LESS than a week after the alarm raised over the despicable state of the country’s waterways, a boat mishap occurred in Lagos State on Wednesday, claiming three lives. Many passengers were injured and some were declared missing. About three weeks ago, 21 persons lost their lives in a similar tragedy. The latest accident happened at about 6:10 pm when two passenger speedboats collided along the creeks of the Irewe community in Ojo Local Government Area of the state. Ten passengers in a boat coming from Ojo jetty and eight passengers in another boat coming from Irewe community had a head-on collision. Thirteen of the passengers were rescued by the search and rescue team. Three sustained injuries, while another two, an adult and a child, were declared missing. It was the ninth tragedy on the Lagos waterways in the year, with more than 30 deaths recorded.
No doubt, there is a need to increase patronage on the waterways, particularly given the state of land and other forms of transport in the country. Services in the rail sector are still impaired by dilapidated infrastructure, in spite of the government’s promises over the years to give a fillip to the sector. Similarly, most of the major highways across the country are anything but motorable: their abysmal neglect due to corruption in official quarters has taken a huge toll. Therefore, transport on the waterways remains an alternative option that can bring relief to citizens because it is safe and largely affordable.
Sadly, the sector constitutes a source of worry because of the lack of governmental attention, deviation from standard practices, infrastructure deficit and the avarice of boat operators. These operators endanger the lives of hapless passengers by deploying rickety boats, overloading their vessels and speeding. The deplorable state of the sector is underscored by the revelation of the Lagos State Waterways Authority (LASWA) that there are, at the moment, about 30 illegal jetties patronised by more than 1,121 rickety boats plying the Lagos waterways alone. This anomaly incontrovertibly accounts for the rising spate of boat accidents with the attendant huge human and material losses.
Weak supervision, disregard for global best practices and whimsical enforcement of guidelines have combined to create an atmosphere of impunity in the sector. There is utter disdain for best practices among ferry operators, most of whom are said to be quacks. It is therefore no surprise that the number of passengers on board the boats is often based on their whims and caprices. Safety standards are compromised and, worse still, many of the passengers themselves lack the necessary awareness on safety issues and practices. Also of great concern is the claim by some stakeholders that human-created encumbrances such as logs and debris impede the movement of ferries on the waterways.
And rather disturbingly, the authorities saddled with guaranteeing sanity on the waterways appear to be indifferent and diffident. More often than not, they bark without biting. It is time they rose up to the responsibilities of their offices and took decisive action against the erring boat operators. The authorities at the federal and state levels need to ensure stricter control so as to improve safety of lives on the waterways. But beyond that, they need to attract big-time private investors to the sector. This has the potentiality to improve the overall national economy and well-being of the citizens. If travelling on the Lagoon is made more attractive through improved infrastructure and strict compliance with standards, human traffic in the sector will grow in leaps and bounds. And with time, the sector will be rid of quacks and owners of bad jetties.