Badagry: Underused waterways offer escape from deplorable highway to Nigeria’s multi-billion naira tourism hub - PUNCH
BY Afeez Hanafi
In this concluding part, AFEEZ HANAFI reports on how water transportation can open up tourism in Badagry and increase access to historical sites hindered by the deplorable Lagos-Badagry Expressway
James Akintunde finally conquered the fear of travelling on waterways during the last Independence Day. Together with his two kids and wife, he took a cab to Liverpool jetty in Apapa and boarded a boat to Badagry where they toured some historical sites.
The trip was the third visit of the 42-year-old resident of Festac town to the Lagos ancient town. The first two were via the bumpy Lagos-Badagry Expressway that made a mess of all the fun he and his family had on both occasions.
Though the journey came at a cost much higher than road transport, it was a worthwhile experience for the Akintundes. They savoured every minute of their time in a conducive, roomy covered boat fitted with wall fans.
The family’s October 1 enthralling experience stood in stark contrast with the grueling ride along the decrepit expressway which in recent years has discouraged many tourists within and outside the country from visiting tourism attraction sites in Badagry and resulted in annual loss of revenue estimated in billions of naira.
“The journey was stress-free, smooth, fast and memorable. Instead of spending five hours on the road to Badagry, we spent about an hour on waterways,” Akintunde recalled delightfully. “We enjoyed the tour though the fare was more expensive than travelling by car.”
Instead of N20,000 cab fare to and from Badagry, Akintunde said he paid N50,000 travelling in a chartered boat with three other families who parted with the same amount.
He added, “The cost would have been more if we were not up to four families. I learnt there are times when only one or two families will charter a boat. We had the option of boarding an open fiber boat which is about N2,500 per passenger but we can’t stand the sight of waves. It is scary.”
Amid hectic traffic that compounds journeying along rough patches of the expressway, water transportation offers a viable commuting alternative waiting to be fully tapped. While incidents of fatal boat accidents, especially in local ferries, have discouraged many from embracing water transport, fares for standard boats like the one boarded by the Akintundes are currently on the high side.
Fledgling Badagry water transport
Boats navigating Badagry route are in jetties across strategic locations, including Ebute-Ero, CMS, Falomo, Ojo, Mile 2 and Liverpool (Apapa) areas of Lagos. Although there is a growing embrace of water transport in those locations as commuters attempt to beat the city’s notorious road traffic, it has not translated into significant patronage of tourism centres in Badagry.
Investigation by Saturday PUNCH revealed that for comfort and safety reasons, most tourists prefer to travel to Badagry in covered boats run by Lagos Ferry Services also known as LAGFERRY which has yet to commence daily operations to Badagry.
LAGFERRY Operation Monitor at Ojo Jetty, Abiodun Ajeniru, said there would be a significant boost in tourists travelling through the waterways once the daily shuttle to Badagry commenced.
He said, “Many of the tourists we carry now are dignitaries. They are learned people and we usually have them every two weeks. At times, we have two or three tourists in a week. The highest we had at Ojo was a family of seven travelling to Badagry.
“Once the daily operation to Badagry starts, the patronage will be massive. Passengers are always on the ground to board open fibre boats but more people prefer covered boats. ”
Abiodun Bakare, the operation monitor at Mile 2 jetty, told our correspondent that few tourists chartered boats to Badagry on weekends, but projected a remarkable increase when operations fully started.
He said, “We take families to Badagry for tourism on weekends but it is charter. Our boats convey some tourists there on Friday and bring them back on Sunday. The majority of our customers are middle class. At times, if a family comes and they can’t afford the charter alone, we give them a date when we will have two or more families to join them.
“Tourists who are brave enough also travel in local boats perhaps because of cost. LAGFERRY does charter for now. By the time we begin daily operations when we can carry both tourists and regular passengers, the fare will reduce drastically. On Independence Day, many tourists went to Badagry. Our three boats – 30, 40, 60-passenger boats – were filled up.”
