Francis Ezem

The newly appointed Managing Director of the National Inland Waterways Authority NIWA, Dr. George Moghalu has assured that the authority under his watch is putting measures in place that would make water transport the preferred choice for the movement of all types of bulk cargo and persons in the country.

He also disclosed that the concession processes of the Onitsha and Baro River Ports, which were completed some years back are ongoing and that no preferred bidder has emerged, contrary to speculations in some quarters.

Recall Dr. Moghalu was appointed by President Mohammadu Buhari about four months ago, after winch he embarked on a tour of the agency’s areas of jurisdiction.

While speaking with newsmen shortly after a stakeholders’ meeting in Lagos Friday, the MD disclosed that his target was to remove all impediments to effective, efficient and safe inland water transport system in the country in order to make it the preferred choice.

According to him, the priority of the authority is to work out a system whereby all bulk cargoes and persons in Lagos, which he described as Nigeria’s marine capital would be moved through inland transport as a way of reducing the pressure on the roads and by so doing curtail the perennial gridlock on seaport access roads and other parts of Apapa, which houses the nation’s two biggest and busiest cargo seaports; the Lagos Ports Complex and Tin Can Island Ports Complex.

As part of efforts to achieve this target, the MD had on assumption of office about four months ago commenced the clearing of the waterways by removing water hyacienth, wrecks and other things that pose threats to safe navigation on the inland waterways.

In addition, the authority has commenced the construction of new jetties, especially in Lagos to complement existing one while rehabilitation work on old ones are also ongoing to enhance safe and secure navigation.

It was further gathered that the agency has also commenced strict regulation of safety standards among ferry operators. In line with this, the agency is currently working towards automation of its ferry registration and licensing procedures with a view to removing quacks and substandard ferries.

“We have observed with deep concern the issue of increasing boat accidents on our waterways. It has been observed that such accidents happen mostly at night or early in the morning. We have instructed our area offices to henceforth start arresting substandard ferry operators. No more rickety ferries on our waterways. The Marine Police has also been alerted.

“Henceforth any ferry operating without navigational equipment would be arrested. The reason we are automating our registration and licensing procedures is to ensure that a boat operator does not violate the law for instance in Lagos and run to Port Harcourt, the operator would be easily apprehended. In fact we are designing a licensing sticker that would be pasted on all duly licensed and registered boats for easy identification and once you are registered anywhere in Nigeria, you can operate in any part of the country”, he said.

While speaking on the progress made in terms of concession of Onitsha and Baro River Ports, he insisted that both ports have been fully completed while the Oguta River Port was about 60 per cent completed but abandoned, even as some of the facilities were already getting dilapidated.

He however noted that while Onitsha was about being concessioned, the Baro has the challenge of poor road infrastructure, which is a major disincentive to would be investors. He however disclosed that the authority has opened talks with the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing and the Niger State Government on the need to urgently fix the access road in order to attract would be investors.

He therefore called on the private sector operators to show more interest in the area of inland water transportation as a way of complementing the efforts of the authority in terms of upgrading the nation’s inland waterways by removing all impediments to smooth and safe navigation in the country.