So many experts have said that it is time Nigeria begins to consciously harness the huge potentials of its vast coastal resources. Largely, the manangement of these resources fall within the purview of National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA). In this interview, Mu’azu Sambo, an astute professional and the Lagos Area Manager of National Inland Waterways AuthorityAuthority(NIWA) throws more light on their Operations, Challenges, Safety Measures, Readiness to Promptly Respond to Crises and the Recent Boost in Water Transportation in Lagos. Enjoy this piece!
ABOUT NATIONAL INLAND WATERWAYS AUTHORITY (NIWA)
The National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) is an agency of government formed from the erstwhile Waterways Department of the Federal Ministry of Transport to give government the focus that is required in developing the fourth module of transportation; road, rail and air having been developed to sufficient levels in Nigeria.
Our core mandate is to develop maintain and sustain the over 10,000 kilometers of the rich waterways God has blessed Nigeria with in addition to our additional 850 kilometers coastline. Nigeria has the second largest waterways in Africa and in the world, it is also ranked 11th in the world. There’s a great deal of potential in waterways, not only the potential of providing an alternative means of moving goods and persons but creating opportunities for jobs and economic well being generally.
In a nutshell, the National Inland Waterways is a specialized agency of the Federal Government set up by law; the NIWA Act, Laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 2004, CAP N47 in order to give impetus to this matter of developing Inland Waterway transportation as an alternative means of moving goods and persons. It also has the mandate to transfer technology, technical know-how, and human capacity development in the maritime sub- sector.
The agency has a structure that consists of a Board of Directors appointed by Mr. President, a management team headed by the Managing Director who is also an appointee of the President and fourteen Area Officers spread across Nigeria, through which the Authority implements policies that are geared towards achieving its mandate.
Each area office is headed by an Area Manager. Lagos Area Office is one of the 14 area offices. It covers Lagos State and Ogun State. I assumed duty as Lagos Area Manager on the 27th of March 2013.
WORK AT LAGOS AREA OFFICE SO FAR
It has been very challenging but also very interesting. Challenging because of so many reasons.
First, Inland Waterways Transportation (IWT) is the least developed mode of transportation in Nigeria, and it is also highly capital intensive to develop because of the amount of resources required for channelization.
Secondly, Lagos has been having a running battle with the Lagos State Government because of the steps Lagos State Government took back in 2008 to repel the NIWA Act. An action that thankfully has been pronounced as unconstitutional and illegal by a court of competent jurisdiction-the Federal High Court sitting on the 24th of March 2014.
That challenge from Lagos State Government affected the ability of NIWA to forge ahead with its programs in Lagos. It also challenged NIWA’s ability to raise the much needed revenue for development. The waterways require so many things on an annual bases. Siltation happens every day. Water hyacinth comes every year. All these affect Water transport. There are pirates, only patrols can check this. And patrols are very expensive. Resources that were required for all these were not available to the agency.
Our clients also faced tremendous difficulties from the activities of the State Government all these years but I’m happy to say that since judgment was delivered last year, things began to look up. Now, we are stamping our foot to make sure that the court judgment is obeyed. The judgment has not been stayed and it cannot be stayed because it is a declaratory judgment. The best that the State Government could do, which they did, was to appeal. Pending the determination of that appeal, the judgment of the Federal High Court remains the Law of the Land today.
And so, no State government in Nigeria, not just Lagos State, has oversight responsibilities over Nigeria’s Inland Waterways and the reasons are very simple. In the constitution, you find that Maritime, Shipping and Navigation are under the Exclusive Legislative List and so, they cannot be legislated upon by any State House of Assembly. It is from that Exclusive Legislative List governing Maritime, Shipping and Navigation that the NIWA Act was derived from. That’s the Law and that’s how it should be.
With the judgment, we are happy that we are back to doing what the constitution states. The Government agencies themselves have stepped down, although not without some serious challenges on our side; they have decided to obey the court orders. The orders of the court have restrained the agencies from having any oversight functions in the Inland Waterways either as it affects Inland Water Transportation operations or dredging companies.
BUT OPERATORS ARE STILL PAY STATE GOVERNMENTS TO PLY THE WATERS…
They don’t have to. To the best of my knowledge, no water transporter now pays anything to Lagos State Government. If they do, it is unlawful.
WHAT HAPPENS IF OPERATORS ARE HARASSED FOR NOT PAYING THESE ILLEGAL DUES?
If they are harassed, they have been informed in writing to report to the National Inland Waterways Police Command.
