Transportation which involves the movement of goods and people from one area to the other can be aptly described as the life-wire of any society. This is because the optimal utilisation of available resources and the level of socio-economic advancement depends on the efficiency of this sector.
In a place like Rivers State where we have the upland and riverine communities, the people depend on road and marine transportation for their various businesses. But while the government has given attention to road transportation by building more roads, flyovers and repairing of bad ones, as well as providing more commercial vehicles at subsidised rates, the same cannot be said in the area of marine transportation.
For years, riverine communities like Bonny, Opobo, Okrika, Andoni, Kalabari etc, whose means of transportation has mostly been canoes and speed boats, have had many woes to tell. Many families have lost their beloved ones to the depths of the sea.
One of the causes of this loss of lives and property which has become recurrent event is the recklessness of boat drivers, who always throw caution to the wind. It is a common sight for those familiar with A.T.C jetty in Okrika to see drivers in the wee hours of the day, loading passengers into their boats without checking the working condition of the engine, thus leaving the passengers stranded in the middle of the sea most times.
With the festive season around the corner, the Nigerian Maritime and Safety Administration (NIMASA) should organize campaigns to sensitise boat drivers on safety measures such as the need to avoid over-loading and over-speeding. This is because the festive season is accident prone as a result of the upsurge of passengers.
As a matter of safety, the use of life-jackets should be made compulsory for passengers. It is important these “little life-savers” are made available at every jetty, while passengers who fail to use them should be punished. This is because the security of life should be seen as a collective responsibility.
Also, NIMASA and Nigeria Inland Waterways Authority should discourage night movement. This is because it has been observed that most of the accidents occur in the night. A situation where drivers only make do with faint light provided by their small torch lights leaves much to be desired.
In addition, passengers should be enlightened on precautionary measures to be taken when faced with emergency situations. It is a wrong assumption that all riverine people are good swimmers.
It is noteworthy that the State government, under the leadership of Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, has done a lot in the area of road transportation. The provision of the Skye Bank buses with the subsidised transport fare and the “operation zero potholes”, just to mention a few are commendable. However, there is the need to replicate these developmental strides in other sub-sectors of transportation such as the marine. In this regard, the government should, through the PPP initiative, provide more speed boats in order to subsidise fares. Government’s intervention on this will not only create employment opportunities for youths in these areas, but will also stem criminality in the State.
In the area of security on our waterways, it is quite unfortunate that many people have had many woes to tell. The worse hit are the people of Bonny, who suffer several attacks from sea pirates. Many ladies have been raped in such attacks, while some have lost their lives, money and other valuables. This is because in most of the attacks, the pirates always struggle to make away with the boat engines, leaving the passengers stranded at the mercy of the sea.
It is believed that the concept of government is a social contract between the people and the leaders.The people surrender their individual rights to the government and in turn deserve security from the government. This is why every eligible government is mandated to secure its citizens.
Even though, the JTF mounts surveillance at strategic places on the sea, the State government still has more work to do to protect the lives and property of its citizenry. Opobo Unity Road should be constructed for the people of Bonny, while NIMASA and other relevant authorities should ensure that boat drivers get adequate training on safety measures.
It is also imperative that our seas are devoid of endangering materials such as badges, pieces of burnt ships etc to avoid accidents on the waterways.
Ichi is a student of Rivers State College of Arts and Science (RIVCAS).