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Tackling Lagos traffic by its expansive waterways




IF there is any reason to stay an extra minute in bed after your alarm goes off on a lousy Monday morning, it is the Lagos traffic. With a population of 22 million people going hard at it every morning, one may come down with an ailment worse than hypertension itself.

For Vincent Osungbohun and Kehinde Fikayo, this encounter has led to harrowing experiences. Fikayo, a singer under the name FKYO, explained that the traffic was one of his breakout moments in unravelling him as a music star, after he quit his software developer job on the island when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Though those dark memories are behind him, Fikayo admits he still suffers from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result.

He said, “I hate going to the island for anything, especially the Third Mainland Bridge. That place gives me PTSD till tomorrow.

“There was a day I left the office by 6pm and got to my house by 11pm, when it’s not like I was going to Akure, and I did it mostly standing in a BRT.”

Osungbohun, on the other hand, narrates an incident that turned a driver from a gentleman into an abusive person.

He said, “I saw how Lagos traffic could turn a gentleman into an aggressive driver. We had spent so much time in traffic and, sad enough, the air conditioner in the vehicle wasn’t working. The heat was pure torture. All I remember is that the person driving us that day is gentle by default. He is a cool headed man, but a few hours into the traffic, the driver was pissed to the extent that he was yelling the F-word at other road users unapologetically.

“We got to our destination and I remember being tired to my bones because of the stress, heat and noisy exchange. I was only wondering how a person could live like this every day without losing his mind or falling very sick because of stress. From that day forward, I had this respect and admiration for Lagos dwellers, especially the average and below-average dwellers. Their ability to survive in that environment should be a case study.”

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While Fikayo was able to convert that moment into a rewarding career change, Frederick, an Uber driver, thinks commuting in the city commercial centre is a death wish.

“At rush hour, about five million passengers are along that Dopemu axis. Another set is moving to Ikorodu, and, yet, another to Abule Egba. The same thing goes for popular locations on the Island,” he said.

The secret, according to Frederick, is to utilize the hours white-collar job holders spend in their offices to make money between mid-morning and 4pm in the evening.

In 2020, a Lagos-based research institute, Danne Institute for Research (DIR), revealed that the state was losing about N4 trillion annually as a result of its notorious traffic congestion problem. The report, titled, ‘Connectivity and Productivity Report’, said the economic cost resulted into 14.12 million wasted hours lost, as people commuted to work every day.

The Commissioner for Transport, Frederic Oladeinde, in another briefing, once disclosed that an average of 5,766 vehicles got into Lagos, while 5831 moved out of Lagos on a daily basis.

Lagosians flash floods
Heavy gridlock along Agindingbi road

The Founder and Executive Director of the DIR, Professor Franca Ovadje, explained that long commutes between where Lagosians live and work, among other factors, is a major cause of unending traffic jams.

Ovadje said, “We found that the cost to individuals of traffic congestion is N133,978.68 per annum for those who own their vehicles, and N79,039.40 each year for those who use public transport. The total loss to Lagos is estimated at 14.12m hours per day, or N3,834,340,158,870 per annum.”

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She lamented that the growth of Lagos megacity was not leading to productivity due to the state’s connectivity issues.

The state’s commissioner for Information and Strategy, Gbenga Omotoso, has continued to deny this. Omotoso, during a stakeholder engagement in January, argued that it was unfair to say that individuals or tourists lost significant man-hours while plying the state roads.

He said, “Let me say this loud and clear. I will not join the ranks of those who describe Lagos traffic as a nuisance, quoting all manner of figures. I saw one last week saying that an average Lagos tourist loses some incredible man-hours on the road. I felt it was unfair to the government or people that have been employed to manage traffic in Lagos.

“So I contacted some experts and they told me that the figure could not have been right even though it was from a reputable organisation. Some of the facts that they sent to me really showed that the situation is not as bad as people are making us believe.”

Nonetheless, Lagos waterways have continued to enjoy patronage over the years. Endowed with an enviable coastline of 180km, Lagos waterways represent a hub of untapped potential.

For holiday makers, the beach and the waterfront represent a great avenue to unwind.

The ridership

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Official ridership figures from the Lagos State Waterways Authority (LASWA) show that between 2015 and 2020, a total of 96.67m passengers utilized the waterways.

Landmark beach in Lagos
Landmark beach in Lagos. Credit: Twittter/@AfricaViewFacts

The document collated data from 29 jetties in the state. The jetties included Addaz Jetty, Abule Osun, Alex, Agbara Jetty, Agboyi Ketu, Badore, Bayeku, Commando Jetty, CMS and Coconut.