By the way, I forgot to mention when I was talking about NIWA’s structure that we also have a specialized Police Command established for the purpose of enforcing NIWA’s Law. That Police Command is headed by an Assistant Commissioner of Police based in Lokoja under whom you have Area Commanders in each Area office.
So, they have been asked to report any case of harassment to our Police Command and they in turn know what to do under the Police Act to anybody whether Government or not that flouts the Law of Land.
HAS THERE BEEN ANY RECENT BOOST IN WATER TRANSPORTATION IN LAGOS COMPARED TO PREVIOUS YEARS?
There’s been a very big boost compared to what we had before. I can shout that on the rooftop.
Before now, there were so many boat mishaps on our waters. NIWA has been very concerned about boat mishaps. I recall the sad case of the boat that capsized on its way from Elegbata to Majidun last year and a number of people lost their lives. In fact, we were so concerned that we made it a topic of discourse last year at our maiden International Conference and Exhibition.
We had International attendance from Maritime stakeholders and exhibition by boat builders, boat manufacturer, dredging companies etc. We talked about Safety, Security and many other things. One of the things identified as the major cause of this mishap is the use of inappropriate boats on our waterways. And so, we deliberately went on a search for investors who will bring in boats of international standards, to ferry people especially in Lagos.
We were lucky that sometimes in March this year, a company based in Sierra Leone, Sea Coach Group/Ferries approached us, and they have brought in nine brand new boats of world class standard. From here (CMS, Lagos) to Ikorodu will take 32minutes if you go on a boat. If you want to go by road, it’s a minimum of five hours. They also ply Apapa, and we realized how important that is during the gridlock when Apapa became inaccessible. Within that period of two weeks, using these boats and other two ferries we have at our CMS jetty, we moved thousands of passengers from this point.
We have also had enquiries from other companies. It’s not only Sea Coach. We are near finalizing a Public Private Partnership (PPP) with some other company that has approached us. They intend to move goods and persons from here to Tema in Ghana. Right now, we are waiting for approval from the Ministry; thereafter, we will sign the agreement. We are going to provide a terminal for them here in our premises where we will have Customs, Immigration, NAFDAC and all the agencies responsible for international movement of goods and persons. I’m sure that will further boost the economy of Lagos and Nigeria as a whole.
It will also serve people interested in the tourism sector, those who want to explore nature as they travel to neighboring countries. You don’t get to do that by road or by air. Once you have a comfortable boat, there’s nothing better than traveling by water. So, to answer your question, there’s a very big boost, from the previous standard, I will say we have witnessed a 50% boost. And by the time Sea Coach group starts manufacturing these boats here in Lagos as they want to do soon, these boats will be available for other people who also want to go into water transport business.
WHAT MEASURES DO YOU HAVE ON GROUND TO ENSURE THAT SAFETY STANDARDS ARE MAINTAINED IN BOATS PLYING OUR WATERWAYS?
First of all, structurally speaking, we have a Safety Compliance team and a Search and Rescue team in the Lagos Area office. The Safety Compliance team is made up of staff of the agency from the Maritime Department who visits jetties within Lagos and ensures that safety standards are always adhered to.
For example, one of the major considerations for safety is the life jacket. We ensure that life jackets are available and that they are of standard quality. And that operators insist that passengers wear the life jackets before they board their boats. Whenever the Safety Compliance team comes across substandard life jackets, they seize them and get them destroyed.
The Search and Rescue team is another arm of our Safety structure. They are based here in the area office. They live here 24hours. They have telephone numbers which we issue to operators should there be any mishap, they call and we respond swiftly with our patrol boats.
We have different patrol boats that ply at different speed-30 nautical miles, 40nautical miles. Of course if we have a distressed call, we use the fastest boat available.
SO WHAT’S THE SAFETY COMPLIANCE LEVEL IN LAGOS?
I will put it at about 65% to 70%. Lagos standards are very high because of the cosmopolitan nature of the city. The fact is that most people are knowledgeable here, and almost everybody is concerned about safety except for some remote jetties where we do not really get to go to as often as we ought. In between, you may find people not complying.
NIWA owns some jetties in Lagos at CMS, Apapa, Ijora, Oyingbo, Victoria Island. Other jetties are mostly privately owned but whether privately owned or government owned, NIWA by virtue of its Act has oversight responsibility of ensuring that all jetties comply with safety standards and the law generally.
