Engr. Sarat Omolara Braimah is the Area Manager, National Inland Waterways Authority, Lagos Area Office. In this interview with our correspondent in Lagos on Wednesday, she opened up on the rising incidences of boat mishaps in Lagos area, efforts to stem the tide, the rivalry between NIWA and Lagos State Waterways Authority (LASWA) and how they are collaborating to ensure safer waterways and so much more. Excerpts;
In recent times, we have witnessed an upsurge in boat mishaps particularly in Lagos Area. Madam, are you bothered by this development and if you are, what is your office doing in particular to stem this tide?
Thank you so much. There is no reason why we will not be bothered. We are so bothered; we are concerned because lives matter to us. That is why the National Inland Waterways Authority has set up a new Search and Rescue Team, Safety Campaign Team to curb the incessant mishaps on our waterways. The groups are divided in three zones, we have the one that will cover from Apapa to Badagry, we have the one that will cover from Ebute-Ero to Ikorodu and the one that will cover from VI to Epe on 24 hours daily patrol. This is to curb undisciplined captains that we have driving boats on our waterways. We want to curb their excesses because most of them lack the necessary training that is needed to drive boats on our inland waterways. The Managing Director, National Inland Waterways Authority, Dr. Muoghalu has just approved for us to train captains from September. We collating their names and companies so that we can start the training immediately.
We are partnering with a life jacket company that has imported new life jackets, standardized and approved by the National Inland Waterways Authority and this is what people are going to be used henceforth on our waterways because we found out that from the recent boat mishaps, some are avoidable ones. They were careless on the part of the captains; some were due to panic on the part of the boat users. That is why we want to do a safety campaign, we want to take a week, maybe this month or next month so that we can go round and do a safety campaign, tell the water users what they are supposed to do in case of an emergency.
For example, the mishap that happened at Kirikiri, the boat capsized because people stood up in panic when the engine stopped working. The captain has already called for evacuation. So, when the boat came, all of them stood up at the same time and that tilted the boat and that was why casualties were so much because they ran under a barge. So, it was difficult to save lives. But it is sad because before June, the last mishap we had was about seven or eight months ago, we were able to monitor what is happening and curb as much as possible. Unfortunately, this June but we are on top of the game, we have put our policemen in all jetties now so that nobody will go pass 6 o’clock because we can see that two out of them happened in the night. If it was day time, we can be able to monitor what is happening.
Nevertheless, we have partnered with the Marine Police to do night patrols because you cannot beat them, they will always want to do what they are not supposed to do. So, we want to go there even at night to see what people are doing on the waterways.
In the course of your intervention, you agreed that two of the boat mishaps happened in the night, is there no mechanism in place to ensure that once it is 6pm, no further boat is allowed to load at that particular time because sometimes, it seems that civil servant close by 4pm and in some cases, 5pm and once they close, everybody goes home, nobody cares to monitor what is happening at the jetties at that point in time?
At our jetties, we don’t close, even when we are civil servants, we have somebody staying permanently in the yard. That is why you will see that this CMS jetty, people are there; our policemen are permanently living there. They have their station there, so nobody can load pass 6pm. The people we know that they cannot do without them loading in the night which are these people living at Takwa Bay, they are on the island, the only means of going to their place is through water. We gave them a boat, standardized boat that is NIWA’s own that we know can navigate at night. We don’t allow those small boats because they don’t have navigational aids.
It is not as if people don’t move at night in other countries, it is not that it is dangerous to drive at night but it is because we are not yet ready for that, our waterways are not yey developed to that extent; lightening. You see, a boat that should move at night should be well lighted coupled with navigational aids. So, that is why we are trying to curb movement at night because you cannot say this one is fit, this one is not fit. For now, no night travel.
And on the issue of the one that happened at Ikorodu, some say the guy ran into a wreck. Since last year, we know that wreck is a problem in our navigational waters. So, we approved for the removal of wrecks, we started from Port Novo creek in Kirikiri, Badagry creek, we have done that, Oyinbo waterfront, they have done the removal of wrecks. This year’s budget is for Apapa down to Ikorodu which we will definitely do. If not for the Coronavirus pandemic, we would have done it.
Talking about wreck removal, we know that wreck is one of the causes of boat mishaps, then another of one is the lack of navigational aids. For years now, this issue of putting navigational aids has become a recurring decimal. Madam, how long will it take us to achieve this?
What we do is putting navigational aids on waterways, the first thing we are supposed to do is charting the whole waterways to know which routes are navigable which we have finished doing. They just sent to me the chart of all Lagos inland waterways now. So, after this charting, the next thing we will doing is putting navigational buoys. So, it is not as if we are keeping quiet, we know, you can see them on my wall, all inland waters right from the boundry between Nigeria and Benin Republic, all over’ Lagos lagoon, Lekki lagoon, Badagry lagoon, Port Novo Creek, Elegbata creek, all have been charted by the National Inland Waterways Authority now .
Is there any way the rivalry between NIWA and LASWA is contributing to the rising boat mishaps on Lagos waters in terms of enforcement and the likes?
It is not contributing to this because we are working together on safety aspect. We have joint team that is checking how safe your engines are before you board. They were at Ikorodu yesterday, today, they are doing CMS jointly. So, I don’t think there is any rivalry that can…As I am talking now, the two parties, they are six of them in the team, two from LASWA, four from NIWA. They are at Marina jetty now checking for their engines because we don’t want people that will get midstream and their engine will stop working.
