There are opportunities investors can tap in Lagos waterways – LASWA GM

Lagos State has one of the most developed water transportation systems in Nigeria. This is due to the efforts made over time to reduce the workload on the state’s roads. In this exclusive interview, TELIAT SULE and OLAMIDE OLOGUNAGBE engaged OLUWADAMILOLA EMMANUEL, general manager of the Lagos State Waterways Authority (LASWA), on the new programmes LASWA has implemented to improve safety and attract new investments into the sector. Excerpts:

We have so many coastal states in Nigeria, but available data suggest that the inland waterways of Lagos State constantly receive attention. Could you please appraise the sector in the last one year?

There have been significant developments in the last few years. Prior to the last two accidents, we had not recorded any accident on our waterways in nine months. That was actually a great improvement for the waterways which in the previous years, we used to witness an accident every other month which I am sure you are well conversant with.

The absence of accidents until recently did not just happen by luck; it was because the state government was intentional in putting systems, procedures and structures in place such as the increase in personnel at our jetties and terminals to ensure that operators adhere to safety measures.

Increased patrol and surveillance of the waterways by our teams, also the bi-annual inspection and random inspection of operators and also the donation of lifejackets and enforcement of the use of lifejackets, and of course, a lot of awareness and sensitization, have prevented regular accidents on our waterways.

Generally, we have also seen an increase in the number of people who use the waterways on a monthly basis and the state government has been very intentional in building infrastructure – jetties. The reason why I mentioned this is because, without the infrastructure, there cannot be smooth transportation flow on the waterways.

As of now, 15 of these jetties are currently being upgraded by the state government. The government is also currently channelizing two major routes because channelization is a very important process, as it involves dredging and also putting what we call identification buoys on the water so that people can know when and where they are going: so these are some of the things that we have been doing on the waterways.

What portion of the investment inflows into the Lagos waterways came from the private sector?

Why is the state government involved in the waterways business? It is because the state government is creating an enabling environment for private boat operators. The private sector is the one mobilising passenger movements on our waterways. However, because we are trying to improve the standards, the state government said, okay, we want to also now revive the Lagos Ferry Services, which used to be the ferry services back in the day when we had ‘Baba Kekere.’

So the state government now came in with its own ferries which are just 20 and if you look at the percentage of what the state government owns to what the private sector owns, it is like 10 percent to 90 percent. So, 90 percent of the sector is controlled by the private sector and just about 10 percent of the boats you see on the waterways are owned by the state government.

QUOTE: The waterway is open for investments. You just need to know exactly which areas you would like to invest in

Despite the investment in infrastructure, Lagos roads are still congested. It seems you have done enough sensitization for people to use the ferries.

This can be contested. To say that Lagos roads will not be congested by providing more boats, the answer will be to some extent, yes; we will decongest the road. However, the most important thing is that like every busy city in the world, New York or London, you still have congestion even when you provide water transportation that gives people an alternative.

I am not saying that the roads will never be free. We have many people who are constantly coming onto the roads. Of course, is there room for sensitization; is there room for more awareness? Yes, and we will continue to do that. You know naturally, there is even the water phobia which is why I mentioned earlier that we do a lot of awareness on the use of lifejackets. Even with all of those, we are realizing that gradually people are now coming to say, okay, the quality of our boats is getting better and people are gradually moving to water transportation. But to say we will take people off the roads and that you would not see any traffic on our roads again, I do not think so.

Read also: Ijora Eastlink/Causeway project: Lagos to divert traffic

The government’s stake in boat ownership is 10% while the private sector controls about 90%. Is there a regulation around the 90% of people that own the ferries?

Absolutely, there is full regulation but of course, there is room for improvement, which is why we have had a few issues with them. But as we continue to enforce the rules because it is a sector that needs the government to invest in; at the same time, as you invest, you also have to enforce the rules because if we do not enforce those rules, we are going to leave a lacuna for people to play contrary to the laws. So there is full regulation and this applies to both the private and public sectors. In essence, LASWA is the regulator for both public and private boat operators.

Which routes are the busiest routes in Lagos?

