Before now, there have been conflicting positions on the value of water transportation in Lagos. From the true quality of Lagos waterways, search-and-rescue operations, standardisation and professionalism among private boat operators and the regulatory confusion between Lagos State and the Federal Government, all these simply add up to the many uncharted answers to the true position on this business.
Lagos, with over 20 million people living within its small space, a land mass of less than 25% of Nigeria’s geographical structure and almost half of it occupied by water, needs to find a refreshing angle for the movement of people goods and services. This business of moving people through the water, however, has been buried in the belly of certain accidents on water that have become a headache for regulatory agencies and Lagos commuters who would really love to trade and move on water.
Last week in Lagos, technology brought a new angle to how to rebrand the Lagos waterways, making it more organized, attractive and certainly opening windows of socio-economic benefits hardly seen before now. Damilola Emmanuel, general manager, Lagos State Waterways Authority (LASWA), in a chat with me, disclosed that his ambition was to find a win-win situation for businesses and players in water transportation. His reach is to engage the private sector, particularly through the Association of Tourism Boats Operators and Waters Transportation in Nigeria (ATBOWATON), to create a solid structure of visible and verifiable brown water trade operators that may help increase the number of Lagosians effectively using the waterways for their businesses and movement of persons.
Indeed, a lot of attention in the past went into search-rescue operations due to certain operational gaps that had allowed unregistered boat operators, including those using wooden boats, to commute passengers, which was never really the vision and intentions of Lagos State government, to create the needed ambience for water travel in the emerging mega city. While the private sector, under ATBOWATON, conservatively holds about 5 per cent of human traffic on water in Lagos, the absence of the Lagos ferry service in this same architecture is nothing to write home about. Though under Governor Akinwunmi Ambode’s government, certain strategic steps were taken to revive Lagos ferry with about five full-capacity boats imported from South Africa, the contentions in the quest were that the boats may not be operationally viable and not suited for mass movement of people and goods on water.
Modupe Lawale, one of the frontline private sector players in the sector, was of the opinion that Lagos ferry was a policy contradiction by the state government to create a window where private sectors would play an effective role in rebranding water transportation in Lagos. She advised that, instead of Lagos ferry going into direct competition with private sector operators, the boats of Lagos ferry should be leased to the private sector, while the state concerned itself with regulations and security on the waterways.
And true to her thoughts, Lagos Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, last week, unveiled what appears the new engagement of operation on Lagos waterways anchored by transportation technology outfit, Uber. The agenda here in to give the over 20 million residents of Lagos the opportunity to hire and ride clean and capacity approved boats of all categories when they like, either for trade, leisure or sport.
Speaking at the event, Lagos Transportation Commissioner, Dr. Federick Oladeyinde, disclosed that the Uber engagement was one of the new policy drives of Lagos State government to fully regularise and provide platforms of effective change to activities of water transportation in Lagos. Governor Sanwo-Olu is even more futuristic about this development, noting that time has come for the mega status of Lagos and the inter-modal system of transportation to fuse together for the benefit of the people through refreshing discoveries in the ecology of water tourism and the appreciation of the immense beauty of Lagos.
In furtherance of private sector involvement through Uber, the governor was of the opinion that associations such as ATBOWATON, led by Ganiyu Tazan Balogun, should rise up to meet the hunger of Lagosians and visitors to commute through Lagos waterways. Uber’s Lola Kazeem, who oversees its West Coast activities, was also ecstatic about the initiative that the company intends to drive successfully as it has done in ground transportation. Like a prophetess, she sees the future benefit of the operation for all boat owners and operators in Lagos who may wish to exploit the Uber brand to provide a new boat commuting experience on Lagos waterways.
My take in all these is that Lagos deserves more than the best in this process but I am mindful of the fact that the economy of running boat operations on Lagos waterways is hugely enormous.
It is never a birthday wish to anyone, neither is it a Father Christmas gesture as the quality of water in Lagos is an economic nightmare through certain unhygienic disposal of waste and presence of abandoned wrecks and debris. The issue of water hyacinth is another trouble on its own. From Port Novo to Lagos lagoon, down to Epe and Ikorodu, the sting of water hyacinth floating through the channels like an evil forest makes navigation very difficult and costly to boat maintenance and operation. Security of the waterways, which is another issue, is discussed in hushed tones and behind closed doors, hardly finding effective bearing to the policing of Lagos waterways that could discourage mass movement of people and goods.
All these engagements must be thrown up in the public domain to reassure and invite other investors such as Uber to reposition Lagos as the biggest economy not only in Nigeria but in Africa.
This Uber connection on Lagos waterways is also very exciting to me and I must congratulate Uber and Lagos State governent for this strategic partnership while waiting on the side lines to experience its survival and future advancement to Lagos state quest to belong to the global community of water transportation hubs.
And where there is a will, there must be a way. So, Uber’s expected visibility on Lagos waterways must not end like a baby naming ceremony. In addition, LASWA and Uber must take to the public domain to educate and provide information on this new service, taking into consideration that Lagosians are very trusting and at the same time very critical of poor services delivery and unwholesome activities.