Why some government officials are frustrating our association –Boat operators

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Mr. Ganiyu Sekoni Balogun is the Managing Director, Tarzan Marine Enterprises Nigeria Limited as well as the President, Association of Tourism, Boat Operators and Water Transport of Nigeria (ATBOWATN). In this interview with newsmen in Lagos, he talked about the effect of the devaluation of the Naira as well as the dwindling oil price in the international market to their business, the rising incidences of robbery at the nation’s inland waterways, the challenges of policing the waterways effectively and many more. Our correspondent was there and filed in this piece. Excerpts;

Can we meet you sir?

I am Ganiyu Sekoni Balogun, popularly known as Tarzan the Boatman. I am the MD of Tarzan Marine Enterprises Nigeria Limited. Our profession is water transportation and aquatic tourism and I am the President of the Boat Operators of Nigeria called ATBOWATN –Association of Tourism, Boat Operators and Water Transport of Nigeria. That’s me.

Between late last year and now, Nigeria has witnessed the dwindling price in oil prices as well as the effect of the devaluation of the Naira. How has this impacted on your business so far?

Well, I used to say when the going is tough, the tough gets going. As a Nigerian, I don’t have two countries, it is only one country that I have and that is Nigeria. People run away from this country but I don’t think it is the best; we need to stay here and sought it out. Yes, the devaluation of Naira had done a lot of harm to our business because most of the spare parts we use in our boats or the engine are all imported and we spend some dollars where we buy from, either from Dubai or in America, anywhere in the world, it is the Naira that you are going to exchange for dollars.

And then the Petrol issue, that is another terrible issue because it is not my style of increasing our fare in transport on waterways because the price of the pump is being increased but you know we even buy fuel for N150 per litre almost up to N200 per litre sometimes, it depends on where you get the fuel, which of course I think is going to be temporary. Right now as I am coming, I saw queues on the fuel stations and unfortunately for us we don’t have fuel stations on the water ways that we can just take our boats to even it is N200 per litre to buy. So, you still need to go the queue and buy and while the fuel attendants will be telling you that they don’t want to sell in jericans because of the queue that is very long. So, it is very difficult to get the fuel to run the boats.

Talking about the fuel issue, we discovered that during the last fuel scarcity in the country, almost everybody took to water transport and seeing the development as an opportunity, most of the boat operators started overloading their boats either to make more money or to be able to help more passengers meet up with their schedules especially at the Marina-Apapa route. Were you aware of this development? If yes, what is your association doing to discourage this trend knowing the danger inherent in the act?

Yes, just like every mode of transportation, the rail, the planes and then boats and cars, once there is a problem to get into your vehicle or to get to your means of transportation, people tends to take to waterways but our association, there is a fine for the drivers. If your boat is carrying passengers without life jackets, you pay N1000 and the passenger is paying N250 but if you overload the boat, that is another penalty for you.

So, it depends on the owner of the jetty, our members were warned, the person in-charge of the jetty should not allow the boat to leave if the boat if overloaded or if anybody is not wearing life jacket. But I will say that we can’t be everywhere, as a President, I can’t be everywhere. If the people follow the instructions given and especially the passengers, they contribute into this problem. The boat is not like vehicle, you know people hang on the back of these buses, you see them standing at the back of the bumper, you know crowded in the vehicles.

You know, the worst that could happen is may be the tyre of that bus will burst and then if it burst in a high speed, it could somersault but when we talk about the boat, once you overload it, that means the boat will be going into the water more and more and the capacity of the engine may not be able to lift the engine anymore as it supposed to lift it. And for that reason, there is a lot noise. Each time we are having our meeting which we do once every month to sensitize them about safety and all those things, you know, we told them a lot of things. But Apapa route, the boats that ply Marina-Apapa route are big boats, as far as I am concerned, they are very big boats and I think the owner of those boats will not want the boats to be overloaded because I think they are reputable companies that runs Apapa/Marina,

There are some other smaller boats that run from Marina to Igboelejo and some other smaller villages; I may not be able to talk about those ones but the ones that run from Apapa to Marina, I am quite sure they are reputable companies.

But those ones were the ones I am actually talking about, even when passengers sit four passengers to a seat, you still see some passengers standing behind the boats.

And you saw them?

