Lagos urges commuters to head to the water: The waterways of Lagos offer a speedy means of alternative transport that could foster the local economy, but many hurdles need to be overcome, as Linus Unah reports.

Author:Unah, Linus

Michael Emu used to dread the daily commute from Ikorodu on the Lagos mainland to Lekki on the island. The road is heavy with traffic during the rush hour, and what should ordinarily be a journey of 50 minutes can stretch up to three hours or more. But everything changed when Emu, a self-employed electrical engineer, started using boats at a jetty in Ikorodu.

"Within 20 minutes I am already on Lagos Island, and that saves me a lot of time and energy wasted on the road," he says.

Although water bodies occupy about 22% (or 787sq km) of Lagos' total area of 3,577sq km, road transportation remains the dominant mode of commuting for many Lagosians.

Nigeria's largest city and commercial hub, Lagos, is brimming with over 20m people and their vehicles place enormous pressure on public infrastructure. The presence of tankers and heavy-duty trucks moving goods from the two major ports make this situation even worse. Even the modern Bus Rapid Transit--a set of air-conditioned blue metro buses with separate lanes--has not brought much respite to commuters.

Lagosians are well aware of how fast movement can be on the waterways, but most residents baulk at using ferries and boats for safety reasons. "The ride on Lagos waters can be dreadful especially when the current is heavy," says 29-year-old Emu, who worries that overloading makes the boats vulnerable to accidents.

Israel Igiri, a field researcher with a Lagos-based energy and development consulting firm, says he has never considered using boats to go to work. "I think this is based on the stories I have heard about it--usually horrible stories," Igiri explains.

In a recent boat accident in early July, at least 15 died after a boat moving 26 passengers to Ikorodu from Ajah, a suburb on Lagos Island, capsized in the night. The Punch newspaper reported that none of the passengers were wearing life jackets and cites eyewitnesses who blame overloading.

"Over the years, the transport system has been poorly managed by the government; most of the boats are rickety and bad and are so shaky while moving. So, managing those boats on a big body of water jeopardises the lives of people," says Igiri.

Lagos state authorities know too well that to decongest the city's roads, they must rehabilitate inland waterways. It was with this understanding that the government injected a new lease of life into the Lagos State Ferry Services Company (or Lagferry), buying new ferries and refurbishing abandoned boats to provide...

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