By Kenneth Jukpor & Yusuf Odejobi
Mr. Ganiyu Balogun the Managing Director of Tarzan Marine Enterprise. He is also the President of the Association of Tourist Boat Operators and Water Transporters of Nigeria (ATBOWATON). In this exclusive interview with MMS Plus newspaper, he speaks on a myriad of water transport issues, ranging from safety to regulatory inefficiencies, mishaps as well as advantages of the waterway transport system. Enjoy it:
Recently, our correspondent counted over 15 abandoned shipwrecks and barges on the Ojo – Liverpool axis, do we have such abandoned wrecks on the Ikoyi-Badore-Ijede axis?
I really can’t make comments on that at the moment because I haven’t been to Badore for a while. However, there used to be some wrecks and abandoned crafts sometime ago, but the government took actions to evacuate them at some point. I can’t ascertain if some are still on the water.
Nevertheless, I know there are lots of wrecks in Ibeche, Ilaje and Ojo area and I know that the government is planning to remove them. There is a lot to deal with along the Ojo axis, but we don’t know how soon the government will address that.
One of the major issues for boat operators is safe navigation along the waterways to the jetties. Has this been smooth and what new challenges are you facing?
It has been smooth just that we have rough waters these days because of the rainy season. At the moment, the water is rough but that’s not the fault of the regulators; it’s a natural phenomenon. In fact recently, the waves destroyed our jetty in Badore but that wasn’t anybody’s fault, you can’t blame the government for that but once in a while that happens.
ATBOWATON has a cordial relationship and partners the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) to address the numerous issues in the sector, any recent developments on that?
Yes, NIWA and our association have a cordial relationship to move the industry forward, to provide an enabling environment for the waterway users and ensure the waterways are free from accidents and mishaps. We’re collaborating to do all of these with NIWA.
Few months ago, a barge accident occurred with containers fully loaded with electronics falling into the water. This raised a lot of concerns on safety of barge operations, what’s your take on this?
I think the government has what it takes to put that problem in check. This was categorized as an accident, but it can be prevented. The government through the maritime regulators have to put necessary things in place to ensure that the barges are properly secured before allowed to move on the waterways.
While we can’t take away the fact that barge operations have helped to ease the burden on the port access roads, without proper regulations, there will be continuous damages through accidents leading to loss of lives and properties.
With regards to safety and standard of boat operations, the use of quality life-jackets and ensuring good conduct of operators are top issues. Have we attained efficiency and maximum standards of operations in the Lagos environment?
It’s a work in progress. Recently, the Lagos state government donated life jackets to some boat operators. Last year, NIWA also supported similarly by providing quality life-jackets.
Within the association, we have met for several meetings and sent a circular informing boat operators of the current situation of the water that it’s very rough. They should be wary of overloading and also ensure life jackets are properly worn by the commuters because some of them feel too big to wear it until operators insist. At times they don’t put it on properly and some will say their life is in God’s hands but we have informed our operators to insist that their passengers wear life-jackets.
When passengers are on the boat, their lives are in God’s hands and the hands of the person operating the boat. The operator has a responsibility to make sure that all commuters abide by the rules and regulations on safety.
Some of the commuters feel it’s like a jacket worn on suits and they can choose to wear it or not, but it goes beyond that. When worn, it has to be properly zipped and buckled, if the life jacket is bad the passenger has the right to inform the operator that it is not good and get it replaced with a better one. Although the life jacket is expensive, and unlike a car where seat-belt is readily available, life-jackets have to be made available.
In a case where a commuter can’t zip and buckle the life jacket, the operator can be called upon to do that, it’s not something to be shy about.
The government is trying its best to ensure safety on waterways, security operatives are patrolling the waters to ensure life-jackets are worn by commuters. NIWA has also posted beach masters on some of the jetties so that before the boat takes off they make sure everyone abides by the safety rules.
One last word to Lagos citizens who are still scared of water transportation?
Like Fela Anikulapo-Kuti said, water has no enemy and it’s also the biggest threat to human life if not properly managed. Before boarding a boat, commuters must ensure they wear life-jackets and request for it if it’s not provided.
Commuters can also ask the operators to know the capacity of the boat to know if it’s overloaded or not. It is in the best interest of a commuter to step down from the boat if the captain can’t reduce the number of commuters onboard. If a boat has a capacity to carry 20 and it carries 21, it’s best for a commuter to voluntarily step down for the safety of him/herself and everyone on board because if anything happens on water there’s nothing that can be held onto unlike the land where one can easily get out of the vehicle.
I’ll encourage Lagos residents to use the water. In fact, not only Lagosians but in the whole country where waterway transport is available. The operators have to abide by the rules and regulations and the captains should deal wisely because they have the final say. It’s true water transportation is expensive compared to land, because a trip of N10 on road could be N50 on water due to running cost and the cost of acquiring a boat.