For obvious reasons, Lagos has great potential to develop its water economy to a highly competitive level. If this is done, fishery, tourism, water transportation and the likes would immensely benefit.
Lagos state occupies 3,577 square kilometers with water bodies accounting for 23% of its geographical position. Residents of these communities convey themselves on ferries and boats to their various points of trade in the state. The commercial nature of the state has contributed immensely to the saturation of the road ways; many people migrate from other states to explore the opportunities and carry out transactions in various sectors of the economy.
This in turn has increased the static population in Lagos to cover 23million people at the moment and it is expected to hit the 50 million mark by 2030. As a result of all of these, immense pressure has been placed on the infrastructural amenities, especially the transport system. Buses, cabs are filled to the brim and during harsh climate seasons, commuters are trapped in traffic gridlocks for hours.
Even heavy duty trucks that transport petroleum products from the Lagos ports to other parts of the country are caught in the bottleneck. With the number of vehicles that now ply Lagos roads, many of the interstate roads are urgently in need of repair and constant maintenance because of the strain of weight endured daily. Considering these staggering facts, the Lagos State government has set the ball rolling towards creating an alternative via water transportation.
A few years ago, the state government began exploring its littoral environment and how best this can be utilized to generate revenue and improve the livelihood of its citizenry. The use of local materials to build ferries and boats has discredited them as a possible option for the average Lagosians for movement within the state because boat accidents have occurred in the past. These have been gruesome due to lack of rapid response, location and high tides due to increased rainfall in certain seasons. This has made water transportation very unpopular among the residents of the state.
Towards popularizing it, awareness on safety was one of the very first steps the state took, visiting littoral villages and providing life jackets and insisting on its constant usage anytime they are on board a boat or ferry. The advantage of water transportation extends to its impact on the immediate environment. For instance, pollution risks are reduced to the barest minimum.
Expectedly, the regular use of ferries and boats are not strange to residents in areas like Badagry, Tarqua Bay, Amuwo-Odofin, Ayobo, Ikorodu, FESTAC, Mile 2, Ijede, Egbin and Lagos Island just to mention a few. To further improve on existing system, the state government has drawn up projections to develop water transportation. Working through the Lagos State Waterways Authority (LASWA), the government has created policies and established rules and regulations to guide water transportation in the state. The regulation has set standards for safety, ownership of privately run jetties and other critical areas of water transport.
LASWA manages and controls activities of boat operators in the state on the identified 14 routes on the water ways that will also be dredged and channelized to avert future boat mishaps in the state. The Lagos State Ferry Services Company, which has been in existence since 1980, has been revamped for optimal performance. To this end, LAGFERRY was established to provide a safe efficient and affordable means of alternate transport on the inland waterways for the people and businesses in the state.
Exploring and developing water transportation in the State is, no doubt, a beneficial venture. For one, it has tremendous economic possibilities; especially in terms of job creation and reduction on time spent on the road. It will also encourage fishermen to rebrand their aquatic enterprise, creating room for innovations in the trade of seafood and petroleum products within the state.
Water transportation could also attract foreign investment, especially with deep consideration to the policies that have been established by the State government through its water transport agencies. The commercial nature of Lagos will be further diversified with an effective waterway system. The expansion of trade to the Lekki Free Trade Zone will be easy to access by water from international waterways to local inland waterways, inter costal trade will experience ease such that traders will be able to move their commodities via ships and other water transport modes. Tanker and heavy duty trucks will be reduced drastically on our roads.
All stakeholders must, therefore, join hands together to develop this mode of transportation in order to maximize its potentials. However, it needs to be stressed that proper compliance to rules and regulation guiding the use of the waterways must be strictly adhered to without hesitation by all concerned. It is also important for operators to note that every modification made to water transportation must be done with the climate in mind. Being a littoral stare, Lagos is noted for heavy rain falls. When it rains, the water bodies rise as a result of the rise in the sea level, which ultimately causes boat mishaps, especially if the boats are not in proper conditioned.
Presently, it is pleasing to note that much is being done in terms of safety on the water ways. Lots channelization and dredging are being done in order to make the waterways safe and secure for all stakeholders. There are also plans to connect water terminals and the roads, especially in places such as Badore, Ajah, Mile 2, Badagry, Ikorodu and other places where there are terminals. Consequently, there is now visible evidence of government’s renewed investment in this sector. As more private sector interest becomes really noticeable in the sector, this would in no small measure help to complement government’s huge investment in the sector.
On its part, the state government is ever willing to embrace more creative and strategic enterprises geared towards improving the unlimited potentials of the state’s waterways. Presently, government has identified about thirty commercial routes on the state’s waterways for dredging and channelization, while ten jetties spread across the State were being constructed, among other ongoing plans for the sector.
Finally, in view of the various impressive initiatives of the state government aimed at improving water transportation in the state, all stakeholders need to complement government’s efforts in this direction. Therefore, existing and potential investors must fully come on board to enhance investment in the sector. Without a doubt, development of the state’s waterways represents a key solution to traffic gridlock across the state.
Bello is of the Public Affairs Unit, Lagos State Ministry of Transportation, Alausa, Ikeja.