NIWA waterways ambulance: Another waste of public asset

In 2018, the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) launched its first ambulance service, the NIWA Waterways Ambulance vessel, to ensure prompt rescue efforts during boat mishaps in Lagos. With numerous boat mishaps rocking the Lagos inland waterways in 2018, 2019 and 2020, the NIWA Waterways Ambulance has remained idle, and yet to be put to use, writes TOLA ADENUBI.

An ambulance is a medically equipped vehicle that transports patients to treatment facilities, such as hospitals. Typically, out-of-hospital medical care is also provided to the patient inside the ambulance. Ambulances are used to respond to medical emergencies by emergency medical services. For this purpose, they are generally equipped with flashing warning lights and sirens. They can rapidly transport paramedics and other first responders to the scene, carry equipment for administering emergency care and transport patients to hospital or other definitive care centres. Most ambulances use a design based on vans or pick-up trucks. Others take the form of motorcycles, cars, buses, aircraft and boats.


Lagos ferry traffic

With a daily movement of about 70,000 passengers on the Lagos waterways and a monthly movement of about 1.5 million passengers across the Lagos lagoon — according to statistics from the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA) — the lack of prompt response in emergency situations during boat mishaps has led many to their untimely death while trying to make use of the waterways as a means of transportation.

Due to the traffic gridlock that characterizes many road networks within the state, more people have looked towards the waterways for ease of transportation, and thus increased the rate of accidents on the Lagos lagoon over the years.

From Ikorodu to Badagry, the fatalities on the Lagos lagoon keep increasing as many people who close late from work on the island look to the waterways to get home on time and prepare for the next day’s work. Despite repeated calls by regulatory agencies of government both at the federal and state levels, many people still indulge in night trips on the Lagos lagoon due to a shortage of transport alternatives as a result of congestion on the roads.


Need for an ambulance

Following a dismal record in terms of prompt response to emergency situations on the waterways, the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) in December of 2018, inaugurated the first government-owned waterways ambulance for water transportation in order to help increase the survival rate of passengers trapped in emergency situations on the Lagos lagoon.

According to the then Managing Director of the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA), Senator Olorunbe Mamora, while inaugurating the Waterways Ambulance, “The aim of NIWA is to have accident free waterways transportation, hence the need to take adequate measures to manage accidents on our waterways.

“One of the measures is the ambulance being commissioned today. There will be more of these ambulances on our waterways soon. NIWA is putting everything in place to make sure that the safety of water transportation operators and passengers are secured, and this is being achieved by making sure that life jackets are made available always.”

With these words, many waterway users expressed optimism that the delay in reaching out to distressed boats which eventually increases the fatality rate on the state waterways will be over with the deployment of the NIWA Waterways Ambulance. However, more ambulances didn’t spring up as promised by the former NIWA boss, and the one that was commissioned that December has never been put to use during any emergency situation.


Any succour?

The NIWA Waterways Ambulance, according to investigations, has been sitting idle at the Tarzan jetty in Lagos since it was commissioned by the Authority in 2018. Checks by the Nigerian Tribune also revealed that even though the vessel has remained inactive for years since its commissioning, this has not been due to technical or mechanical fault, but inappropriate planning by the Authority.

According to findings, NIWA stationed two drivers to man the ambulance after its commissioning, but these drivers, employed on civil service basis like others, close by 4 pm or 5 pm every working day; thus leaving the facility unmanned once it is past closing hours or weekend. Speaking with the Nigerian Tribune exclusively, a boat operator who wouldn’t want his name in print out of fear of being persecuted, explained that because most emergency situations occur at nights, the NIWA Waterways Ambulance has remained jobless since it was commissioned in 2018.

According to the boat operator, “NIWA has an ambulance that is expected to be deployed for emergency situations on our waterways, but the vessel is there at the Tarzan jetty doing nothing since it was commissioned in 2018. The vessel is in good condition, well equipped with first aid equipment, but whenever there is a crisis on the Lagos lagoon, which occurs mostly at night due to poor visibility issues with boat driving, there is nobody to drive the vessel to the scene of the accident.

“The drivers stationed to man the vessel close by 4 pm or 5 pm. They are civil servants and they close for work like other civil servants. So, once it is late in the evening, and we have boat mishaps, NIWA will start making calls to nearby private boat operators to assist in the movement of men and logistics. That has been the trend for years now, and it’s one of the major reasons why the fatality rate on our waterways is high.”

When asked if the NIWA ambulance is fueled daily, the boat operator replied that “Even if it is fueled on an hourly basis, once there is nobody to drive the boat when issues occur on the waterways, the boat cannot move.

“Imagine if the drivers of the boat live in areas very far away from Lagos Island, how will they get to the ambulance on time and still drive it to the scene of the accident on the waterways? With the mad traffic situation in Lagos during closing period rush hours (5 pm to 9 pm), it will be unwise to ask a driver who probably lives very far away from the Island to start coming to pick an ambulance stationed at the Tarzan jetty (also on the island) for a rescue mission. When accidents happen, a prompt response is the immediate answer, and due to the fact that the drivers of the ambulance have closed and gone home, NIWA always look for other alternatives outside the ambulance; and this has always resulted in more deaths on the waterways because these alternatives are not always as equipped or as fast as the NIWA Waterways Ambulance


The way forward

For Mr Ganiyu Tarzan Balogun, the owner of the Tarzan jetty where the NIWA Waterways Ambulance has been stationed all these years, the way forward is for NIWA to look inwards and begin a shift system among its workers/drivers.

Speaking with the Nigerian Tribune exclusively, Mr. Balogun confirmed that the NIWA Waterways ambulance had been in his jetty for years. In his words, “Yes, the NIWA Waterways ambulance has been in my jetty. It is not the only government-owned vessel in my jetty. There are others that belong to the Lagos State Government also in my jetty. I always ensure I collaborate with the government when it comes to waterways issues, and since they regulate us, I cannot turn them back if they need a space in my jetty to keep their vessel safe and secured. However, that does not mean the vessel is faulty. I always ask that the vessel be put back in water whenever the owners need it.

“On the issue that the vessel has never been used for any emergency boat mishap since it was commissioned, that has largely been due to the fact that people that ought to drive the vessel may have gone home since boat accidents occur mostly at nights. However, if NIWA can have a shift arrangement for its drivers or workers, that is if some drivers resume by 6 am and hand over to another set of drivers by 6 pm, then we won’t have this issue of having nobody to quickly manoeuvre the ambulance in an emergency situation.

“You know it’s an ambulance, and can be faster in movement than the conventional vessel used by private boat operators. So if NIWA does shift arrangement for its workers, and some people resume by 6 pm and work with the vessel till 6 am in the morning, there won’t be a need to start calling for alternatives once an emergency occurs.  This is, however, subject to the proximity of where the emergency occurred and that is why there is a need for the Authority to have more than one ambulance so that it can conveniently cover the whole stretch of the Lagos lagoon.”


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