Mr. Gani S. Balogun is the Managing Director of Tarzan Marine Enterprise. Following the company’s eviction from Badore and Ijede jetties by the Lagos State Waterways Authority (LASWA), MMS Plus sat with the Tarzan Boss as he narrates his side of the story. Balogun also expounds on the progress of the water transport system in Lagos, highlighting the challenges as well as the gains.
The Lagos State Waterways Authority (LASWA) recently evicted you from your jetties at Badore and Ijede, how are you taking it?
It looks like LASWA is trying to pave way for other investors to come in. If that is the motive then trying to push me out of business is not fair. I have been in this business for over 30years and I can confidently say “if my jetty is not the best, then it is one of the best in the state and passengers can attest to this”.
I have all my documents right here (he opens files and begins to show each document). Is LASWA saying I went to their office to remove their documents? It’s a big question that must be asked. If they can’t verify it in their office does it mean someone removed the documents?
I see this as the government luring someone into developing something, only to return to take over the property. Between 2004 and 2005, the Lagos state government during the administration of former governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu through the Commissioner for Transport, then Hon. Munis Banire sent invitation letters to many boat operators and financial institutions. The crux of the meeting was for the boat operators to assist the state government in developing water transportation to decongest the roads. They had invited the banks for them to give us loans to make boats and develop other water transport facilities; however the banks said they could give us loans because they were not convinced about the business.
Subsequently, the General Manager of Lagos State Ferry Services spurred us to form three committees and I was in the committee on infrastructure. We did a survey on places where jetties could be built, but after the process most boat operators backed out because they were not ready to fund the project.
I was in my office when the General Manager of the Lagos State Ferry Services Capt. Taiwo and the women leader of boat operators came appealing to me to take up the projects because they knew I had boats to use at the jetties. At that time, Tinubu had threatened to close down the Lagos State Ferry Services since the water transport system wasn’t viable.
So, that was how I started funding these jetties. When we completed the repairs, I had to build 100metre long jetties because the jetty was too shallow for boats. We had to dredge or construct long jetties, yet the state government at that time wanted the project to start immediately.
Prior to that time, I asked the Lagos State Ferry Services how much I had to pay to use the place but they said I shouldn’t pay. I insisted on paying because I knew I was going to invest my money in developing the place. If I didn’t have to invest my money, I wouldn’t have been bothered because I would just take my boats there to do business and leave when they want the place back.
There was only a small car park at Badore (he points to pictures of Badore jetty in 2006), I had to expand the place, sand-fill and build jetty. I wrote an application to use the place and they requested N180, 000 per annum for Badore and Ijede. I replied that I would pay N120, 000. We later agreed on N150, 000 per annum and I paid for ten (10) years immediately. Afterwards, I proceeded to build jetties at Badore and Ijede and I have video coverage of the launch of the facilities.
Subsequently, I asked to pay for 50years because I knew the project was for a long term and I wanted to have guarantee to put in more efforts and resources. The GM said his office could only give 25 years so they wrote me a letter that the governor had approved my request for 25 years. I paid and they gave me receipts as well as a letter confirming that I had secured the place until 2031.
When LASWA wrote a letter to inform me that I had been evicted from the place I was in Italy. I instructed my staff to write back to plead with them to be patient while I hurriedly returned. On my return, I went to LASWA with the NIWA Area Manager but that visit was fruitless.
Prior to your emergence as the concessionaire, were there other bidders who showed interest?
Nobody showed interest because there was no business at that time. The GM Lagos Ferry had to come and appeal to me because I showed the most interest. At that time we operated free rides for people to experience the water transport and accept it as a better alternative to the road transport. Every day we cajoled people to come for free rides because we knew that when they got used to it, they would willingly pay.
We also give free rides as our Christmas package to our customers for two days and we do it after the celebrations when people are back to work and students are back to schools. The average of 800 people patronize each of our jetties multiplied by six (6). 4800 people are transported for free for two days as a way of saying thank you to our customers.
If I hadn’t paid for the place, it would have been a different scenario where the government can say it gave it to me for free to develop and I have used it for ten (10) years but they want it back. However, I have paid for these jetties up to 2031 and I have the right to go to court and challenge them.
