By Kenneth Jukpor
Users of the Ebute-Ojo jetty managed by SIFAX Group has accused SIFAX of masterminding a monopoly which has seen the jetty users spend long hours outside the facility as penalty for not patronizing SIFAX ferries.
While the waterways passengers have admonished SIFAX to get smaller boats that could compete with the other boats at the jetty, the jetty operators maintain that its ferries are the better and safer for waterways transport.
The ferry service operates on Ebute Ojo-Apapa (Liverpool) and Mile 2 (Capital Oil Jetty) – Apapa routes from 7am to 7pm every week day while charter services are also available everyday for private individuals and fun seekers who want to explore the Lagos water fronts.
Recall that while commissioning the project, Managing Consultant to SIFAX Ferry Terminal, Ojo, Captain Olugbade Ibrahim, had said that the company’s desire was to increase transport options for commuters and to support the efforts of the Lagos State government to develop the state’s water transportation sector, accounted for the new venture.
He said: “We are conscious of adding value and bring new innovations to the waterway business. Our business goals and objectives are well aligned with that of the Lagos State Government in the massive development of the waterways. This has prompted us to acquire these two ferries, which we are starting with, as we have plans to increase the number soon. The ferries we use are the same with what is obtainable in advanced countries. It is safe, fast, convenient, spacious, durable and manned by experts with tested experience. Our onboard safety procedure is excellent.”
According to some waterways passengers at the jetty SIFAX has deviated from these lofty ambitions as the company forces passengers to patronize its ‘slow ferry’.
On one occasion where passengers were made to wait for almost an hour at the jetty gate while the facility was locked to prevent non-users of the SIFAX ferry to go in and patronize the smaller boats, some passengers expressed their dissatisfaction to MMS Plus newspaper.
Narrating his ordeal, a passenger Mr. Tayo Fadipe said, “This is the normal thing we go through every morning. I have been here for more than an hour but SIFAX won’t open this gate. Is it by force to patronize SIFAX boat when the boat is too slow”
“These people outside are ready to wait until their boat is full so we can take the smaller ones. If SIFAX want to stay in business and compete then it should get smaller boats that are fast. When I’m ready for picnic or leisure I can opt to use SIFAX boat but I’m going to work and I’m very conscious of time. I can’t afford to waste my time in that boat” he said.
Meanwhile, another passenger who simply disclosed her identity as Victoria said, “This jetty has been in existence for decades. We have been using this jetty before SIFAX came up with this structure. When the other jetty was destroyed we commended the decision because SIFAX jetty is top-class but we didn’t know they were planning this type of monopoly”
Victoria admonished the jetty operators to quit the discrimination as she opined that the system may force the individual boat operators to create a make-shift jetty and abandon SIFAX’s.
“If these young boat operators can organize themselves and build a small jetty somewhere around, most of us would prefer to patronize them. I can’t spend close to one hour from Ojo to Apapa when it should take less than 30 minutes with smaller boats” she said.
Meanwhile, speaking on behalf of the jetty operators, the SIFAX Operational Manager at the Ojo jetty, Mr. Felix Omojuye stressed that it was inappropriate to compare the speed of the smaller boats to SIFAX ferries.
“You can’t compare the speed of such boats to a ferry. A ferry is built to convey people on a safe speed so that the passengers arrive at their destination safely while the speedboat is like jumping on water and flying” he said.
Speaking further, he stressed that most of the passengers passing through the jetty have been difficult. “When we introduced the use of manifests at the jetty, it was difficult to implement because people didn’t want to write down their names before they pass through but it was later enforced. The facility is maintained by SIFAX and it costs huge sums to maintain a place like this. At a time we introduced N50 service charge for boat users but they refused to pay as they lamented that the N50 was too much after paying their boat fares”
“We have observed that these people tend to risk their lives by patronizing the unsafe boats rather than SIFAX ferries because the small boats are faster. The speedboat is very fast but most of the accidents on the waterways is caused by speed. When these speedboats move too fast, it becomes very difficult to control and accidents occur. A ferry is balanced, so the waves can’t control it. You hardly see a situation where bottle-water cans cause a ferry to capsize but that is very common with these little boats. So, these are some of the reasons why the operators of this jetty would prefer that they take the ferries. However, as soon as the ferries are filled, they can take the smaller boats. Some passengers prefer to wait until the ferries are filled because of their love for speed with the smaller boats” he added.
However, the General Manger Corporate Communications at SIFAX, Mr. Muyiwa Akande told our correspondent that it was wrong for the jetty operators to have shut-out the passengers because they preferred the smaller boats, noting that the operators of the smaller boats pay to utilize the SIFAX facility.
Appalled by the report, Muyiwa assured our correspondent that he would contact the operators on the issue even as he maintained that the boat users have the right to choose which boats to patronize.
“It is not right for the operators to have stopped people from using the smaller boats because I’m aware that we make money from them. They pay to use the facility. I would make efforts to communicate with them to understand what led to such development and brief you on my findings” he told MMS Plus.
SIFAX Group has an excellent track record in business management in the nation and across the continent. Its emergence as the preferred bidder to operate the terminal for a period of 10 years was seen as a good news to herald competition and quality service for waterways users in the region; hence, it should endeavour to maintain such reputation and not mar it.