Movement along the Lagos waterways comes with a lot of ease. It is fast, very cool and enjoyable says Olawunmi Kadiri, a 32 year old banker who lives in Ikorodu but works far away in Victoria Island.
“What I do in most cases is park my car inside the jetty in Majidun and take a ferry that berths at the Civic Centre in Victoria Island Lagos in about 45 minutes” she said, adding that the ferry saves time and exhaustion that comes with traffic on the every busy Ikorodu road enroute her office in the island.
Kadiri is just one of those who have embraced waterways as a more suitable mode of transportation since the Lagos State Government floated the integrated mass transport scheme to commute passengers on the road and through the waterways.
For instance, from a modest start of 300,000 passengers, ridership has now increased to 1,800,000 per month, thanks to modern infrastructures in the form of jetties constructed in strategic areas along the waterways.
But it seems that heavy investment in infrastructures has not been backed with enforcement of appropriate regulation of members of the private sector who operate the ferries, even in the presence of the Lagos State Waterways Authority (LASWA), which was set up in 2008 to among other things specify the frequency, carrying and types of vessels to be used under a license; clear and maintain waterways free from all obstructions, derelicts, wrecks and abandoned properties; install route buoys, gauges, distance boards and marking along the waterways; undertake capital and maintenance dredging and channelization of the water ways; undertake installation and maintenance of lights, buoys and all navigational aids along water channels and banks of the water ways; clear water hyacinth and other aquatic weeds and of course charge and collect toll on water transportation.
But the docile and near ineffective nature of LASWA came to the fore this year when three boat mishaps were recorded in a period of four months, January 24, March 11 and April 2nd , claiming at least 25 lives. The boat accident at Ogogoro Village was said to have occurred when it collided with a bigger ferry while traveling in the night without headlight, spokesperson for the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Mr. Ibrahim Farinloye said in a statement.
The April 2nd incident involved a boat operated by Bell Marine Services, which had about 28 passengers on board. It was said to have disintegrated and sank in the Majidun River, Ikorodu after crashing into a wooden object in the water ways. Incident of boat mishaps did not just start in 2014.
In October 2012, 10 people drowned in a boat accident at Imude in Otto-Awori Local Council Development Area of Lagos, when a passenger boat conveying passengers from Idoluwo-Ile (a coastal village) to Ikotun, capsized with most of the passengers sinking out of view.
Out of the 20 passengers on board, most of whom were children, we gathered that 10 could not remain afloat even with their life jackets and drowned in the murky waters. They were said to be on their way back from the Eid-el-Kabir celebration at the time when the sad incident took place.
In April 2011, 10 commuters again drowned when their passenger boat capsized between Oriba Village and Epe area of Lagos State. Just last year in October 2013, eight persons, including an 11-year-old girl, were feared to have drowned when a passenger boat conveying 19 passengers overturned and plunged into the lagoon killing fish traders, who were on their way to Apapa from one of the villages in the riverine areas of Lagos State.
Available information on the incident however reveals that there was engine failure. We gathered that the speed boat had hardly left the village when the sole engine developed fault but the operators managed the faulty boat to Apapa area, where it reportedly stalled and capsized, plunging many occupants into the river.
What stands out from all these incident appears to be absence of enforcement, overloading, inferior live vests and other issues. In his contribution to a debate on boat mishaps in the Lagos State House of Assembly, Honourable Gbolahan Yishawu said boat mishaps has become a perennial incident and attributed the development to none enforcement of the laws that guide both road and water transportation in the state and called on the House to act as a matter of urgency.
What followed was a summon on Commissioner for Transport, Comrade Kayode Opeifa, General Manager, LASWA, Mr. Mr Yinka Marinho the Association of Ferry Operators and other related agencies.
But for many who witnessed the event in Festac town on March 12 pure overloading was responsible. According to an eye witness, the boat, which ferries people from 4th Avenue to the nearby 6th Avenue, a distance of less than 50 metres across the water, has a capacity for 17 passengers. But chose to carry 24 passengers on that day, some of them youths, allegedly on their way to watch a football match at viewing centre at 41 Road, 4th Avenue. But they never got to that venue.
Perhaps one of the good things that came out of the summon of Opeifa and the relevant agencies was the decision to set up an 11- man inter-ministerial committee to unravel immediate and remote causes of perennial accidents in the Lagos waterways that has led to the death of tens of Nigerians.
“The inter-Ministerial Fact Finding Committee will ascertain and determine the immediate and remote causes of the 2nd April, 2014 boat mishap at Ikorodu and such other similar incidents in the past, ascertain and confirm details of the accident including the roles of all concerned persons, institutions and agencies, make such recommendations as may be considered necessary to avoid a recurrence of such incidents, promote safe practices and adherence to safety standard in water transportation in the state”, Opeifa said of the committee.
The committee has Mr. Olajide Tairu, Director, Public Transportation and Commuter Service as Chairman, Mr Sina Thorpe, Assistant Director, Press/Public Relations, Mr. Kehinde Olanipekun, Assistant Director, Finance & Administration and Mr. M Loya, Chief Works, Superintendent with representatives drawn from the Ministries of Justice, Works, and The Environment.
Representatives from the Lagos State Safety Commission, Lagos State Emergency Management Agency and the Lagos State Fire Service will also serve as members of the committee.
The commissioner called on interested members of the public to avail the committee necessary information that would assist it to improve standard of water transportation in the state.
The committee has since set out to work. But while work is in progress, the Lagos State Governor Babatunde Fashola announced that the state government planned to distribute live jacket to about 1.8 million passengers that board ferry in Lagos as part of measures to check loss of lives in the future.
“It really saddens me any time accidents in any form takes peoples life. We can only plan for the worst and hope for the best. And in trying to hope for the best, the citizens have the responsibility for their own safety. The state government has established Lagos State Waterways Authority, LASWA, in order to be able to respond to safety issues on our waterways.
Through LASWA, we have put in place regulations about the necessity to wear life vest any time one steps on the boat,” he said, adding that live vests provide relevant agencies opportunity to respond each time there is an emergency in the waterways since they are able to keep the passenger afloat pending when help would arrive.
Besides, he explained that those using ferries as a means of transportation must insist on live vests before boarding any boat. Experts have however called on the state government to move fast to reduce incidents of boat mishaps since it could either make or mar the future of water transportation in Lagos State.