Stereotypes, Water Transport and an emerging Megacity

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With a population closing in on 20 million residents, Lagos State is arguably the one of the fastest growing cities in the world. However, bereft of a functional mass rail transport system and bogged down by poor road network, commuting in the city can be gruelling. The irony is that while water bodies and wetlands cover over 40% of the total land area of the State with lagoons and creeks consisting 22%, Lagos has not cashed in on its potential for effective transportation and tourism. That is now set to change as General Manager, Lagos State Waterways Authority (LASWA), Mr Oluwadamilola Emmanuel, shares his vision for an integrated water transportation system driven by technology, efficiency and international best practices.

As the organization responsible for regulating, developing and managing all aspects of the waterways in Lagos State, take us through the journey so far?

LASWA: It will be a 12-year journey by August and basically it was born out of the need to alleviate the plight of commuters in Lagos State. Lagos is surrounded by water and a fifth of the entire landmass of the state is water. As a result of this, we saw a need to fully utilize and develop our waterways, which brought about the establishment of the Lagos Waterways Authority (LASWA) to regulate the inland waterways. LASWA has gradually evolved to begin to cater for commercial and private boat operators and basically improve water transportation in Lagos State in terms of policies, programmes and infrastructure.

The recent decision to enforce the State’s Traffic Reform Law of 2012 which has resulted in curbing operations of commercial tricycles and motorbikes, has suddenly thrown LASWA into the spotlight. Is this a challenge that this Agency has the capacity to manage?

LASWA: Absolutely, this is within our capacity because we are just meant to create an enabling environment and provide guidelines for operators. Recently, the Governor commissioned eight high capacity ferries which are meant to complement activities of private investors because over 70% of commercial boat operations are conducted by private operators. Government is only intervening to regulate the activities of private operators and to set benchmarks and standards in line with what we want to see on our waterways. However, capacity is not going to be met by government efforts alone as there must be a hybrid of both government and private operators. If these two come together then we are assured that the capacity will be met.

There are several narratives alluding to the lack of investment in waterways infrastructure. Tell us from your vantage position, what was responsible for this in a sector that holds so much promise?

LASWA: To be honest, the opportunities never get exhausted. Even after we have explored water transportation, there will always be other opportunities. So, I think it was one of those untapped opportunities. Let’s not also forget that most Lagosians have a phobia for water transportation. However, through LASWA’s initiatives, we have engaged in sensitization programmes to make people more aware and comfortable while transiting via the waterways. I think the attention the water transportation system is receiving is timely more so, because it is viable.

What has LASWA done to demystify water transportation and make it attractive to commuters?

LASWA: Basically, what causes phobia for water transportation is misinformation coupled with myths. What LASWA has done is to enlighten people on the use of life jackets. We also encourage commuters and ordinary Lagosians alike to learn how to swim. LASWA has carried out sensitization exercises to enable people know what to look out for while on-board and safety measures for boat transportation.

There have also been collaborations among stakeholders and one of the things LASWA has done is to expand into new routes in a bid to take the service closer to the people who need it. Initially, we started with about eight routes but now we have about 15 major routes on our waterways and a total of 30 routes all together. The Lagos State Government is trying to create multiple means of transportation which will result in intermodal connectivity between the roads and the water body for easy transportation within the Metropolis.

With regard to the cost of water transportation, I think people who push the narrative that water transportation should be cheap are not speaking from an informed perspective. That it is water transportation doesn’t mean it should be cheaper. The cost of a boat can’t be compared to the cost of a car. You’ll be amazed to know that one of the engines on a boat can buy one car. Generally, the operational cost for water transportation is expensive and because of that, it can’t be as cheap as road transport. The premium you are paying for is the cost of the time you would have spent on the road using other means of transportation. You’ll also like to know that maintaining the waterways is expensive. However, the government has decided to create a competitive environment to drive down the cost.

In terms of incentives to stimulate increased patronage of water transportation initiatives, is there an intention to subsidize water transportation?

LASWA: You have to be careful with subsidy because once you start you have to sustain it. One of the things the State government is doing to incentivize commuters and investors alike is to build more infrastructure, dredge the channels and the routes, set up emergency and rescue units, establish a waterways control room and introduce a LASWA Marine unit to rid the waterways of pollutants.

As lead authority for Waterways management in Lagos State, it is LASWA’s responsibility to set out safety guidelines and ensure they adhered to. What measures do you have in place and how would you rate compliance among operators?

LASWA: This has to do with constant enforcement of laws. We carry out enforcement through our patrol teams. Currently, we have two patrol boats which we deploy across the various divisions of the inland waterways in Lagos. These patrol boats go about enforcing safety rules and regulations. As a result of our enforcement policy, we have witnessed between 70 to 80 per cent life jacket compliance. We also carry out a bi-annual inspection of boats and regular on the spot checks of boats. We have also informed passengers to blow the whistle when they notice sharp practices.

Marine services are specialized in nature therefore there is need for training, retraining and certification of operators. What parameters guide LASWA in granting operating licenses, certifying boat operators, approving jetty locations and classification of boats suitable for Lagos waters?

