Nigeria, as a coastal country, is blessed with vast navigable inland waterways.
This natural resource base of waterways span an estimated 10,000 km with about 3,800 km navigable seasonally.
Due to its vastness, 28 of the nation’s 36 states are accessible by water while five of its neighbouring countries such as Benin Republic(Port Novo), Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon, Chad and Niger Republic could also be accessed through water.
Naturally, this natural endowment presents huge opportunities for inland water transportation as the case in most littoral countries of the world.
Unfortunately, rather than be a safe haven as an alternative mode of transportation for passengers to take refuge from the mindless carnage on our roads, our inland waterways have become a death trap, deadlier than the entrapment which most of our roads have become.
At nigeriamaritime360.com , it grieves our heart that what should have been a safe and secured alternative mode of transportation has become waterways of death where lifeless bodies of victims are harvested on regular basis.
Statistics gave conservative figure of over 2000 death recorded on our waterways between 2017-2018.
These figures exclude those recorded this year as well as the near- misses.
We are disturbed and tempted to query the competence and capacity of National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA), a government agency charged with the regulation and monitoring of the nation’s vast waterways.
NIWA, which metamorphosed from Inland Waterways Department of the Federal Ministry of Transport through an Act of parliament of 2004, and propped up by tax payers money since then, watches as our waterways turn to a death zone.
Most of the mishaps on our waterways are preventable as they are man- made.
Except those that happen through natural occurrence such as rain storms, majority of the human carnage are caused by wrecks and underwater growth.
Others are over-speeding, over-loading, lack or outdated safety jackets, old and faulty boats, collision.
To our minds, these are the causes that could be prevented by competent, articulate and well-focused regulatory body which discharges its core mandate with utmost sense of responsibility.
Unfortunately, we have noted with concern the unpardonable inefficiency and poor or lack of policy implementation by NIWA over the years.
Our waterways have been taken over by wrecks, water hyacinth and other underwater derelicts that make navigation by crafts extremely dangerous.
In addition, the boats operators carry out their operations as though there is no regulatory agency that monitors their activities.
With their impunity and disdain for the rules of engagement, they choose when and what rules to obey due to the impotence and timidity of NIWA to wield the big stick.
We are alarmed by the confession of Tayo Fadile, the image maker of NIWA, that the agency cannot enforce the rule of engagement on the waterways for safety.
No wonder our waterways have become an open sesame for rookies and uncertified boat operators who daily put the lives of passengers at risk while the agency statutorily charged to guide and monitor their operations looks on helplessly.
According to Fadile, the agency cannot enforce but plead with boat operators to use original safety jackets, they could only beg them not to engage in over-loading and over-speeding, neither do they possess the will power to enforce other safety measures such as ensuring that the operators are well certified and their crafts are in top condition.
We shudder at this level of incompetence and lack of will power of NIWA to carry out the statutory functions which define its existence.
Among the functions of NIWA include capital and maintenance dredging of our inland waterways, undertake hydrological and hydrographic surveys, design of ferry routes, survey, remove and receive derelicts, wrecks and other obstructions from inland waterways.
Others include installation and maintenance of lights, buoys and all navigational aids along water channels and banks, examine and survey inland navigation, piers, jellies and dockyards, examine and survey inland water crafts and shipyard operators, clear water hyacinth and other aquatic weeds.
It is our conviction that if NIWA carries out most of these functions with utmost sense of dedication, commitment and responsibility, the level of fatality on our waterways would not have reached the alarming crescendo it attains today.
Rather than face its sacred duty of ensuring safe and secured water transportation, NIWA is busy dissipating its energy on needless war of supremacy over the control of Lagos waterways with the state government.
Our indignation over this ego trip by NIWA was however mitigated by the candour with which its Managing Director, Senator Olorunnimbe Mamora, dismissed it as greed for revenue between the two warring parties rather than their concerns for the security of the waterways and safety of its operators.
We are therefore concerned by the passion for toll collection at the expense of security and safety of passengers which NIWA has exhibited so far.
This has led to the abdication of its statutory responsibilities of making water transportation a secured and safe mode of movement.
We are however not unmindful of the wrecks removal exercise recently embarked upon by NIWA to clear the inland waterways channels of the debris that are harmful to safe navigation.
However, we are least impressed by the timing of the exercise which, to us, is long overdue.
We are tempted to believe that the near-mishap suffered by the boat of Senator Mamora during his facilities tour of the NIWA Lagos area operations precipitated this exercise.
At his tour of Lagos operations of the agency which he embarked on soon after he took over, Mamora and members of his entourage cheated death by the whiskers when the boat they were riding hit an under growth and nearly capsized.
Soon after, the agency started clearing the channels of the wrecks.
Shouldn’t the mishaps recorded in quick succession that claimed many lives prior to Mamora near -miss have necessitated this removal exercise?
However, we commend the new helmsman in NIWA for his courage to commence this initiative but urge him to garner the requisite will power to enforce some of the rules and guidelines governing safe navigation on our inland waterways.
We wish that Senator Mamora will stir the agency into action and shake it out of its lethargy that has made it to watch helplessly as innocent souls are being lost in frightening rapidity on our waterways.
We equally appeal to government to nudge the agency out of inertia and empower it to end the avoidable deaths which we harvest on regular basis on our waterways.
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