"There are no navigation indications like buoys on our waterways and this is supposed to be done by NIWA"
Comrade Paul Gwan is the District Chairman of Lagos Commercial, Private Boats District of the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN). The district, which was formed in 2016, is currently having issues with a rival body; the Association of Tourist Boat Operators and Water Transport Operators of Nigeria (ATBOWATON). But, in this interview with Shipping Position Daily correspondent; Dapo Olawuni, Comrade Gwan highlighted the challenges confronting boat operators in Lagos, especially those operating at the popular Liverpool jetty in Apapa Lagos. “Water transport is safer than road transport; there is no traffic gridlock on the waters” Can you tell us a little about the district you are heading?Under the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria, this district is called; Lagos Commercial Private Boats District, it was established on the 26th of April 2016. The executives are here on four years tenure. The district was already on scene but not in operations, the district that was in charge then was the Seamen District and I was the former Vice Chairman, we were supposed to perform the duty of the waterfront here, but we were not so active, we were only concentrating on seafarers going to sea and coming back, collaborating with shipping companies and NIMASA. But when the union came on board they thought it wise that with outstations in Port Harcourt and Bayelsa, the union is at the forefront; fully taking charge and so Lagos also had to create a specific district to deal with commercial boat activities.
As a new district, what are your immediate plans in surmounting challenges surrounding boat operations in Lagos?It is a huge work, but the whole union has their hands on deck to make it succeed, the district alone cannot do it, already before we came in, there was an association that has taken over the waterfront as if the owner of the property is not around, so they feel that can just jump on it. To remove these people now is not the work of the district alone, we are just a baby, the whole union has to put all their force to make sure that we remove those who do not have the legal backing to collect dues on the waterfront and then we would take full charge, it cannot be that easy, but I know that with the position of the National body supporting the district, it would be easy.We have held several meetings with the so-called association; Association of Tourist Boat Operators and Water Transport Operators of Nigeria (ATBOWATON) there was a written agreement but since the last meeting we held, we have not heard from then again, and we cannot go after them to be begging them; we are their senior partners from maritime while they are an association, we are a trade union, we are supposed to unionise them and speak for them; an association cannot speak for a trade union, it is the trade union established by an Act of parliament that can speak for other associations. We hope for a better future, we just finished our elections, we have a new President General now and we believe that this government would be better than previous ones. He has started working and as I am talking to you he has called the three districts under the seamen, he has asked all the districts including NPA, seamen and dockworkers to write up our challenges and send it down to him.
Is there an existing MoU between MWUN and ATBOWATON?When we came on board, we were busy for the first one month going to the police station every day, because there was fighting between members of both bodies, I thought it wise that we need to have peace, so we negotiated to work together and have an understanding, when we came back the problem continued. We also had a meeting with the NIWA Area Manager where the first Memorandum of Understanding was signed on how to work and we all agreed. However, Tarzan Balogun (Chieftain of ATBOWATON) had to call me again to say we should draft a new MoU, but up till now they have always been evasive. As I speak, they are still collecting check-up dues at the jetty where they operate and this is illegal.
What are the challenges confronting your members who are boat operators?We have the challenge of water hyacinths on the waters and the dumping of refuse on the water, all these activities are destroying our outboard engines. Also we have majority of the wrecks that are still out there and are supposed to be removed by NIWA or NIMASA, we don't know who is supposed to remove it.
The rift between NIWA and LASWA, what does this portend for boat operators?This is strictly a government issue, I know the Judge would not give a judgement that is one-sided, there must be areas where LASWA would be operating and there are other areas where LASWA must operate. There is always the issue of double taxation but this area can be worked out, if NIWA has to come on the water, it is levy, the government has the right to levy our activities, the two of them must sit down and agree, we don't want double taxation. NIWA had won the first case in the court, and before the advent of LASWA, it was NIWA that always control the waterways, now that LASWA has come up, there must be an understanding for both to agree so that we don't end up being over - taxed.NIWA licenses boats, register jetties and shore utilisation by companies, by law all these functions belong to NIWA. But LASWA came and also wants to register the same facilities, it is a government issue, but what we are saying is that we cannot be paying to NIWA and LASWA again.
Liverpool has been alleged to be a den of alcohol sellers and prostitutes, what is you take?The local government is in charge of everyone trading at Liverpool under bridge, there are lots of businesses going on there, including selling of fishes and so on. I don't know if there are prostitutes there, everybody come there to do their business and they go away, we don't stay at the jetty after 6pm. The jetty is very peaceful, those selling fishes at the jetty have their own association and their association is under us.
How can we prevent boat accidents when some of the operators drink and drive?Most of the people that come to Liverpool jetty to drink alcohol are not boat operators. Secondly, we are not the security agents that would check their activities. On the issue of drinking and driving, our members do not drink and drive, we don't allow it, as a boat operator, the moment we observe alcohol on any of our boys, he is not going to operate for that day because it is dangerous; the moment you are drunk, you are no longer in control. On the selling of alcohol, we usually give our beach masters an instruction to report anyone found buying or drinking alcohol. Also, at the motor parks you see people selling alcohol, there was a time that government said they were going to suspend selling alcohol in motor parks, we felt that they would equally extend it to the jetties, but up till now we are still waiting.
How often do boat operators get sensitized on safety issues on the waters?Last week, we attended one seminar on safety issues organised by Commissioner or Special duties in Lagos State, if not for the rift between us and the ATBOWATON we should have gone far in working with NIMASA on safety issues; already, our sister district is working with NIMASA, and the agency sometimes come to give us seminars, by now we should have made it a constant issue, not only at Liverpool but at all the units. Today at sea, there is safety because the seamen now know that it is a situation of life or death, most of the passengers do not know to swim.
What is the level of boat mishap on the waters now?It is not as rampant as we had before, there has been a lot of awareness; for example, we have high tides and low tides, but whenever we have high tides, the water would cover the wrecks and there is nothing to indicate where the wrecks are, so we have sensitized our members on driving in the night. Also, if you look at the waters, there are no navigation indications like buoys and this is supposed to be done by NIWA. We have witnessed a reduction in the number of maritime accidents because of the way we talked to our boys; most of them now have lights on their boats while driving at night.
What is your assessment of stakeholders’ patronage of the waterways since the roads leading to Apapa is not motorable?Passengers from Liverpool jetty pay N600 to Ojo; to some of them the money is too much, but if you look at it, you spend more when leaving Apapa by road. I know that it's not everybody that can afford water transportation, it is expensive but it's faster and now it is safe and comfortable. I cannot say if the patronage has increased due to the Apapa traffic. And again, talking about maintenance, it is not easy to maintain the boats. Also today, I can tell you that water transport is safer than road transport; there is no traffic gridlock on the waters.