Hajia Inna Maryam Ciroma is the Director-General, National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA). She visited Lagos recently on a one-day working visit where she spoke to some journalists on some burning issues in the Authority ranging from the ongoing feud between the NIWA and the Lagos state Waterways Authority (LASWA) among other salient issues. Our correspondent was at the parley and filed in this interview piece. Excerpts;
You spoke about the feud between NIWA and the Lagos State government. Can you give us an update, at what point are you now? Who has the jurisdiction over the inland Waterways?
I think there is no contest at all. All along, we know that we are on the right path because the federal government established NIWA in its wisdom. NIWA has always been there, it used to be Inland Waterways Department in the Federal Ministry of Transport. It was upgraded to a whole agency and it became the National Inland Waterways Authority established by a Decree and later by a pronouncement of the National Assembly.
So, it is a Federal law. Lagos established their own Lagos State Waterways Authority, which cannot stand, and we are all witnesses to the declaration of the court, the court has spoken. Aggrieved Nigerians went to court and the court made a proclamation on that, the court said that the state governments have no business regulating Inland waterways in the country. So, that is where we stand.
As far as we are concerned, no state has the right to regulate on our Inland Waterways because from the sea, Inland waters up to our borders belongs to the Federal government of Nigeria and NIWA has the responsibility, has the mandate to regulate inland waters.
Still on regulation, for those who ply the inland waterways, some of them responded and said that they can feel more confident if they can see the presence of NIWA officials along the waterways. What is your take on that?
Well, we are doing our best because we have been on the waters, we have our security posts that patrol the waters, we have our jetties, and we have the regulatory framework of the inland waters. So, NIWA is really in-charge, we are on the waters and we are doing our work.
What we have to do is to increase the number of our patrol boats, the security and enforce the rules and regulations. What we have started doing, will now show you that NIWA meant business.
What about Wreck removal?
Yes, wrecks are removed as they are surveyed. We need to survey them to know where they are located so we can remove them.
We have started the process of surveying the wrecks. We have started with Lagos, we have gotten a consultant who has done the survey, we have the report on my desk and we are looking at it. Wrecks removal is very essential because if we don’t remove the wrecks, they also cause accident.
The issue of optimizing the potentials on our waterways, water transportation, we are not yet there…(cut in).
It is very essential to us especially the media to help NIWA project the idea of taking to the waters. As the Board Member has rightly said, the lower River Niger has been dredged, Onitsha port is already in action, and we have at least two companies that have started using the Onitsha port. The Baro port will soon be commissioned, all our ports will soon be completed and once that is completed, we also want to appeal to the business community to ensure that they take to the waters because what we need to know is that worldwide, people no longer transport the heavy duty goods on the roads because the maintenance of the road is very expensive.
The water is cheap for the government to look after and the water as a means of transportation is also cheap. It will also prolong the life of our roads, it will reduce accidents on our roads.
It is important for the media to take up the campaign for Nigerians to use the dredged river Niger because if we don’t use it, then the effort of the government would have come to nothing. So, I will appeal to the media to please take up the campaign.
We have planned to go to the geopolitical zones to distribute the life jackets. We started with Niger state because that was where we recorded high casualty last rainy season. So, like I rightly said, we went and distributed in Niger state, today we are in the South West. As the General Manager Corporate Affairs said, we intend to go to the South-South, we are covering the whole country.
Laying of buoys on the waters, how well so far?
If we don’t lay buoys, then you are also causing problems. Initially, we had buoys on the lower river Niger before it was dredged, the flood of 2012 took away our buoys, we just lost them.
Now, we are trying to re-buoy the lower river Niger, we have purchased new buoys, we are now on the process of laying buoys on river Niger.
Some ferry commuters don’t usually agree to make use of the life jackets. What is the Authority’s plan towards ensuring compliance?
It is very important for us to also ensure that rules and regulations are obeyed, if we say that you must wear life jacket, definitely, it must be obeyed. What is the use of having life jackets if they are not used? So, it is important for us to enforce that people use life jackets. Just like the crash helmet, in Nigeria when crash helmet was introduced, some people rejected it, they will not wear crash helmet but it was to save life.
So, what we are saying is that life jackets must be used and we shall continue to enforce it. Once the safety code comes on board, it is going to be in the safety code. So we are going to enforce it, we have our area offices all over, we have the police. So, we are going to enforce it.