Yes! It is not that I was told, I was part of the journey a number of occasion

That is recently?

Yes! During the last traffic gridlock on the Apapa roads

Well, that sounds strange to me.

But sir, does it mean that you don’t have taskforce on ground to monitor compliance of all these boat operators to your safety standards?

For now, I will be very factual with you because there is no point lying, we don’t have taskforce that goes round to go and check all these things because I know what I passed through on the way to go buy the boats. I can’t give my boat to taskforce people to go round. If I give the boat, who is going to give the fuel?

But as time goes on, unfortunately, you see, sorry to say this, there are some government officials that do not want the association to be strong, they don’t want it. I am just telling you because it is part of my experience that I know because if all us are able to come together, we will be able to speak with one voice and we will be able to contribute a lot of money to provide enough facilities. We don’t want to go to the government; we know that the government doesn’t have money and so on.

For instance, the Marine Police themselves, we found out that they could not be able to move their boats, sometimes their boats stuck here on the water and they could not lift it. So, we you can’t blame them for not… Sometimes, we try to even assist the Police by giving them fuel but it is not what we can continue. So, we continue to help the Police in any little way we can to see that they curb robberies here and there. The Police boat is slower than the passenger boat not to talk of the robbers’ boat, the pirates’           you know what I am trying to say, the Police boats are slower than the passenger boat talk more of the pirates’. You know the pirates, you can imagine the kind of engine they will have.

Anyway, the question you asked me is not on the security aspect but I am just telling you what I know. So, the taskforce issue, we are planning to have our own boat but as at now, not all the boat operators in Lagos state for instance are members of ATBOWATN. So there are some areas where we could not enforce our programmes because they are not our members, because there are some government agencies who do not want us to be one.

You said that some government agencies did not want you to come together, why did you say that?

Because of my experience and other people’s, for instance, they want another association to spring up while the one on ground is yet to be strong. We are supposed to have an umbrella body. ATBOWATN came up as a result of the efforts of the NTDC- Nigeria Tourism Development Corporation through the Ministry of Tourism during the Jubbrin Ayila’s Ministerial regime. At that particular time he said that they want an umbrella body of tourism practitioners in Nigeria. That is where EFTAN came up, after a while, EFTAN now decided that the groundnut sellers should have an association, the boat operators should have an association so that not everybody should come to the Ministry at any time to discuss about tourism business but the President and Secretary, go and represent the boat operators, the President and Secretary of NANTA go to represent your members in EFTAN, EFTAN will now be umbrella body.

But you know, we were doing very well but sometimes, some government officials did not want it to happen.

But what did they want to achieve with that?

As far as am concerned, if we are able to come together, they will not be able to push us right, left and centre where it will not be good for the boat operators. May be I should use that word, divide and rule, so while we are not together, they will be able to have their way and there are some agencies of government who really want us to be together because they know that if we are together, they will be able to speak to us collectively.

If they tell me or anybody that is the President of the association, say come, this is our plan, this is the programme on ground, he goes back and disseminate that information to people so that all of us can work together and it is a pity that that is happening. All these things that are happening on the waterways now, because I think you mentioned about the robbery issues, for instance, on Saturday last week, I was at Badore when I received a call from Ijede that there was a robbery going on at Ikorodu right now and their practice is after robbing people, they come to use boat. So, we should pass information to all our boat operators to stop operation and leave the place because when they come, they will just take your boat or even kill the boat driver and take the boat so that they can operate it on their own.

So, what I did was because of that information that I got, I passed it to other people and said look, they should park the boat, tell the passengers to go away for the mean time. I have jetty at Badore, so I removed all the boats that we are using out of the water because if it is on the water, even if we go away, they can get into it and use it. So, that way, once we are able to do that, Police people will be apprehend them when they get to the water and there is no boat to take them. But sometimes, they come with their own boats and once they get to the boat, nobody wants to wait for gun.

Last Saturday, they robbed my boat. We carried to some goods to Ladol, some construction materials, when they were coming back to Lagos around 7.pm, they left where they were at about 5pm, the boat was not moving fast, it was a barge, my boys said they were eight in number, they came into the boat and requested money from them and took their money, they took their phones.

