On October 2, 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari appointed the National Auditor of All Progressive Party (APC), Chief George Muoghalu as the eighth Managing Director of National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA).
The appointment thus put paid to the wild speculations that were rife over the appointment of a substantive NIWA helmsman since the elevation of its erstwhile MD, Senator Adeleke Mamora as the Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
His appointment received wide acceptability especially among his kinsmen from the South East of the country who understandably were elated that Muoghalu’s appointment would be an opportunity for him to revive the moribund Onitsha River Port.
In as much as we agree that the Onitsha inland port needs to be made functional, that is by far the least of the tasks before the new NIWA helmsman.
Muoghalu should be aware that he has taken over one of the most critical yet problematic government agency.
It is critical because NIWA’s position is of strategic importance to the government blue print for efficient and sustainable transport policy.
Inland waterways transportation is increasingly becoming an attractive alternative to other mode of transportation in other advanced countries, especially the road transport.
Yet, the agency has become problematic due to its abysmal performance to harness and develop inland waterways transportation as an attractive alternative in the country since its creation in 1998.
So this is the agency Muoghalu has come to superintendent over its affairs.
We are however comforted by the action plans which the new helmsman marshalled out during his official take-over of the mantle of office at Lokoja recently.
His statement gave him away as someone who understands the critical importance of inland waterways to the overall transportation system and the strategic role expected of NIWA.
However, we are not carried away with his eloquence and rhetoric as Nigerian politicians have rich antecedents of not working their talks.
However, the new NIWA MD should focus on some core functions of the agency which are critical to the sustenance of efficient inland waterways transport in the country.
Nigeria inland waterways have over the years become death trap for passengers.
Incidents of mishaps, some of which resulted to fatalities, have become regular occurrence.
This has negatively affected the patronage of this important mode of transportation due to the apathy which its unsafe nature has engendered among the people.
The first task which we believe should engage the attention of the new MD is to restore confidence in inland waterways transportation among Nigerians through enhanced safety measures.
Adequate measures such as installation of navigational aids and dredging of inland waterways channels to rid them of the deadly underwater wrecks should be embarked on.
We are happy to learn that Danladi Ibrahim who acted in an acting capacity, had commenced this process when he told the new MD that the process of maintenance dredging of the waterways channels as well as procurement of navigational aids have commenced.
We can only wish that the new MD will follow this process through.
To complement the safe navigation on the waterways is the need to strictly regulate and monitor the compliance level of operators.
To this end, a biometrics registration of boat operators should be embarked upon to ensure that qualified operators with standard crafts are only allowed to operate on our waterways.
More often than not, the high rate of mishaps on our waterways is caused by non-compliance of operators to safety rules who use rickety boats and navigate at night.
So we urge the new helmsman to enforce compliance and discipline on our waterways.
One of the major challenges of NIWA is that it is grossly understaffed.
We understood that the agency carries out its huge and wide range of responsibilities with barely 500 staff.
To us, this is grossly inadequate considering the areas of operation of the agency.
The new MD should endeavour to change the narrative by expanding the staff strength of the agency that will enable it cope effectively with its statutory responsibilities.
We know this may be a herculean task as financial constraint may be a challenge.
However, the new helmsman may surmount this challenge if he is creative in growing and expanding the revenue base of the agency.
Incurring additional overhead costs to ensure safer and more efficient waterways transportation is better and nobler than saving cost at the expense of passengers’ lives.
Due to the overstretched road transportation, the most viable alternative to cargo evacuation out of the ports is now rail and waterways.
So, NIWA has a critical role to play in this arrangement by acquiring more barges to ferry containers from the ports to the rivers ports.
This will not only decongest the Lagos ports but also make the inland ports viable and at the same time boost the revenue base of the authority.
We commend Danladi Ibrahim who also commenced the process of procuring these barges before he stepped aside.
More of them should be procured and deployed.
Of equal importance is his ability to forge a good working relationship with the Lagos State government through the Lagos State Waterways Authority (LASWA).
This is in view of the controversy surrounding the control of inland waterways in Lagos between the Federal government and Lagos state government.
We advise that the new MD should not play politics that could bring tension and acrimony between the two parties.
Rather, he should emulate his predecessor, Senator Mamora who initiated a peace move with the Lagos state government to engender conducive working environment where efficient service will thrive.
We advise Muoghalu to toe a path of peace that will enhance his performance.
It would be counterproductive if he engages in needless rivalry and supremacy contest with Lagos state as that may impair his performance.
We believe that if the new helmsman approaches these tasks with sincerity of purpose, genuine commitment and uncompromising zeal, he would make the necessary changes that will etch his names on the golden pages of history book.
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