Lagos — During the administration of former governor Babatunde Fashola, a committee set up to look into the incessant boat mishaps in the Ikorodu area of Lagos State indicted government officials, especially officials of the Lagos State Waterways Authority (LASWA), for not doing enough to stop the spate of boat mishaps.
Since the indictment of the state agency on that occasion, however, the situation had not changed. Boat accidents continued to occur in the Lagos waterways, frequently, with many perishing in such accidents.
Recently, a 20-passenger boat which took off from Ijede in the Ikorodu area en route Badore in Ajah capsized, killing seven of the people on board. Two boats also collided in Ikorodu not long ago, killing one on board, while four people were killed in another boat accident that occurred in the Badagry area of the state a few weeks ago.
All these incidents occurred just a few months after LASWA got a new Managing Director, Mrs. Abisola Kamson, who assured that regulations and safety in the waterways would now be the priority of the agency. But the continued sad tales coming from the seas have attracted the concern of not a few people who have advocated more regulation on water transportation in the state.
Investigations by Eko Trust revealed that the Lagos waterways are still chaotic and disorderly because the government is yet to take full control. Ferry operators are allowed to operate without best practices. There are too many rickety boats plying the waterways; many of these boats had also caused accidents in the recent past. Indeed, several boat mishaps in the Lagos waterways are linked to unsafe practices by boat operators, allegedly due to little investment by the Lagos State government on water transportation.
Our correspondents learnt that due to lack of control and proper regulations, many of the boats plying the waterways are operated by quacks, untrained in basic safety measures. According to an observer, "The quack boat operators are as reckless as the notorious untrained commercial bus drivers plying Lagos roads."
Currently, there is no standardisation on the type of quality of safety jackets to be worn by boat operators and passengers, as well as instructions on how to wear the jackets. This is why many passengers will be seen without safety jackets or seen wearing old and worn out ones. There are also no viable emergency rescue measures in place, while a lot of security challenges confront inland water transportation in the state.
Stakeholders are of the view that an efficient water system in Lagos State, to cater for the needs of people who cannot afford the other means of transportation and especially in areas where there are no access roads, needs an adequate framework to guide its operations.
A regular boat passenger from the Origin jetty in Ikorodu to Sandfill in Victoria Island, Mr. Babatunde Atoyebi, told our reporter that the major challenge facing water transportation business in Lagos today is the lack of adequate control on the waterways.
He lamented that the number of passengers on board a boat when an accident occurred had always been based on assumptions. "This indicates lack of record, as people are made to travel without care about their safety and identity," he said, adding that the situation was compounded by "the lackadaisical attitude of government officials whose duty it should be to ensure safety of the waterways and monitor the operations of boat owners."
Atoyebi noted that the operators are less concerned about safety and are operating based on their whims and caprices, while there is also the challenge of limited awareness about safety among passengers whom, he said, cannot even recognise poorly organised boat services.
Another passenger, Miss Monsurat Atanda, said frequent boat accidents in Lagos are due to non-enforcement of the laws that guide water transportation in the country.
According to her, government needs to take strong measures to prevent accidents and when accidents happen, to find ways of mitigating the losses.
"To curb incessant boat and ferry accidents, the attitude of government should be to find out what happened, punish those responsible and put in place measures to tighten control and prevent future mishaps," she said.
A boat operator and General Manager, Sea Coach Boat Company, Mr Bolaji Alaka, also stressed the need for regulation on Lagos waterways in order to avert incessant accidents.
He stated in a radio programme monitored in Lagos: "On the waterway today, we have different debris, we have wrecks, we have logs of wood, we have fishermen. We are not saying the fishermen should not operate but they are supposed to be regulated; they are supposed to be well coordinated."
Alaka, who highlighted the functionality of major components of a boat, further noted: "In the boat, we have a compass and GPRS. With a compass, all you just need is to know where you are going. Take from Ikorodu to Victoria Island for instance, all you just need is to maintain 180 degrees South West on the compass; with that you can't miss your way, irrespective of the fog or weather condition.
"Also, the GPRS is like a screen with a part showing you an arrow of where you are and where you are heading to. Most of the boats that had accident were without these gadgets that I just mentioned and these are the accessories LASWA said it would enforce and ensure that all the boats operating on Lagos waterways have."
Indeed, the recent three boat mishaps within three weeks in Lagos in which lives were lost had, for the first time in decades, united LASWA and the Nigeria Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) that had been working at cross-purposes. The two agencies recently came together to brainstorm on their common mandate of ensuring safety on the waterways.
The Lagos State Ministry of Waterfront Infrastructure Development actually brought the two agencies together during a one-day stakeholders parley on Lagos waterfront development, which resulted in immediate stoppage of all manners of dredging on Lagos waters, having agreed that a major cause of boat accidents in the Lagos waterways was the activities of illegal sand dredgers on the waters.
Both agencies asked sand dredgers to reapply for new licences, first from the Lagos State government through LASWA, followed by a Federal Government licence to be issued by NIWA. Each applicant is also expected to fulfill 27 conditions to get both licenses.
Area Manager of NIWA, Malam Mu'azu Sambo told Eko Trust that both agencies came together to form a formidable partnership because "there is an urgent need to carry out sand dredging in a way that would preserve navigation on water, the ecosystem and the surrounding land environment; these are going to be essential consideration for the granting of licence to any dredger by NIWA."
The Lagos State Commissioner for Waterfront Infrastructure Development, Engr. Adebowale Akinsanya, said that the dimension of dredging operation in Lagos necessitated quick attention "so as to protect the state's fragile coastline, thus, the necessary collaboration with NIWA."
He added that apart from illegal dredging activities going on all over the state, "substandard and environment-unfriendly equipment are also brought to and used on Lagos waterways by the dredgers in order to save cost. We are stopping all these."
Concerned residents are, however, unanimous that the state government should do more to stop the frequent boat accidents in the state.
"There is need to have record of the number of jetties in Lagos and a database of all genuine boat operators, among others. Quacks should also be immediately identified and sanctioned, while more safety measures should be put in place on the waterways," said Atoyebi.