When Lagos waterways become death traps
• LASWA Moves To Avert Accidents, Enforce Regulation
Twelve persons recently lost their lives in a boat mishap around Ilashe, Ojo area of Lagos State. Hours after the news broke, the state government claimed the accident happened because the boat was overloaded.The government’s claims effectively indicted concerned regulatory agencies for negligence, as the mishaps would have been averted or the casualty figure kept low if the agency were alert to its responsibilities.
Before the latest incident, the state between January 2016 and September this year had recorded other cases of boat mishaps, where overloading and non- availability of lifejackets were fingered as the main reasons for the high number of casualties. For instance, in January 30, 2016, four people perished in a boat mishap, while being conveyed to Badore from Ijede, IKorodu.
Five people lost their lives in two separate incidents in the Badagry area of the state. The first, which was in February claimed two lives, while the second, which happened on December 7, 2016, claimed three lives. Six children, who were crossing lagoon, which separates their house and their school perished on July 1, 2015, when the canoe ferrying them capsized.
Between March 12 and July 9, 2014, a total of 22 people died in three separate boat accidents in the state. The breakdown indicates that 13 people perished in Coconut Island Water Channel. Boat mishaps in the Bayeku area of Ikorodu, on September 27, 2015, led to the death of three persons.Interestingly, despite the rising number of causalities from the mishaps, which the state government usually blames on concerned regulatory agencies for being lax about enforcement of safety standards, nobody has been penalized till date.
At all government-owned jetties, officials of the Lagos State Waterways Agency (LASWA), are expected to be present to ensure that boat operators and passengers adhere to laid down safety rules. But with frequency of the boat mishaps, stakeholders are of the view that government officials tasked with enforcing safety rules may have gone to sleep, and the failure of government to bring defaulting officials to book is not helping matters.
After the last accident, all LASWA did was to again enjoin boat operators and other stakeholders in water transportation business to adhere strictly to safety standards at all times.Bayo Adebola, a resident of the state, who regularly plies the waterways said on some occasions that he boarded boats from the Coconut Bus stop to different locations along the route, some passengers were always without lifejackets, while the boats themselves were not well maintained as the pilots were always scooping water from the boats as the journey progressed
He said more often than not, state government officials at the jetties were only interested in collecting their levies, rather than play attention to the worn-out lifejackets handed out to commuters by boat operators.But the immediate past Managing Director of LASWA, Abisola Kamson, speaking before her disengagement, disagrees, insisting that the state government has always advocated safety on the waterways, as reflected by the distribution of over 2,500 lifejackets free of charge to residents of riverine communities,
“ In addiction to this, we are also, in a bid to ensure safety at all times, carrying out the removal of wrecks from the waterways as submerged wrecks in low tides can be dangerous to boats. Recently, some wrecks at the Mile 2 area were removed.” Water hyacinth is a seasonal menace, which blocks travel channels, just as dirt and waste, aside from clogging boat engines, also threaten other water inhabitants.But Kamson explains that as part of measures to ensure safety, the government recently commissioned two weed harvesters to remove dirt and water hyacinth from the waterways.
Ironically, months after the equipment were brought, water hyacinth and dirt are still dotting the waterways, and the managing director of LASWA also stresses that her agency routinely carries out daily patrol of the Lagos intra-inland waterways in order to ensure compliance to safety regulatory and standards.She nonetheless noted that the inland waterways transport system is a developing system with lots of room for improvement.
“LASWA has constantly been improving its regulatory functions through its water guards at state-owned jetties. With the control of the inland waterways now back to LASWA, the outfit will be able to fully enforce and ensure strict compliance to rules and regulations. Also now, we will be able to administer appropriate sanctions and fines where necessary,” she sated.
A senior officer of the agency, who spoke with The Guardian, disclosed that safety officers, who are found wanting have been disciplined in different ways and sometimes transferred to different stations as a punitive measures.He said until recently, the state government was handicapped an incapable of penalizing errant boat operators due to the judgment against it. “Now that the matter has been ruled in favour of the state, it would soon commence sanctioning of offenders, when such complaints are made to our office with accompanying facts,” he said.
On claims by boats operators that debris on the waterways is still crippling their engines, while tractors recently acquired by the state government lie idle, he said, “ Lagosians absolutely need to stop littering the waterways. Where does the liter come from? The state government’s intervention is to, as best as possible, help clear the debris. Water hyacinth on the other hand is a seasonal thing
“More machines will be needed to clear it in this season. The state government is looking at procuring more machines whilst also considering other initiatives to curb its spread.”On efforts to sensitise the public against emptying dirt into the waterways, he said the Ministry of Environment is in charge of enlightening residents about not littering the waterways with bottles, wrappers, faeces and urine.
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