There is no doubt that Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu wants to leave a legacy in the administration of Lagos, particularly in finding sustainable solutions to the intractable Lagos transportation nightmare. It is beyond wishful thinking that the key to prosperous and healthy living in Lagos lies in finding and arresting the demon behind Lagos traffic logjam.
To me, the Lagos traffic situation does not just lie in the transportation master plan factored around land, rail and water transportation but in creating a web of possibilities with the people in view.
How do I mean? Lagos government must admit and disengage from all operational expectations of the intermodal processes and let the private sector drive the practical development agenda. In other words, Lagos State government has no business in the business of realities of the intermodal blueprints, today and tomorrow. The state should just concern itself with creating the enabling environment and monitoring operations.
Let me focus on the issue of water transportation and maybe, draw from the templates of what the state has rightly done and has promised to do with ground transportation. Though, attempts must be avoided to create a monopoly of sort on the licensing of private sector operators in Lagos Transportation ecology, it is indeed cheering that a formal collaboration with the private sector in all the three pronged solutionist transport efforts, will create more jobs and drive rural and urban development.
It is on this premise that the Sanwo-Olu dream efforts on water transportation should find bearing and acceleration. On Sunday, during a chat on Channels Television, Sanwo-Olu explained the desire of his government to refocus attention on water transportation, with the acquisition of more boats for Lagos State Ferry Service, empowerment of Lagos Waterways Authority (LASWA) and the building of additional jetties, about 16 of such jetties to be commissioned soon.
These are great strides and indeed signs of unbelievable enthusiasm to turn around the fortunes of Lagos water transportation business. However, one is at loss and confused about the governor’s intention to fund a state run water transportation outfit when both the past and future records, shows that it an effort bound to fail and therefore not sustainable.
According to the governor, Lagos ferry recorded over 700 passengers movement in its first year of operation, yet left us in darkness at what cost and other failings. No doubt, the political awareness of such presence may sound attractive to our listening governor, however certain painful but truthful economic realities must engage the agenda to discontinue a state owned water transportation enterprise.
First, there are the realities that Lagos private boat operators, some with heritage background in the business, runs about eighty percent of the entire water transportation architecture in the state. To their credit and dedication, they created and serviced routes, some very difficult for any government business to engage and sustain, built and founded jetties in some very remote littoral communities, creating jobs and supporting rural cultural tourism products and services.
Though, those who hate their very organised presence may nose up at the absence or lack of classroom certificates of most of the operators, there are however no doubt that their practical knowledge and skills on sailing, boat repairs and maintenance, surpasses that of government ferry managers.
Indeed, where there was collaboration as was done and sustained during the era of Governor Ahmed Tinubu in Lagos. I was a veritable witness and his commissioner for Transportation, Barrister Muiz Banire, a living iconic relationship driver of the Tinubu vision.
From Victoria Island, Ikorodu, Badore, Epe, Oworonshoki, Apapa, kirikiri, Ajegunle, Mile 2 to Badagry, Iyana Ipaja and other littoral communities in Lagos, Banire, in collaboration with the organised private boat operators, understudied the Lagos water transportation frontiers and helped in advancing future growth expectations.
That was the true historical beginning of Lagos attempt to factor water transportation in its growth agenda. Tinubu knew and I am sure Banire too, that the future prosperity in harnessing the water transportation gold mine in Lagos lies with the private sector. That process gave birth to Badore and Ikorodu corridors, and today the same heritage boat operators, are being discarded in the operationalization of Lagos water transportation.
I dare say it won’t work, no matter how much we clap for the statistical inappropriateness bandied about the one year presence of Lagos Ferry. Let me add, that governor Tinubu gave the operators large latitude to operate, such as easy access to waterfront lands for development, concession of state-owned jetties and affordable taxes and levies, knowing that most of them have low financial capacity, but known verifiable partners in development and job creation.
Though this is not about Tinubu and Banire, one believes that such past efforts must be revisited to truly get the Lagos water transportation agenda going. Fashola did the same when he was in Lagos. He did not only scrap the Lagos Ferry Service, he helped private sector operators to be at forefront of running the show.
It is certainly the desire of most Lagosians to have an effective and secured water transportation economy but the present posture of Sanwo-Olu to run the private sector boat operators out of the waters, has no future benefits attached to it, except as a political badge.
Lagos Ferry Service is back on a mere enthusiasm and those who truly understands the water transportation economy in Lagos, knows it won’t be long before committees to investigate its operational failings would be inaugurated, not because the agency has not done well in moving passengers but because realities and returns on investment do not tally with the push and splash on water.
One area where Sanwo-Olu should pay attention is to help the heritage boats operators with leased boats, not the wasteful and expensive big ferries, but water taxis for five, 10 and 20 passengers.
Same measure of support, Sanwo-Olu has in mind for Operators of Yellow buses in Lagos, should also be extended to the private Lagos boat Operators and am sure, the win win situation, will favour the government more as it would easily recoup its investment in boat leasing to Operators than it is presenting doing on Lagos ferry services.
If the governor and his advisers are in doubt, they should run an expremental scheme on the lease agreement and see which one pays, not just on financial returns, but on the bench mark of job creation and empowerment of Lagos unemployment young persons, including support to craft and Cultural tourism in the rural areas.
Further to this very important engagement, is the need to stop the under hand practices of the Lagos ferry service which by its very huge funding by the governor, has engaged in alleged Operational confrontation through fare cuts, undermining private boats who borrow huge money from the banks and also pushing for sole proprietorship over government jetties built with taxes payers money. This certainly is unfair competition which the state government must not encourage.
Am not sure governor Babajide Sanwuolu has the facts of this dislocations and disharmony presently ongoing across Lagos waters, yet am convinced that a people oriented water transportation policy that will engage in the provision of enabling environment such as “ Operational” jetties, fuel stations along designated routes, empowerment of marine police and other security agencies, removal of wreck and a community driven waterways clean up initiative, is not too much to pray for.
Today, the reality on Lagos Waterways, is that the private sector boat operators has shown guts and grits, opening new routes, constructing jetties where government presence is lacking, creating jobs and moving beyond the brown water economic borders, generating confidence and patronage of the Nigerian dream.
Before governor Babajide Sanwuolu took the historical trip with the Nigerian football team to Porto Novo, it is to the credit of the organised private boat operators in Lagos that the route was opened and run effectively even till today. These guys knows the terrain, understand the business and should therefore be at behest of public private sector initiatives on water transportation in Lagos.
From Victoria island, Ikorodu, Badore, Epe, Ebute Ero, CMS, Ojoo, mile two, Mazamaza, Badagry, the very positive presence and response of the Lagos organised private sector players to water transportation in Lagos cannot be wished away or intimidated.
Let our listening governor Babajide Sanwuolu, take a second look at the Lagos water transportation policy and offer open hands of friendship and collaboration to the Lagos organised boat operators and see how the glory of Lagos Waterways shines forth.