(OPINION) : The Sinking Boats of Sanwo-0lu By Idu Bello 

* Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-0lu

 

 

Lagferry, unarguably Nigeria’s poster boy in strategic movement of persons on water for logistics, and recreation is a template desirable for municipal littoral city state such as Lagos.

Originally conceived during the military era of Raji Rasaki as “uniformed Jack and boot “governor of Lagos, restructured by Bola Ahmed Tinubu and given a greater lease of life and with private sector, shaped to navigate the deep waters of Lagos, empowered to open far flung littoral communities, connecting lagos central, Lagos Ferry Authority flying the flag of first among equal but conscious of the growing private sector conscious presence and survival.

Dead under Babatunde Fashola administration which winded up its operation and sold off its prime fleets, including Baba Kekere named after late Lateef Jakande, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, resurrected the institution back to life, invested in massive purchase of ferry boats from South Africa and gave Lagos Waterways Authority(LASWA) a new face.

 

Initially, the state toyed with the idea of having ferry services under Lagos Waterways Authority(LASWA) with Jide Cole, erstwhile LASWA influencer, driving the imitative, but internal politicking frustrated the agenda.

Under Governor Sanwo-0lu, Lagferry got visible prospects, more boats and powers to particularly private boats operators out the business. Collaboration with private is not part of the operational ecology.

To achieve the Merchavilian agenda, one colourless politician, Ladi Balogun with no experience in ferry fleet management and exposure was handed the order to effectively take over the entire Lagos waterways transportation, with new jetties built, some commissioned and others under construction and awaiting commissioning.

Here ends, the Sanwo-0lu response to the turning around of water transportation business around and invariably the unpretentious agenda to palm pecuniary advantage and showmanship in waterways business.  The governor’s boats, exclusively purchased by his vessels handlers, had recorded unbelievable accidents with two gone under, sunk and two out rightly burnt, damaged lost forever.

Last week Monday, August 8th,2022, one of the Sanwo-0lu boats, went under at Oworoshoki area, on its first launch out of day with full capacity of passengers, screaming for their lives as water mysteriously gushed into the boat.

It was about 8: 30 am, sudden death waiting to swallow passengers and a development which blemished the procurement process in Lagos” rash and rush” to purchase what industry experts allegedly described as fairly used boats painted off as “new boats” and deployed to gain political advocacy and hound private boat operators out of lagos waterways.

These accidents and near fatal operations, is indicative of poor managerial competence and lack of maintenance ecosystem by Ladi Balogun led Lagferry.

But for providence and rapid rescue response by waterways regulatory agencies both federal and state, Lagferry would have headlined the worst ferry operator with fatal records in Nigeria and not private operators, usually bereft of adequate funds and targeted as troublers of Lagos waterways.

In fact, Lagferry empowered by Governor Babajide Sanwo-0lu, has lost four ferry boats to mysterious happenstance, two sank beneath the waters while another two were lost to fire accidents on water, a black badge like no other.

Sadly, as a public funded institution, and also as process of corporate accountability, both Lagferry and Lagos waterways regulatory agency, LASWA, are yet to make public reasons why the boats easily goes under and prone to fire outbreaks.  There has been no published investigation reports or integrity tests made public.

Both institutions lack   investigative skills, and Lagferry engineering department bereft of proactive management initiative.

Indeed, Lagferry’s banquet of accidents is fueled with mercantile and winner takes all operational responsibility without the safety and welfare of passengers in mind. Its revenue returns in four years are also not public domain as expected of public funded institution.

On   Monday’s Lagferry “sank” boat but rescued effort, innocent passengers would have been buried under water, two weeks after a heritage boat accident in Ojo area of Lagos with 19 lives from same family gone under water never to breathe again.

Stakeholders and observers of Governor Sanwo-0lu “invasion” of the Lagos waterways with boats with questionable engineering capabilities, says time has come to ground all Lagferry boats to enable independent expert findings and integrity check before innocent lives are lost.

A craft builder with verifiable engineering feats, told me that most boats in Lagferry fleet, did not meet best engineering practices for ferry boats, adding that lagos waterways has peculiar density which requires foreign boats to undergo local touch in order to withstand the massive pollution, wrecks and debris often behind accidents on waterways.

He also dismissed the state government claim of investing in the dredging of Lagos waterways as mere” propaganda ” as there was no visible evidence to such development.

“What we see is more of flexing of powers over who owns the waterways with the federal government, rather than a concrete effort in dredging the waterways.  It is not also not in dispute that those whom the governor saddled with managing Lagferry does not have the capacity and experience, so Lagferry as presently constituted is an accident waiting to happen.” the expert engineer who craved for anonymity further informed.

Four accidents in 4 years, Lagferry indeed is a living cemetery, waiting to swallow water users in Lagos.  Transportation Minister, Alhaji, Muazu Jaji Sambo was in Lagos for inspection of NPA facilities and has been advised to suspend the operation of Lagferry and empanel experts to conduct integrity tests on Lagferry boats to determine their operational standards and to avoid deaths on Lagos waterways.

Interestingly, the Minister was a former General Manager with National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA), Lagos Area Office, and has deep knowledge of water crafts classifications and capacity as an engineer.

Concerned stakeholders informed that the ministry should pull the strings and suspend Lagferry operations just as he did by suspending Abuja to Kaduna railway services to enable assessment of security and safety measures for passengers’ safety.

Next week: Is Lagferry a waiting coffin?

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