Patrons of Nigeria’s inland waterways have decried the untapped investment opportunities in the sub-sector.
They pointed out that, in the last few years, commuters, using the means of transportation, had increased by over 300 per cent across the country.
The operators, they said, might have been overwhelmed by the huge traffic.
The passengers have been screaming blue murder over the lack of adequate boats at the terminals.
For instance, in Lagos, despite the huge investment made by the state government to provide scores of passenger ferry boats, commuters across Ikorodu, Osborne, Mile 2, Badore, Ijegun-Egba and Ebute-Ojo ferry terminals are bitter over the lack of adequate boats at the terminals.
This, according to commuters, forces several people to drive their vehicles to their offices, thereby congesting traffic on the road.
A chartered accountant, Mr. Wole Adeola, lamented over inadequate ferries in the terminal, which made him and some of his friends to resort to driving their vehicles to Ikoyi and Victoria Island every day. The resident of Ogijo in Ikorodu, Lagos, urged the government to device a means to either provide more boats or create incentives to attract more investors to the sector. “If there are more boats plying the waterways, people who live in Ikorodu can easily access Lagos Island and that will decongest the road,” he said.
Aside from the absence of boat manufacturers, facility management and jetty operations are other viable opportunities for discerning investors.
A resident of Navy Town Barracks, Ojo, Lagos, Mr. Emmanuel Onazi, expects commercial banks and other investors to take over the management of jetty operations like some financial institutions did with the Bus Rapid Transport initiative of the Lagos State Government.
Narrating his experience at the Mile 2 ferry terminal, he noted that there were times the life jacket would not go round the commuters or the terminal staff would be unruly. He argued that these would not have happened if the operations were coordinated by the private sector.
“Government has no business in the management and operations of the terminals. They just need to provide the infrastructure needed,” he said.
The increasing insecurity on Nigerian waterways, especially in the Niger Delta axis, is another caveat emptor.
As far as Mrs. Obianuju Owoeye, a Delta State-born human relations expert, is concerned, the sub-sector may not attract the needed investment if illegal activities of some restive youths living along the coastal areas are not tackled.
Her concern is that the security threat scares potential investors from tapping into the viable business opportunities, which water transport offers.
“Investment apathy on the part of both foreign and local investors hinders the growth of our inland waterways because investors are skeptical about providing passenger boats and cargo barges,” she explained.
Another bottleneck facing the Nigerian inland water transport sub-sector is the recent hike in import duties, which scares investors from the under-developed industry.
Pastor Dare Oyeduntan, an Information Technology expert and a commuter, lamented that both the federal and state governments needed to encourage entrepreneurs, who were interested in investing in the sector if they were determined to diversify the economy.
According to him, the recent 70 percent hike in duties on imported goods by the Nigeria Customs is a step in the wrong direction.
“This is neither good for boating business nor is it a way to restore investors’ confidence in our economy. That is why a lot of people deliberately don’t want to invest in boating business or water transport because of policy summersault,” he said.
MULTIPLE TAXES KILLING THE INDUSTRY - EXPERTS
Stakeholders and experts have blamed both the federal and state governments for the poor state of the sub-sector.
The Chief Executive Officer, Bras Marine, the only boat company in Nigeria, Mr. Abayomi Sonuga, explained that the growth of the industry was impeded by multiple taxations imposed on water transport operators by both governments.
He disclosed that multiple taxes and levies, which operators had to pay to both state and federal waterways authorities did not only impede the growth of water transport business by making the business unprofitable to investors, “but had also made many operators to shut down due to high operating costs.”
Aside from the multiple taxes, the Chief Executive Officer, Tarzan Marine, Mr. Tarzan Balogun, expressed worries that some security policies also hindered full operations of the operators, especially in Lagos State.
Since the bombing of Atlas Cover near Tarkwa Bay, Lagos, the Tarzan boss said the Nigerian Navy had limited the timing of operation for
commercial boat operators on Lagos waters.
“The Navy said it was a security measure, and this acts as a bottleneck to the growth of inland water business. It makes water transport business expensive and unattractive in Nigeria,” he stated.
Rather than the old models, a marine engineer, Mr. Adeniyi Ajibade, urged potential boat makers to build lighter boats with modern technology so that it could be cheaper to buy and easy to navigate through the water.
“There are clear indications that the need for locally built boats will increase in the nearest future, if our government can showcase the potentials in the sub-sector to the investing public,” he said.
Sonuga added that, although the number of boats and yacht had increased significantly compared to what was obtainable in the last 10 years, the industry still lacked quality after sales services.
This, he noted, included engineers that could repair the engines of modern technology boats in the country.
“The sub-sector may suffer a great setback because there are more quacks, who can fix boats with half board engines like fishing boats, than the experts,” he said, pointing out that the technology of the modern boats had moved beyond what such quack had learnt 15 years ago.
He added, “There is a need for investments in training schools for the engineers because the diagnosis machine itself needs to be updated quarterly and the engineers need to update themselves on new development in the industry.
“People who are not well trained do a lot of trial and error and eventually damage boats. There is a need for more investments to be injected to make customers get value for their money.”
MORE INVESTORS COMING -NIWA
Meanwhile, the management of the National Inland Waterway Authority has agreed with the stakeholders on the need to attract more private sector-driven investment in
the sub-sector. The Public Relations Officer of the agency, Mr. Tayo Fadile, explained that the terminal ports business was supposed to be private sector-driven, but that the rate at which “the private people are investing in the business is still very low.”
He noted that it was the responsibility of the government to build facilities like ports, adding that it was left for the businessmen to make the ports functional by investing in boats and barges acquisition. The NIWA spokesperson disclosed that the agency had appealed to private investors to invest in the ports across the country. According to him, the agency has done its part, which is to develop the port.
Efforts to get the Managing Director, Lagos Waterway Authority, Mr. Olayinka Marinho, to comment on the investment of the state government in its waterway were not fruitful.
The LASWA boss promised to return our correspondent’s call, but failed to do so.
Since 2011, the Federal Government has allocated over N67.9 billion to NIWA for the development of inland water transportation across the country. Former President Goodluck Jonathan allocated the funds for projects such as the procurement of about 45 passenger ferry boats; construction of River port at Lokoja and Idah Jetty in Kogi; Baro in Niger; Oguta in Imo; Degema Jetty in Cross River; Okrika Jetty in Rivers; and Yenagoa Jetty in Bayelsa, among others.