07 Apr 2021

ENSURING SAFETY IN NIGERIA’S WATERWAYS

Around the world, safety and security are two issues that must be given optimum consideration for maritime businesses to thrive. Both are interwoven and one cannot be considered without the other.

In Nigeria, consideration for both issues is no less important. For the country’s maritime environment to be conducive for business, its territorial waters must be devoid of criminals like pirates and kidnappers. It is equally important that those who use the waters, including the inland waterways for various activities like travelling and fishing, are safe from mishaps and incidents. This is more so as attention is now being focused on alternative means of transportation, as well as transport infrastructure other than road. This emphasis on alternative means of transportation is the reason the government is investing heavily in rail transportation.

At the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), safety is something of a mantra that everyone, whose job is connected with it, whether on the high seas or inland waterways, has had to internalize. The fact that the word forms part of our name underscores its importance in our work. Remove the word, ‘safety’, from our name, and what you have is not NIMASA. This should erase the misconception that NIMASA is only concerned about revenue generation. As far as our mandate is concerned at NIMASA, safety is our core and our core is safety; revenues a consequence of delivering on the mandates.

Wrecks and other objects of impediment to maritime traffic are common features in our waters. It is the business of NIMASA to ensure they are totally eliminated, so as to guarantee smooth and accident-free traffic along our channels. We are as concerned about navigational safety within Nigeria’s territorial waters in terms of making the waters free of anything that could impede smooth navigation, as we are about safety of passengers travelling by ferry from, say, Apapa to CMS in Lagos, in terms of wearing of life jackets and adhering strictly to other safety guidelines.

NIMASA operates six offices in all the port zones to ensure safety and security on our waterways, whether in the blue or brown sea. We work in collaboration with our sister agency, the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA), to keep the country’s waterways safe.

I need to emphasize, however, that safety is everybody’s business, not just for NIMASA or NIWA. This is what the general public needs to understand. Once it has to do with water safety, it is everybody’s business. For instance, it is the responsibility of passenger boat operators to provide life jackets for their passengers. And if they do not provide, it is within the right and also the responsibility of passengers to insist on wearing life jackets before they can board a boat. It shouldn’t require any use of force or sanctions for this simple safety procedure to be carried out. The same applies in the case of those operating fishing trawlers and boats. They cannot set out without wearing life jackets.

NIMASA operated an office in Lokoja between 2011 and 2012. The office was set up to ensure safety within the waters in the northern part of the country, by seeing to it that operators of boats, canoes and fishing trawlers comply with minimum safety standards in terms of wearing of life jackets and other protective gadgets. However, we were compelled by some challenges to close that office. We are however giving a second thought about the closure of that office given some recent developments in the area.

Not long ago, we had an incident of a boat mishap involving 17 people in Bauchi. That made us to start thinking of re-opening the Lokoja office. This would be necessary for the purpose of sensitizing and educating people in the communities within the inland waterways on the importance of safety and how to ensure it is maintained.

The efforts of NIMASA at maintaining safety in the waterways have begun to pay the desired dividend. There used to be a high rate of accident in the Ikorodu axis in Lagos, but that is reducing now due to growing safety awareness put in place by the agency in collaboration with the Lagos State Waterways Authority (LASWA), which operators of water-related businesses in that area have imbibed.

We hear of boat mishaps and maritime accidents in different parts of the country, some of which could have been averted if people adhered to safety standards. Some of these incidents occur not because people are not aware of the common safety procedures to follow, but because of the tendency to deliberately flout rules and regulations, which we see in almost every facet of our national life. There is need for people to take the issue of safety on our waterways seriously, and as well in the creeks and rivers where many of our people earn their livelihood as fishermen and women, or passenger boat operators.

A major underlying challenge that adversely affected maritime safety and security in Nigeria was the duplication of activities and functions by agencies whose responsibilities tend to overlap, but are all related to the same issue. This involves basically three notable agencies – NIMASA, Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) – as well as oil companies and private operators. You have a situation in which they all invest in similar infrastructure and platforms for the same purpose, but work independently of each other.

For instance, while NIMASA has the C4-Eye to oversee the waterways, NPA has C3-Eye for the same purpose, and the Navy has Falcon-Eye. The positive development that has come out of discussions and efforts at forming synergies is the agreement by the agencies and other stakeholders that all the platforms should interface, since the objective is the same. The agencies are taking stock of what each does, in order to identify gaps and how to fill them. The aim is to harmonize efforts and build a solid platform for the purpose of addressing maritime safety and security issues effectively. It would also be possible to locate where safety issues occur and respond quickly.

Still, it will require the collective effort of all Nigerians to maintain the kind of safety we desire in our waterways. Government agencies and regulators have responsibility to provide guidelines and procedures, and it is the responsibility of the public to strictly follow the guidelines.

Dr. Jamoh can be reached on Twitter: @JamohBashir. #Thevoiceofmaritime.

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