The recent upsurge in the number of boat mishaps in the country is indeed most worrisome, and at its base, it speaks to the urgent need for government to enforce safety on the nation’s waterways. A few weeks ago, a boat collision in Lagos led to the deaths of 11 school children. Needless to say such deaths are avoidable.
The incidents themselves are indeed an attestation to the fact that government agencies in control of the waterways are not living up to their responsibilities. This is most unfortunate and therefore has to be addressed urgently and decisively.
Characteristically, the reactions from government and public functionaries to these incidents have largely been passive and knee-jerk. They take to the podium after each saga, berate boat operators that they ought to have checked in the first place; commiserate with hapless families that could have been spared the tragedies, and make a quite avuncular show of throwing life jackets at the problem.
Yes, life jackets are good, but they really do not make sense if their donations do not come alongside a full complement of policies to ensure that they must be used by all passengers and crew in the manner of the current enforcement of the rules on car seat belts.
Critically then, what is required is that governments at all levels need to draw up holistic policies for the proper management of the waterways. Within this context, the marine police for example, should do more in ensuring regular and effective patrol of the waterways. As things stand now, it is a clear act of irresponsibility for the affected waterways authorities to say they can’t patrol the waterways.
They must return to the drawing board, identify existing gaps in their operational framework and engage their bosses to ensure that these gaps are plugged. Hallmark newspaper insists that it really does not make sense to have a waterways authority that is not ensuring and guaranteeing safety on our waterways.
What is being advocated here is a comprehensive revamp of the way in which the marine police carries out its activities presently. They should inspect and guarantee the good condition of all boats that ply the waterways. They should ensure that passenger and freight boats do not carry passengers and goods beyond recommended speed and weight levels. And they must equally ensure sanctions for boat operators that do not insist on their crew and passengers using safety jackets during trips.
Indeed, the truth must be told that the waterways are a most vital alternative means of transportation.In a traffic-challenged city like Lagos for example, which paradoxically is very rich in water mass, this indeed is a God-sent blessing in disguise. This development therefore calls for a holistic revamping of the waterways, especially in riverine areas, to ensure that they are safe, navigable and attractive for consumers’ patronage.
Boosting infrastructure and security on the waters through the introduction of uninterrupted lifebuoy lighting at strategic points on the waterways and recruiting and deploying more personnel into the marine police should be first steps.
Going further, governments may need to explore a rash of policies that may include, tax holidays for limited periods, to ensure better use of this resource. Equally, corporate organisations may also be encouraged to do same, with state governments in water-mass and traffic challenged states taking the lead in launching their own flagship staff boat schemes.
The gains of such a drive would indeed be most incalculable. Unlike roads, water transportation does not require the constant deployment of huge, and indeed unavailable, construction funds. What would be needed is periodic maintenance activity to tame challenges like silting and the occasional presence of wrecks and weeds on streams.
There should be ‘traffic signs’ on the rivers to warn waterways users of the presence of noted dangers, current patterns and shore approaches. And local riverine communities should be carried along in this renewed drive to use the waterways more, and in a much safer frame.
Swimming should also be made a co-curricular subject in the basic school curriculum as a matter of neighbourhood security and safety and elaborate ‘catch them young’ mechanism introduced. This will ensure that we indeed become a nation of swimmers, which would indeed come in handy as a ‘first aid’ element, when the occasional boat crash does take place.
All of these reforms speak to the subject and have the potential of being most helpful because they would result in the saving of a lot of lives that are presently being snuffed out on account of the prevailing rash of boat mishaps.