They have seen that the business can be lucrative and they want to forcefully collect the jetties and give it to themselves. There are state owned jetties in Ikorodu and Badore and several other places, why aren’t they contented and why don’t they give out those places to their people to operate? The issue is that I have paid for this place so I’m yet to understand the reasons for the eviction.
What was the outcome of your meeting with the LASWA MD, Ms Abisola Kamson?
After evicting me from Badore, the outcome of that meeting was for LASWA officials to come to my jetty at Ikoyi to remove all properties at the jetty including vehicles that belonged to other private individuals. She also wrote a petition against me and I have been summoned to meet with the Chairman task force on Environment and Special Offences. There were 21 boats at my jetty at Ikoyi when the officials stormed the place. Some of those boats are for other private individuals. My truck, a big tipper, a Nissan jeep that we use to tow boats out of the water was taken away. Now the owners of those boats may hold me responsible because they kept their properties in my premises.
What is your next line of action?
I would go to court. I may not be able to fight the government but there is a God who is bigger than the government. If anyone is behind this and is using the government to frustrate me, the person should remember that there is a God who is bigger than the government.
The reason I paid for 25 years ahead was because I didn’t want a scenario where I would want a renewal after one year and the government would say no! That would leave my business stranded. It’s like I envisaged this because in 2004 the then GM Lagos State Ferry Services Capt. Taiwo wanted me to start up jetties at these places for free. He said that former Governor, Tinubu was not asking for money, he just wanted the water transport system to start working to alleviate the challenges of road traffic. I didn’t want to take it for free because another government could come in and give the license to somebody else.
I’m also paying Land Use Charge on these places where they evicted me and seized my properties.
What is the role of NIWA in this? Does LASWA supersede NIWA?
The recent court judgment said NIWA owns the waterways from 100meters off the shores but all water fronts’ belongs to NIWA constitutionally. But they have decided to work together and that is why the NIWA manager followed me to the LASWA MD’s office.
How would you compare road transportation to the water transport system in Lagos?
A journey could take hours via road as a result of traffic but with boats it takes 5- 10 minutes. Tinubu was smart to have forced the water transport to kick-off in 2006 although at that time most people didn’t see it as a lucrative business. People like me invested and today it is a big business and everyone is bringing in boats but, must the government kill someone like me? Must they stop someone they called to develop the sector 10 years ago? Must we kill someone who has invested so much money and resources?
How many jetties do you have?
I have six (6), although, it is supposed to be seven (7) but I left one at Ikpakodu in Ikorodu for the state government after developing it. They allocated it to someone else after I spent so much to develop the place. I am supposed to demand that they pay me all I spent to develop the place because the state government authorized me to go there. I didn’t pay for the place but the government had authorized me to go there to develop it and use it. Almost immediately I finished developing it, they gave it out to somebody else.
Imagine if a potential investor sees this or reads about this. It’s happening to a Nigerian and this means that as soon as the present government leaves, a new one could evict you. It is terrible and discouraging especially to the youths and others who may have planned to invest in water transportation. Why would the government be bent on frustrating hardworking people?
What are the challenges of water transportation business?
There are many challenges ranging from drivers to engineers. At times drivers could destroy engines of boats because of their greed. They could decide to buy fuel without oil or reduce the quantity of fuel they ought to buy just to be able to steal N500. The engine of a boat could be destroyed as a result of such carelessness or greed of a boat driver. Most times, I have to go buy my fuel myself. I have also built a good relationship with the dealers at the fuel station and they keep fuel for me. I buy in drums and instruct them to put oil before selling.
I just bought over 8 drums of fuel, each of them costs over N100,000 and I had over 15 boats at Badore and Ijede. Am I going to put these things in my pocket when the government says eviction? A boat is not something you can take to your compound. Where would I take the boats to? With what they have done to me, it means anyone who gets the license could also suffer the same fate. We need to have continuity in governance and encourage people who are doing something good.
One last word…
It seems to me that it is a crime to be an honest and hardworking person in Lagos and in Nigeria. I built the batch we used in carry cars across Ikoyi and Victoria Island when there was heavy traffic. I built it with my boys. I only bought the engine abroad. If I could do something like that, I believe that I should be encouraged so that those people behind me can learn from me and do bigger and better things in future.
I don’t believe that the governor of Lagos State, Akinwunmi Ambode or Nigeria’s president wants things like this to be happening. I am appealing to the state governor to look into the issue