Following plans by the Lagos State Government to introduce the electronic payment system for all private commercial boats, there are strong indications of sharp disagreements among associations of boat operators over the acceptance of this initiative.
This is even as a foremost body of boat operators; the Association of Tourist Boat Operators and Water Transporters (ATBOWATAN) has refused to bulge despite several letters written to them by the Lagos state government.
Shipping Position Daily recalls that the state government had proposed the use of the “Cowry” card electronic payment system which was touted as a more convenient and secure way to facilitate transactions and serve as part of the state government’s efforts to provide palliatives in the boat transportation sector.
In the arrangement, the state noted that commuters would pay half of the designated fares using their digital wallets and the full payment remitted to boat operators thereafter.
The General Manager of Lagos State Waterways Authority (LASWA), Damilola Emmanuel in a chat with our correspondent had earlier noted that the authority had called on all the associations to come together to chart ways on how the subsidy can be facilitated.
However, findings by Shipping Position Daily have revealed that associations of boat operators are still in sharp disagreement over the acceptance of the conditions of the proposed palliative plans by the state government.
In a chat with our correspondent, the Lagos state chapter Secretary of ATBOWATAN, Mr Ayomikun Aworetan informed that the palliative plans have led to several disagreements amongst boat operators, other stakeholders and the state government.
Aworetan informed that his association has received several letters from the state government, but has decided not to bend to their demands. He argued that the palliatives primarily benefit passengers rather than the boat operators themselves.
The ABTOWATAN scribe also decried the imposition of a five per cent charge on all boat operators for using the Cowry Card. He alleged that the government is exacerbating their financial woes and making it even more challenging to sustain their businesses.
Aworetan stressed that ATBOWATAN being the foremost and major association for boat operators will raise an alarm to the public if they eventually realize that the palliatives are being distributed to boat operators without their consent.
In his words: “As regards to the Cowry Card, it has been a ‘war zone’. It has been battles here and there. So, my association is standing on its ground. We even received letters from the State Government saying that without the Cowry Card, they cannot effectively distribute palliative to operators. But indirectly, we the operators are not the ones benefiting from the palliatives. It is the masses.
“If they pay 50 per cent, they are paying on behalf of the passenger. They are not giving it to the operators and they are now telling us that they are going to charge us five per cent for using the palliative. So, they are adding more to our own operational costs. No. It’s not we that is benefiting from the palliative. They are still attaching terms and conditions of the Cowry Card to it.
“So, they have written to our association but we said no. No, we are not doing that. So, if the palliative comes out and we get to know that they are giving out palliatives, then definitely we will go to the public. We will go to the media and we will shout out. That is the plan for the association. They can’t be suffocating our business and telling us that they are helping us” Aworetan stressed.
On the contrary, the National Public Relations Officer of Waterfront Boat Owners and Transporters Association of Nigeria Waters (WABOTAN), Chief Raymond Gold kicked against the stand of ATBOWATAN, its sister association. He noted that WABOTAN will not be part of that decision.
Gold opined that the state government’s plans is a laudable one, adding that the right way to do business today is through technology which minimizes human involvement and improves efficiency.
The WABOTAN spokesman said boat operators are only sceptical because they are jittery over the full remittance of their money. He however advised that such initiative should be given a trial and if it does not turn out well as promised by the government, boat operators can then begin to kick against it.
“Our association will not be part of that. Look at the mathematics here. One, we increased transport fare to commensurate with the increase in the price. Also because of this increase people are not patronizing us. The government has then promised to share in the cost by paying the other half.
“Both the traveller and the boat owner are benefiting. To me, it is a great support if it works. If the terminals are deployed today, I believe that is good support from the government. The truth is that I guess maybe most of us are sceptical that the government will actually pay them the amount that they have increased.
“But why not give it a try and see how it goes. If we give it a try, and at the end of whatever we agree to, whether weekly or monthly, the decision does not come, then we can begin to hold our ground to see if the government will accept us. But so far I think it is something worth trying. The truth is the right way to do business today is the digital way, which minimizes human involvement. Once human involvement comes in, chances are that corruption begins to follow” Gold concluded.
On his part, the Secretary of the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN) Boat Operators Unit, Comrade Owolabi Omotayo stated that palliatives are meant for everyone and business entities in Nigeria and boat operators should not be left out.
Owolabi however called on the state government to look into the genuine complaints of boat operators and carry everybody along in the disbursement of the proposed palliative in the spirit of equity and justice for all.
“Palliatives are meant for everyone and business entities in Nigeria as of this moment due to the fuel subsidy removal by the federal government. I think the Cowry Card palliative relief for the waterways initiative by the government only benefits the boat users while using the facilities of the boat operators to implement the program. Boat Operators and Boat users should be beneficiaries of the government palliatives on the waterways without any discrimination.
“The government should look into the genuine complaints of the boat operators and carry everybody along in the disbursement of the proposed palliative reliefs in the spirit of equity and justice for all”, Owolabi said.