LASWA: By law we are empowered to do these things, however, there is also a federal body, the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA). We also have to work hand in hand with NIWA to ensure that the requirements are adhered to. Our outlook is zero tolerance for non-compliance with the needed consequences and LASWA is committed to ensure that the boats on our waterways are duly registered with the Authority because we want to keep a data base and track record passenger compliance. Safety is a critical thing for us and we want to ensure that boats are actually safe and navigable for passengers. We are constantly developing and researching on the movement of goods on our water ways.

There is a Lagos State Drivers Training Institute for road transportation workers. Is there something similar for boat operators in this regard?

LASWA: Definitely but you know what we have to do is to collaborate. We have to work with the likes of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA). NIMASA issues certification but they don’t carry out practical tests; however, we have few schools that carry out practical tests. The Lagos State Government, instead of reinventing the wheel, will partner with the few existing institutions and we will have the pilots go for practical training. The Pilots’ Institute has been inactive for a long time but this administration has revived it.


It is common knowledge that Marine Assets are capital intensive. How is LASWA aligning with financial institutions, boat builders and investors to provide the essential assets and infrastructure needed for 21st century water transportation system?

LASWA: The function of the Government is to create the enabling environment for private investors in the water transportation system since government cannot run it entirely on its own. One of the things we are doing is to have Public Private Partnership (PPP) options, especially with regard to running the ferries, infrastructure, terminals and jetty management.

We are inviting potential investors who will be subjected to certain criteria to invest. We are also seeking investment in the areas of concession of ferries and infrastructure. This is what gave rise to the Uber Boat experiment.

Technology will play a big role in the planned integration of the Lagos Transport System to promote intermodalism. How are you leveraging technology to improve accessibility, promote passenger safety, increase patronage, simplify usage and maintain a database of commuters?

LASWA: It is a developing sector and technology has aided the development of the industry as seen in the Uber partnership. We wanted the pilot to happen so that we could assess how well technology can make water transportation more reliable, convenient, cost effective and safe. Technology is the next level for the water transportation and we know it is going to bring a lot more sanity to the waterways. With technology you can easily book a boat from the comfort of your home. This will also reduce the amount of passengers queuing to get tickets at the loading points. It is definitely going to bring a form of uniformity and orderliness to water transportation generally.

Marine pollution constitutes a danger to navigation. What is the Agency’s strategy to de-litter the waterways and discourage pollution of any form by coastal residents?

LASWA: We already have LAWMA Marine which has already started operations. They have about eight boats and 30 personnel and they are spread across the three divisions of the State. In addition, we have two machines to address the issues with water hyacinth and other debris. Currently, the eight boats cover the main locations. This year we are looking on how to expand as well, but until people stop littering the land we will continue to have dirt in our waterways. We are also trying to discourage citizens from dumping refuse illegally because they always find a way to the water body. On the other hand, we now make more innovative use of recovered water hyacinths. This year we are considering further development of the water hyacinths to harness its potential as a biogas.

In the not too distant past, NIWA and Lagos State government were embroiled in a tussle for control of Lagos waters. Today, the waters are calm. What is the ripple effect of the harmony that currently exists between your agencies?

LASWA: Even in our families siblings always fight and it is their responsibility to resolve it. We both signed an agreement and we are at a point where both committees meet to fine-tune activities on the waterways and avoid double taxation. The agreement was signed last year and the committees are meeting to streamline the areas of disparity, make it a unified policy and harmonize all the tariffs. We are both focused on the safety of the waterways.

With Nigeria’s security architecture stretched thin from fighting insecurity on many fronts, what is the level of collaboration with the Marine Police department and Naval outfits?

LASWA: Our role is to provide information for these agencies, they carry out operations and we store the report. In terms of security we rely more on Marine Police and the Navy.

With regards to infrastructure are you looking at introducing floating stations?

LASWA: Absolutely! We have already identified four locations, the first floating station is located in Falomo and we are planning on having others in Ikorodu, Ojo and another in the Badagry axis. The Ikorodu and Ojo axis which enjoy very heavy traffic will have the floating stations in not too distant future.

As much as we are trying to upgrade the water transportation system are you running the risk of making it too elitist with the introduction of technology and other gadgets?

LASWA: No, I don’t think so. Overseas, trains have bespoke cabins. The same thing will be applicable here on the waterways. Some people will want more comfort than others or decide to pay for premium. It is going to be accessible to everyone irrespective of your social status. .

With a population nearing 20 million, Lagosians have begun to encroach on inland waters with constructions, etc. What is LASWA’s position as it concerns Waterfront Infrastructure Development and how it impacts transport activities?

LASWA: We have a Ministry for Waterfront Infrastructure Development which we work with to identify locations in need of infrastructure. We will also ensure that it is set up in strategic places so that we are able to move people in appropriate ways and decongest the roads. We are very strategic in where we are locating waterways infrastructure; projecting into the future and where the future population goes to as well.

What is LASWA’s outlook for the future?

LASWA: I see LASWA as a world class regulatory Agency that is able to facilitate the movement of almost one million people across Lagos daily. We also want to be the relevant authority for waterways data in this region.

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