Nigeria's natural endowment in inland water transport system stretches across more than 10,000 kilometres of navigable waterways. This water wealth comprises of rivers, creeks, lagoons, lakes, and intra-coastal waters. The main rivers are: Rivers Niger and Benue. Both rivers form a confluence at Lokoja, in Kogi State.
Available facts indicate that River Niger is the longest river in West Africa and eleventh longest in the world. The river and its main tributary (which is River Benue), the delta creeks as well as the lagoons bordering the coast form the principal navigable waterways in Nigeria.
It is also instructive that these principal navigable waterways are the major transportation routes linking Apapa, Tin Can, Warri, Port Harcourt, Onne and Calabar seaports and the numerous river ports and jetties.
The vast area of navigable waterways and the nation’s seaports facilities certainly makes for proper policing and regulation.
For instance, even though the longest waterways are the Niger River and its tributary (the Benue River), the most used waterways; especially by larger powered boats and for commerce, are in the Niger Delta and all along the coast from Lagos Lagoon to Cross River.
To oversee these and activities pertaining to them, the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) was established by Decree No. 13 of 1997 with a clear mandate to manage Nigeria's vast inland waterway resources.
The Decree vests in NIWA the power of exclusive management, direction and control on the Nigerian inland waterways. This power is exercised on Nigeria’s 3000 kilometres of navigable waterways from the Nigeria/Niger and Nigeria/Cameroon borders to the Atlantic Ocean.
It is therefore the responsibility of NIWA to ensure that there is safe navigation.
But it can not be said that navigating through the thousands of Nigeria’s inland water channel is safe.
To the surprise of all, users of waterways transportation face the uncertainty of safe arrival every day. This is the most glaring demonstration of the failure of NIWA to deliver on its mandate.
The undoubted confirmation of the fact that our waterways are not safe is the rate at which accidents occur on these waters.
The alarm that was raised by water transport operators isn’t a fluke. It is a fact that our waterways are far from being safe. From Lokoja, to Calabar to Benue, to Lagos and to the Niger Delta, the story is the same.
Perhaps for the reason of efficiency or for economic reason, some stakeholders have lately been calling for the relocation of the agency from Lokoja to Lagos. All federal government agencies were at a point located in Lagos, they were all moved to Abuja at another point. But NIWA was relocated to Lokoja, where it has been since.
While President Olusegun Obasanjo ordered all the agencies back to Lagos, when he became the President, the order did not affect NIWA.
In December 2014, boat operators and the seafarers called for the relocation of the headquarters of NIWA back to Lagos.
The Nigerian Merchant Navy Water Transport Senior Staff Association as well as the Association of Tourists Boat Operators and Water Transporters of Nigeria (ATBOWATON) had specifically called on the Federal Government to relocate the Corporate headquarters of the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) from Lokoja in Kogi state to Lagos.
Recently too, the seafarers branch of the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN) lent its voice to the raging call for the relocation.
Surprisingly, the latest call came from the Lagos Area Manager, National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA); Alhaji Mu'Azu Sambo, who pointedly told journalists recently that relocating the agency would enhance effective performance and also engender positive relationship between NIWA’s immediate stakeholders.
We are absolutely in support of the call to relocate the headquarters of NIWA to Lagos. This will make for interagency collaboration; it will also help the agency to tackle the effrontery of Lagos state government which for a long time has been contending with the statutory responsibility of NIWA in the management of the nation’s vast inland waterways.
Moving to Lagos will also make economic sense, and in the words of the Lagos Area Manager of the agency, “Lagos is the hub of maritime activities in Nigeria so where better do you think would be better to locate NIWA headquarters if not Lagos State". This is very true.
While we can not say that relocating NIWA to Lokoja is bad, one can hardly see any advantage that the decision has brought to the agency.
Whereas NIWA is supposed to be in all the nation’s maritime zones, it is hardly noticeable in places outside Lagos and Lokoja.
The argument by its spokesman that, “NIWA’s presence in Lokoja is symbolic because of the confluence connecting rivers Benue and Niger” is laughable.
The fact that Lokoja is a confluence town is only a geographical symbol; it has no economic value to add to the balance sheet of NIWA, neither does it enhance the efficiency of the agency. Its presence in Lokoja has not aided its performance, response to accident and marketability.