The other jetties were Elegbata, Epe, Etegbin Jetty, Falomo, Ibeshe, Ijede, Ijegun Egba, Ijora, Iya Afin, Langbasa, Liverpool, Metro ferry, Ebute Ikorodu, Ojo, Oke Ira Nla, Sagbokoji, Salve route, Tarkwa Bay and Tin- Can.

In the year 2015, 25.67m people made use of the waterways, while 19.31m utilised the same in 2016. In 2017, the waterways recorded 13.78m passengers, while 13.13m made use of the waterways in 2018.

In 2019, 14.07m passengers made use of the waters, and in the year of the biting pandemic, 2020, 10.69m made use of the waterways in the 10 months data (January to October) collated during that period. The ridership figures for April 2020 was zero as a result of the pandemic control in the state.

The data revealed Liverpool, Origin, Tin-Can, Sagbokoji and Ijegun Egba as the jetties with more patronage, while Ibeshe and Ijora continued to reflect less passenger figures during the five-year period.

Also, Metro Ferry recorded zero figures between 2016 and 2020, while no figure was recorded for Oworonshoki.

To Buraimoh Adesewa, who patronises the Ikorodu jetty, water transportation is a better alternative to road.

Adesewa said, “Water transportation is certainly better for me because it has a lot of benefits. There is never traffic on the water. Safety measures are made available for water transportation, but it’s not so for road transportation. Water transportation also saves a lot of time and energy. And a lot more.”

The Team Lead, Lagos Transport Intervention of the Future Cities Nigeria, Kayode Khalidson, observed that water transportation in the state was low as only one per cent of the over 20 million population have taken it as their choice of commute.

Team Lead, Lagos Transport Intervention of the Future Cities Nigeria, Kayode Khalidson, speaking at a waterway event.

Khalidson said, “With the millions of passenger trips a day in Lagos State, only one per cent is utilizing Lagos waterways. There is tremendous room for expansion, but the main reason why it is uncoordinated is simply because water transport is seen as unsafe, fragmented, and not coordinated.”

Despite the prospects of running the business, boat operators have listed high maintenance and scarce engine parts as some of the challenges that have confronted them in providing awesome services.

Meanwhile, experts have stressed the importance of water transportation as an avenue to boost the tourism drive of the state.

The Managing Director of Afisco Marine, Adesuyi Alfisco, who owns 18 leisure boats, stated that opportunities abound for boat operators who choose to focus on the leisure aspects.

Alfisco said, “We want them (the government) to invest in water transportation as it is a tourism potential and can greatly boost the economy of the state. We appeal to them to revive the boat regatta in Lagos as it could attract people across the world. And they should invest in beach houses across the lagoon as they could attract people and boost the economy.”

Alfisco, who abandoned the daily passenger ferry business, added that several people were interested in leisure, and appealed to hospitality investors to establish more facilities along the waterways to meet that demand.

The opportunities

MitiMeth, an organisation dedicated to entangling wonders from natural fibers, devised a means of harnessing water hyacinth, aquatic weeds responsible for the dearth of fishing and water navigation to produce woven materials that can be sold to generate wealth.

Obaro heads MitiMeth, an organisation that converts aquatic waste to wealth

The founder of MitiMeth, Achenyo Idachaba-Obaro, explored the idea after a research she undertook on communities in East Africa and Southeast Asia encountering water hyacinth infestation.

Information gathered from the website says that over 400 people from more than 20 communities have benefited from the scheme.

Last December, an extra 150 persons were trained from Falomo and Badore jetties on the act of transforming these rejected weeds into something sustainable.

The development of these initiatives has caught the eye of the British Commission,  which recently floated a hovercraft on the waterways, with a desire to open talks to boost movement on Lagos waters.

The British Deputy High Commissioner, Ben Llewellyn-Jones, who gave more insight into the process, said that the deployment of the hovercraft was to provide Lagos with high quality navigational watercraft.

Llewellyn-Jones mentioned an investment of £500m as all that was needed to spike the contribution of water transport to the state’s gross domestic product (GDP).

He said, “Many companies expanding into West Africa see Lagos as the commercial hub. The GDP of Lagos is currently about £62 billion, and we imagine that with an investment of about £500 million to expand water as a mode of transport in Lagos, the roads will be decongested, leading to more efficiency and better productivity.”

