proactive about handling critical safety issues on the waterways.
In Lagos, job-duplication between NIWA and the Lagos State Waterways Authority (LASWA), continue to mar operations as they battle for control of the waterways. The duo has been at loggerheads since 2008.

But boat operators that spoke on the matter said there is hardly any presence of the regulators at the jetties, but only use their discretion to always play safe.

A boat operator, Ademola Benson told THISDAY that, “Whenever they (regulators) come, it is always about money. But when you request for any assistance or clearance of waterways, it becomes a herculean task. What we have been doing is to manoeuvre the waterways to avoid wrecks and hyacinths. We know the route, but accidents only occur by mistake or when there is an unexpected wreck on the way.

“Help us beg government to dredge the channels, and clear the wrecks and hyacinths so that we can be sure of a safe journey. It is getting out of hand, and it is very sad that we are losing people to this problem,” he said.
On his part, a passenger, Akiyemi Adeyemi said:”Water transportation is very interesting but the need for safety is very paramount. Sometimes, people take it for granted, but the implication is that frequent accidents scare passengers away from water transport, and this leads to job loss for operators.”

Insecurity on Waterways
It is not just wrecks, dirt, hyacinths and accidents that are prevalent on the waterways, there are also issues of insecurity, which have become a daily occurrence on the waterways.
Two weeks ago, the NIWA Port Manager for the Onitsha River port, Mr. Baba Spencer highlighted the issue of security as the greatest challenge of the port facility.

This is just as the Onitsha and Warri Area offices of the agency also bemoaned the lack of functional vehicles, inadequate staff and conflicts with sister agencies as their major constraints in their areas of operations.
In a statement signed by the NIWA Spokesman, Tayo Fadile, the Onitsha River Port manager disclosed this when Mamora visited as part of his familiarisation tour of the agency’s facilities.

According to Spencer, “Since the inception of the River Port, our mode of operations are strictly port related activities, like the use of port facilities given as slipway, use of the port waterfront and occasional berthing of crafts.”

The Onitsha River Port Manager further explained that their major challenge is security. He explained that the collapsed of the perimeter fence by the port slipway and the leased to M & E dredging services as dumpsites have made the port highly prone to security risk.
He further called for the reinforcement of the perimeter fence, maintenance of the port equipment, rehabilitation of the dilapidated fire services station and allocation of an operational vehicle which the port does not have at the moment.

At the Onitsha Area Office, the Area Manager, Mrs. Uchi Amadi told the visiting MD that the Area Office, in a bid to boost and diversify her revenue base, is reaching out to the public for private partnership to develop and industrialise her floodable plains right of way, and utilization of the Island along the waterways for recreation, Agriculture and Cattle Ranching.

She, however, said their major challenges in the area office is inadequate staff, non-functional vehicles, challenges from sister agencies like Ministry of Solid Minerals Development over jurisdiction and the effort of the Authority at recovering some NIWA properties illegally occupied or annexed.

On his part, the Warri Area Office Area Manager, Tammuno Fiberesima decried the lack of berthing services, loading and off-loading services, rents of space and warehouse amongst others.

The Area Manager said the Dockyard services like the slipway is not operational now as it is undergoing rehabilitation.

Fiberesima said:”Our major challenges are lack of functional vehicles, lack of functional boats for revenue drive and general patrol and also lack of adequate staff and training,”

In his reaction to all their requests, Mamora said as a team leader, he is giving them his words of encouragement and expect them to put in their best to the growth and development of the Authority.

He said the authority will look into their requests based on merit and availability of funds so as to meet up their official obligations.

He urged all the staff to rededicate themselves at their place of work and that NIWA will continue to support them.