How do you intend to tackle the issue of overloading of boats by operators because this morning, someone shared some pictures of an overloaded boat in the Ikorodu area of Lagos…?
You see, there are guidelines, you know before the Covid era, there was a specific number that a boat was supposed to carry but during the Covid, 60 percent was approved. However, last week, we just went back to the normal capacity and we gave the number that must be carried because we see that overloading is a serious issue and there is no way a boat will be balanced when you overload it. So, at every jetty, I know that there safety marshals checking how many passengers a boat is carrying. You are telling me now that it is at Ikorodu, if it is Lagos state jetty, I will find out because they are supposed to monitor what they are loading.
These Safety Marshals and Water Guards, what mechanism is in place to see that they are not compromising standard regulations?
Randomly, we check them too, as in unscheduled visits twice in a week. Randomly, the Head of Marine with his team just go in disguise to see what their activities are. Yes, we know that sometimes they compromise the standard we give to check and that is why we have decided to change them at intervals too. We just highlighted it yesterday here that we should be changing them at least quarterly.
Third Mainland Bridge is undergoing repairs and as a result is partially closed, how would you maximize this period to ensure availability of boats at designated jetties to convey passengers to their destinations at any time of the day?
You see, we opened more than five new routes because of the partial closure of the third mainland bridge and we know that inward Lagos in the morning is busy, that is why they are there from 6 o’clock in the morning till 11.am. By 11 o’clock, this third mainland bridge is open to people. So, there will be less traffic. Even if they are there, you will not see passengers on water and you see, running without passengers, is not easy for any boat operator. That is why that time management is there, from 6am to 11am and in the evening from 4pm to 6pm. These are the peak periods.
We discovered that because of the difficulties faced by commuters as a result of the ongoing road reconstruction in Apapa, most importers and their agents have taken to using barges to evacuate their cargoes from the seaports and sometimes, we hear of some people losing their goods as they usually fall inside the waters. What mechanism are you putting place to check this issue?
You see, this barge operation is new to everybody because of the gridlock in Apapa and the National Inland Waterways Authority set rules and regulations, guidelines. I took over September last year as the Area Manager here, November 23rd; I had a meeting with the barge operators. They have an association that is called Barge Operators Association of Nigeria. Their President, all of them were here and we strictly told them because it is new, we knew that all of these will happen but we don’t want to experience what is happening on the road on waters. Accidents and containers falling during haulage, we don’t want it to happen on our waters.
So, we have them guidelines. I know it is only once that we had an incidence of containers falling into water and that was because the container double sacked and it was passing under the Carter Bridge. So, the tide movement changed and it hit the bridge and tilted and the containers fell. And after then, the captain was arrested by us, was detained and prosecuted and after then, we have not seen any other incident because our patrol team, we have told them we don’t want double sacking because that was the cause.
If they are using self-propelled barge, you can double sack but with the tug boat that is not seeing what is at the back, you cannot do that. So, I think they are maintaining that on that route. Where you can see containers double sacking is at Mile 2 where there is no bridge that can disturb navigation. So, we are seriously regulating the activities of the barges.
Talking about arresting the operator, somebody should be there when these people were loading or flouting the NIWA operational standards, is not possible to also get the schedule officer arrested and tried for negligence?
You know they are loading from NPA terminals which are not within our jurisdiction. They are at the seaports, so it was at the port that they load and going to Ikorodu, that was when that happened. So, there was nobody to hold responsible. But the NPA, NIWA, NIMASA, we have had a meeting because all them have NPA permit before they load from the ports and then come to the inland waters to get the National Inland Waterways Authority’s permit. So, we are working hand in hand with NPA for safety and loading. So, that is why you have seen the reduction in their misbehavior on waters.
Has there been any case of diversion of cargoes on waters reported to your office and if there is, how do you intend to tackle it?
Last two or three months ago, we learnt the Nigeria Customs Service wanted to ban barge movement because of diversion but there was a meeting by all the stakeholders which says if there is anything like that, it should be custom officials that should be held responsible not the barge operators because every good leaving the ports are being checked. So, how are they diverted?
Going forward, what should we expect from your office?
Going forward, we should see safer waterways because we are trying to do a massive training that has never happened before. We want to use different languages to train these captains because some of them are not literate. So, we have seen that what we need is practical training, tell them what they are supposed to tell people in case of emergency, communicate. At every jetty now, we want to put safety officer that will talk about safety before you board a boat, tell you what you should because sometimes, accidents are inevitable. The only thing we pray for is not to lose life.
So, when the accident happens, there are emergency number which we have on leaflets, they will call these numbers, these people live in NIWA, they live in the office on schedule. Some people stay here permanently in case of emergency. So, when these numbers are called, they can always get in there and render assistance. But the first thing is don’t panic, if you are on water and there is emergency, stay calm because if there is panic, you might not know what to do especially when you are in this open boats. These open boats, if you stay and did not unbalance the boat, if you are wearing the right jacket, even if you are on water, you will float until rescue comes.
So, I am using this medium to tell Nigerians to be safety conscious.
Photo: The Managing Director, NIWA, Dr. George Moghalu.
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