He called on the government to work on dredging of navigable rivers, rehabilitation of river ports, and, most importantly, safety to ensure navigable waterways.

Third Mainland Bridge at night. Credit: Inside Mosaic

Also speaking about opportunities that abound in the waterways, the Vice President of the Nigeria Football Federation, Seyi Akinwunmi, said a lot of recreational and sporting activities could be conducted on the vast waters in Lagos.

Akinwunmi stated, “I recall that the General Manager of LASWA once hinted at a boating competition. However, the fact that the NFF utilized the waterways to play a match exposed lots of options that we can tap into.”

Akinwunmi tasked LASWA to upskill the awareness of water transport, as well as put an end to illegal dredging activities on the waterways.


In early 2020, the Lagos State Government had celebrated six months of mishap-free boat journeys.

The celebration was, however, shortlived as a boat accident happened on August 31, 2020 in Makoko, claiming two lives.

In September 2021, yet another mishap happened in Ikorodu, claiming one life.

The spate of incidents continued into January 2022 when two Lagos Ferry (Lagferry) boats, named Lateef Jakande and Mobolaji Johnson, were gutted by fire in Falomo.

Two crew members were involved, though they were treated in a hospital and there were no deaths.

On July 6, 2022, two persons died after a 20-passenger ferry boat capsized in Lagos.

A statement signed by the general manager, Lagos State Waterways Authority (LASWA), Oluwadamilola Emmanuel, said the boat departed the Ipakodo ferry terminal in Ikorodu heading to Victoria Island.

The statement read, “At about 7:45am today, the 6th of July 2022, a 20-passenger ferry boat, named ‘R&N2’, carrying 17 passengers suddenly capsized not more than 200 metres from the terminal and submerged immediately after it departed the Ipakodo ferry terminal in the Ikorodu area of Lagos State.

“The water guards and the search-and-rescue team of the Lagos State Waterways Authority (LASWA) were mobilized to the scene of the incident, leading to the rescue of 15 persons.

“Two unconscious female passengers were rushed to the nearest hospital for treatment. They were, however, later confirmed dead.”

The statement said the boat captain was being investigated by the relevant authorities, and assured the public that the cause of the accident would soon be made known publicly.

Two days after, 17 bodies were recovered from the Lagos Lagoon after a W19 passenger fibre boat transporting them from Mile 2 to Ibeshe capsized on Friday, July 8, 2022.

Reacting to the accident, the Lagos State government vowed it would be enforcing safety measures and go after boat operators using sub-standard boats.

This is according to a statement issued on Saturday July 9, 2022 and signed by the Assistant Director, Public Affairs, of the Lagos State Ministry of Transportation, Bolanle Ogunlola.

The statement, which quoted the General Manager, Lagos State Waterways Authority (LASWA), Mr. Damilola Emmanuel, condoled with the families of victims who lost their lives in the recent boat mishaps in the state. The matter was escalated to the state governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who ordered a probe into the fatal boat accident.

Search-and-rescue mission ongoing on Lagos waters. Credit: Punch

LASWA Head of Safety, Engineer Sunday Ukeme, responding to safety concerns noted that the agency has continued to monitor boats plying the waterways regularly.

Ukeme said, “We have checks and statutory surveys on the boats. We carry out statutory biannual inspections in the first quarter and last quarter of the year. We do monthly spot checks in between. Also, if we get complaints from passengers, we send for the boat to come and we carry out a thorough hull and machinery survey on those boats.

“When boats are found wanting, we issue a repair list, depending on the anomalies we find in the boat. For severe cases, we give them temporary withdrawal of operations out of water, pending when the major items on the repair list is carried out.”

He tasked operators to have life jackets in their boats that can sustain passengers afloat for 12 hours at the very least in case of mishaps.

In the midst of all these, LASWA has continued to push for the development of water transportation in the state.

Its ongoing projects include the purchase of life jackets to be distributed free to all waterways users; and purchase of two additional patrol boats and two jet skies for waterways monitoring and patrol.

Others are setting up of a search-and-rescue unit and setting up of a Lagos waterways control room, as well as the deployment of drones for waterways safety and monitoring.

Author profile

Experienced Business reporter seeking the truth and upholding justice. Covered capital markets, aviation, maritime, road and rail, as well as economy. Email tips to jolaoluwa@icirnigeria.org. Follow on Twitter @theminentmuyiwa and on Instagram @Hollumuyiwah.

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