THE NIGERIAN MARITIME ADMINISTRATION AND SAFETY AGENCY(NIMASA) ALSO MAINTAINS SAFETY WITHIN JETTIES GIVEN ITS MANDATE TO ENFORCE THE ISPS CODE. IN THIS CASE WOULDN’T THERE BE A CLASH IN YOUR RESPONSIBILITIES?
There’s no clash. The reason being that NIWA’s jurisdiction is the internal waters of Nigeria from the coastline to the Northern boundaries and the West and East boundaries whereas NIMASA’s jurisdiction is offshore, Nigeria.
BUT NIMASA ALSO VISITS JETTIES…
Let me tell you why. Remember that NIMASA is a child consummated from the merger of JOMALIC and NMA. Now JOMALIC if you remember was in charge of dock labour. Now, NIMASA has taken over that role and is interested in the Labour employed at every jetty. This is primarily why they visit these jetties. They do not to license Inland water jetties. No, that’s NIWA’s responsibility. And NIWA has got nothing to do with the dock labour at these jetties. Our responsibility is licensing them and ensuring that they comply with safety standards. So there’s no clash.
WHO PROVIDES CERTIFICATION FOR BOATS ESPECIALLY THOSE MANUFACTURED HERE IN NIGERIA
NIWA has responsibility for that too. We have experts that certify them. We have mechanical engineers, marine engineers, surveyors, all within our organization. We don’t outsource.
What happens is this; if you have a boat that you have manufactured locally or you have imported and you want to operate it on our waterways, then you must come to NIWA. When you do, we give you an application form to fill out. It cost just N2,500. Then, we go on inspection of that boat and if it meets engineering and safety standards, we issue Survey Certificate. That survey certificate is signed only by the Area Manager certifying that that boat is safe for the use of man.
After that, we also issue what we call Operator’s Permit, which is the equivalent of the motor vehicle license which you get every year from the Road Safety Commission or the VIO office as the case may be. There is a third document; the sticker. Operators paste this on their boats that way, when any patrol boat accost them for their papers and see the sticker; they know the boat is registered.
These papers are renewed annually in order to ensure that safety standards are maintained. We don’t want to fall into the case of Road transporters were vehicle licenses are renewed and road worthiness issued even without inspecting these vehicles. Each registered boat has a peculiar registration number.
In our own case, because of the tremendous risk involved in water transport and the need to protect lives, we ensure that these inspections are done physically. The vessels are tested and certified before we release the permits whether they are imported or manufactured locally.
LET’S SAY THERE IS A WARNING ABOUT A STORM COMING ON LAGOS WATERS AND YOU ISSUE A DIRECTIVE THAT OPERATORS SHOULD NOT TO PLY THE WATERS. DO YOU THINK THEY WILL HEED YOUR ADVICE ?
Before i respond to the storm scenario you painted, i will like to say that we do have quarterly meetings within this premises with all water transport operators. Here, at the Lagos Area office, we ensure that that is done. Every year, we have a minimum of four meetings during which issues are trashed out, challenges are discussed and solutions proffered.
To the specific question of communication when there’s storm, unfortunately, we do not have a body that does such research like the aviation sector which has the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET). There’s none specifically for maritime but I guess that since government is intertwined, nothing precludes us from obtaining this information from the Nigerian Metrological Agency, and making sure that this is disseminated to stakeholders on a regular basis.
Perhaps we can create a channel through which they can feed us with this information which we will in turn pass on to our stakeholders.
AS AN AGENCY, WHAT LESSONS HAVE YOU LEARNT ESPECIALLY FROM THE RECENT CHINA BOAT MISHAP AND IN WHAT WAYS ARE YOU WORKING TO ENSURE THAT SUCH SAD INCIDENTS ARE NOT REPLICATED HERE.
I will tell you one thing, there’s no level of preparation by man that can avoid a divinely ordained disaster. That is why even in contracts all over the world, they have a clause on force majeure. These are acts that are beyond the capacity of the human being. They are acts of God. But, we must be prepared and do everything necessary to avoid a disaster by making sure everything is hundred percent certified. Our means of communication must remain intact even as we ensure that those who should be reached can be reached.
To a certain extent, if a disaster is destined to occur and all these measures are taken care of, it be reduced to a very tolerable level. The lessons here are that we should adequately prepare, not just the vessel but also the psychology of passengers. We should also prepare our Search and Rescue and the Crew on board vessels. Not just in terms of training and capacity building but psychologically as well. They should be ready to remain calm and in control in the face of a disaster or trauma. That is very important.