But when the Captain saw a strange boat that was approaching their boat, he hid behind the cabin and used his phone to call me and reported that they were being robbed at Osborne. I came here, I took some Mobile Police, entered into the boat, by the time we got there, they were and gone because they didn’t have enough and the engine, they did not do anything to the engine because it was not easy to remove it. So, they bit the boys.

Suddenly, we are having rising incidences of robberies on waterways, not at the high sea now but at the inland waterways. Why you do you think these things are happening now?

I think the thing is generating from the problem of lack of job because you see, I look at other countries, advanced countries, if anything happens instead of going to kill the person, they will first of all take him, tell us why are you doing this, what is the reason behind it because they say there is no smoke without fire.

Yes! There are people that are criminally minded or that were just born to be wicked but they are very little, they are in the minority. But the robbery incidences are getting bigger, they are rising. I remember those days in the night at Takwa Bay, we go anywhere and come back around 12 midnight, it was safe. Now during the day, they are robbing people and I do tell especially our boat operators, this is another medium for me to say it, that one day; the robbers will stop boat in the middle of the water and now tell everybody to bring their phones just like they do on the road.

But the water is even worse than the land because there is nowhere for anybody to run to, if the shoot their gun on the boat, either the boat will explode because petrol is just there or the boat will sink, even as a result of panic on the part of the passengers, they can jump into the water by themselves.

So, waterways need to be properly policed. The answer to your question is because I think infrastructures are not there. One of the major problems is the infrastructure. A driver that receives N50, 000 per month as a salary, who need to provide borehole for himself, who need to provide security for himself, who need to buy electricity by himself with just 50, 000. I am not saying that what they are doing is right, I am only telling you that if those things are on ground, it will reduce the hardship or the expenses of people because even now, no light, then you have a generator and to even get the fuel to run the generator is another problem.

So, what I am trying to say is that it is the infrastructure that is not in place that is breeding more robbers, more criminals. That is my take on that one.

Let us be realistic, robbery had been on for a very long time but mostly on land. The incidences of the inland waterways robbery had been very minimal, sometimes in a year, you won’t hear about it. But in the last six months, we have had high profile robberies; we had a case at Lekki, the one at Ijede and one other incidence. Ijede’s own is less than one month. Why the sudden upsurge, why is it easy for the criminals to now capitalize on the waterways instead of their usual land culture, they now target the waterways. Why is it so?

Look, let me tell you, they don’t target the waterways; they use the waterways as escape route. I will tell you something, I am not really sure but I am thinking, I am sitting in a very strategic place that I can see things that go on. Between fifteen and ten years ago, in the waterways, you have Tarzan Boats and few boats, some expatriates boats that moves around for leisure and some other things but today, you can sit down here and in one hour, about twenty or fifty boats will pass through this place. Anytime I see some boats and I will be wondering, these boats, where are all these boats coming from? What are they doing? What is their job?

They use life jacket black in colour, I mean let us say that the boat capsized, people will not be able to see them and the idea of having an orange life jacket is for you to be able to be seen, for them to be sighted from a very far distance. That is one of the things I am saying here, that some government officials are not allowing our association to stand. That kind of thing should not be allowed, life jacket should be something you should sight from afar, infact, it should be the orange colour, all over the world, wherever you see boat operators, you see different colours life jackets now. So if this man in black life jacket gets involved in any accident, you will not see him. The boat they use is also black.

Whereas I remember at one of the NIWA’s seminar telling us about the colour of the boat, that it should be white and green. Most of my boats, one is there now, I have changed the colour to white and green. The ones we are operating in Badore now, we are changing the colour but most of these boat operators, they are not cooperating with government’s directive.

So, if all our boats are painted that colour, green and white as per water transportation, if you see any other boat that comes in, it will be easy for all of us to say, look oh! We have just seen a boat now and we don’t know the owner of that boat. It was then that they said that names should be written on the boats so that it will be easier to trace the owner of a boat in case of any crime. But that is not there because the governments even not one- the local, the state, the federal, everybody is going his own way.

Of course, I have said it many time at the meetings, the governments need o come together to be able to even control the operators but the state is going left, the federal is going right, the local government is going centre, then you don’t even know who is your boss, who is your master. I have said it that let the three of them come together and say, you be in charge, collect the revenue and give us our own share.

I have told them also that he who wears the shoes knows where it pinches. You see them sometimes going to build jetties that are not useful to us.

To be continued…

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