By Eromosele Abiodun
In recognition of the importance of the nation’s inland waterways will play in its bid to diversify the economy from crude oil, the federal government has commenced the removal of wrecks, water hyacinths and other impediments to the free flow of movement in the vast water ways.
Also, the government will proceed with the planned concession of Onitsha, Baro and other river ports across the country for efficiency.
The Managing Director of the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA), Dr. George Moghalu, disclosed this in a chat with newsmen in Lagos shortly after a meeting with stakeholders.
The NIWA boss expressed deep concerns over the increasing spate of boat mishaps, warning that the authority would urgently take steps to reverse this trend.
The agency, Moghalu added, has stepped up its statutory safety regulations to curb this trend.
He added that NIWA as Nigeria’s apex agency for regulating the inland waterways is also not comfortable with the huge dumping of plastics, especially those used for the packaging of foods and drinks into the lagoon.
The plastics, he stated, constitute danger to safe navigation adding that the agency may sponsor a bill to the National Assembly to outlaw use of plastics.
The MD also disclosed that most of these accidents happen either early in the morning or at night, warning that the authority might be compelled to ban boat operations in the early hours of the day and at night due to poor visibility that could lead to accidents and eventual loss of lives.
Meanwhile, THISDAY gathered that while this is being worked out, the authority has commenced strict registration and licensing of boat operators in the country with the proposed introduction of automated systems as well as issuance of stickers for easy identification of duly registered boats and operators.
THISDAY investigations also showed that in addition to directing its area offices across the nation to impound rickety boats and those without navigational aids, the authority is concluding plans to commence massive enlightenment campaigns at relevant jetties and loading points for the passenger boats.
The sensitisation, it was further gathered, would focus on the boat passengers on the need to ensure that the operators adhere strictly to all the required safety standards including provision of life vests before they board any boat in order to reduce the carnage on the nation’s waterways.
Speaking further, the NIWA boss disclosed that the authority has also signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with a private firm for the provision of quality and standardised life vests for boat passengers, which will be distributed to the registered and certified boat operators as part of the sensitisation programmes.
He disclosed that the authority was upping its regulatory support in terms of ensuring that only standard boats and duly certified and registered operators are allowed to operate as well as clearing the waterways of weeds, plastic wastes and removal of wrecks, adding that NIWA may approach the National Assembly for a bill to outlaw the use of plastic containers to package foods and drinks in the country.
He said the authority would propose in the new legislation the use of cans and paper, which can be easily recycled to reduce the dumping of plastics into the nation’s waterways, which take several years to decompose.
Also speaking at the event, Chairman, Nigeria Port Consultative Forum, Mr. Kunle Folarin, commended the NIWA boss for making giant strides in record time.
He said the sector has huge potential that if fully harnessed is capable of contributing a significant number to the nation’s gross domestic products (GDP).
He also called on the NIWA boss to set aside substantial amount of resource for human resource development in the sector stressing that it currently lacks human capital and ingenuity required for effective regulation and operation.