Ikorodu to the Island is extremely busy; Badagry-CMS- Marina is very busy; CMS-Apapa is patronised all day. We also have a lot of movements around the Ojo communities because Ojo is surrounded by about seven communities that are only accessible by water. We see constant movement within that location as well. Recently we started to see a bit from Badore- Victoria Island as well.

Do you have special incentives for investors that ply less busy routes?

To be honest, investors always want the busiest routes and that is why the state government is coming out now to take those routes which are not so viable, to also ensure that Lagosians can have access to water transportation on those routes. The Lagos Ferry Services is complementing what the private sector operators are already doing on the viable routes and also covers the non-viable routes for the state as well.

Has LASWA created new routes of late? If yes, how many are they?

There are about 15 major routes in Lagos. Any new route will not be called a route, but will probably be called a stop. A stop means that in that route, you will realize that people actually want to stop there. Let me give an example. If people move from Ikorodu to Ikoyi regularly and people never stop at Falomo, but all of a sudden, people now want to be stopping at Falomo, or Victoria Island as well, then those new destinations will be called a stop because they are still along the Ikorodu-Ikoyi route. At LASWA, we will not say exactly Falomo and Victoria Island are new routes, but stops.

Is there insurance for passengers in case there is a boat mishap like the ones that happened recently?

Insurance coverage is one of the things we check when we do our bi-annual inspection. There definitely have to be insurance policies for those boats. For example, in the last two accidents that happened, one of them involved two female passengers who lost their lives and the insurance company redeemed its obligations to their families. For the other incident that happened, that boat operator broke all the rules of the waterways: night travel, overloading, and not enough lifejackets. So they broke all of the rules and it was one of the local boats in those areas as well.

The level of development of the water transportation system in Lagos shows the seriousness attached to it by the state government. What are the challenges of the sector and what efforts are being put in place to address them?

Well, there are challenges around cross-cutting functions: you know, the state regulates, and the federal government also regulates. The good thing about that is that the state and the federal are refining to work together, between LASWA and National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA), in the past years. We have found ways to work together. We are all about the safety of Lagosians and progress for the Lagos State government. We have been finding ways to work together, organize programmes, to ensure that even our plans are in sync; it has not been as much that easy, but we make sure our plans are in sync as well.

Apart from that, there are always going to be funding challenges. As you know water transportation is capital intensive which is why it is more expensive than road transportation. Boats and engines are very expensive, and the cost of maintaining the boats is expensive too

This is part of the reason why the state government goes out to purchase lifejackets and share them with private boat operators. If we cannot give any kind of financial subsidy to those operators, we should look for items that they use and see how we can provide those items as well as create an enabling environment around them.

In that regard, one of the things we have been able to do is that we are about to launch this year the first of its kind in West- Africa, an Inland Waterways Monitoring and Data Centre.

That will now enable us to begin to see all of the entire waterways in Lagos State and eventually, the second phase will now help us to be able to track all of the boats and vessels moving on our waterways. That is about 99% done, and this year we will launch it. With that in place, it will allow us to see all of the locations on our waterway which help our safety and security drive.

Your message to investors

The waterway is open for investments. You just need to know exactly which areas you would like to invest in, may be boat building, ferry operations, in terms of jetty or terminal concession, and the state government is actively doing all it can to create an enabling environment and also provide safety on the waterways for your investments.

What is the outlook for the sector?

Right now, we are doing about two to three percent of the current transport model share. Water transportation takes over two to three percent. The outlook for us is that within the next two years, we want to get as much as 10 percent to ensure that we begin to take 10 percent of that transport model share to increase the number of people who are using the waterways.

We also want to increase the number of ferries. And of course, safety is very important, which means we must keep improving our safety system. As I said, it forms a part of that multi-modal transportation system. The whole idea about the small blue buses the state government recently launched is that when you get out from the jetty you are not going to walk to your destination as you will use one of those first-mile or last-mile buses to that final destination. The government is planning that for every jetty that you get to, there must be those last-mile buses. If you don’t have your car already parked there, you can make use of the last-mile bus to get to your final destination.

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