Bakare however expressed worry over the security challenge in Mile 2, stating that it discouraged many tourists from coming to the jetty to board boats to Badagry.
He said, “We expect more tourists to use waterways but the peculiarity of Mile 2 in terms of security impacts patronage. Recently, there was a fight from Monday till Friday. The majority of tourists prefer to go to Badagry through other jetties such as CMS or Falomo.
“Even most of them that stay around Mile 2 don’t like using the jetty because of security reasons. We always assure them that we have security at the jetty. That is how we are able to convince some people.”
LAGFERRY Head, Operations, Amos Samasa, said the charter cost varied based on locations, pegging travel cost to and from Badagry from Falomo jetty at between N150,000 and N300,000 depending on the boat capacity.
According to him, from Falomo to Badagry, a 17-passenger boat goes for N150,000; a 30-passenger boat is N200,000 while a 60-passenger boat attracts N300,000.
He added, “We wait for the tourists to finish their tour and bring them back but the travel time must fall within our operation period which is between 6am and 6.30pm. For those that want to spend the night, they will pay more because we have to return to Badagry the following day to carry them. If we charge N150,000 for charter but you want to spend more than a day, we will charge you an additional N100,000.”
From Samasa’s account, it is seemingly clear that using water transportation for tourism purposes is largely above the means of the poor until when the full operation would commence.
He added, “That is why we partner some agents that can bring four or five family members together and we will pick them at once. Each family can pay N30,000 to N50,000. But oftentimes, we don’t have families coming together.
“We are still creating awareness to encourage more people to use the waterways. Water transportation is just getting revived and I believe we will get there. We are just scratching the surface for now. The more the awareness, the more we will expand.”
Samasa said LAGFERRY Badagry jetty had been completed and would be launched before the end of the year, adding that security measures required for smooth daily operations along the axis were being put in place.
He stated, “For now, we mostly do charter. As soon as we commence daily commuting operations fully, the fare should be N2,000 per passenger and with the number of boats we have now, we can take up to 2,500 tourists at once. I am optimistic that more tourists will use waterways as soon as the price is N2,000 because water is the only easy way to get to Badagry for now in view of the ongoing reconstruction of the expressway which makes the journey tedious.”
On safety concerns partly occasioned by uncertified captains plying waterways, Samasa said captains working with LAGFERRY were required to be licensed by the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency.
“After we interview them, they need to be certified again practically by LASWA (Lagos State Waterways Authority) which is our regulator before they can drive on waterways,” he stated.
Opening up waterways for tourism
Issues limiting water transportation in Lagos have been identified to include poor jetty facilities, accidents caused by wrecks (consisting of shipwrecks, logs and rocks) on waterways and lack of public private partnership.
For instance, on Monday, September 27, a 17-passenger boat heading for Ikorodu from CMS capsized after hitting a rock around the Adekunle Waterfront area. The Area Manager of the National Inland Waterways Authority, Sarah Braimah, confirmed that one person died in the accident.
In August 2019, a former Flag Officer Commanding, Western Naval Command of the Nigerian Navy, Rear Admiral Oladele Daji, said about 35 shipwrecks were hindering navigation into the Tin Can Island ports.
He identified other areas with shipwrecks as Kirikiri, Navy Town and bad portions of the Badagry Creek.
Daji had said, “The hazard associated with these wrecks is that most often, especially during high water, they are submerged and hardly visible to mariners and therefore, pose great threats during this period of time. Apart from endangering shipping, most of the wrecks also constitute environmental pollution and hazards.”
A Professor of Archaeology and Tourism Studies at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Ifeyinwa Emejulu, said navigation and security along the waterways were crucial to enhancing tourism in Badagry and water transportation in general.
She said, “We need to consider how navigable the waterway is. Also, we cannot talk of tourism either through land, sea or air without security. How can people travel when their security is not ensured?
“The waterways should be made navigable and wrecks clogging them must be cleared. Boats that are in good condition should be made available; not the ones that will get stuck in the middle of the sea.”
Emejulu also said boat fare should be affordable so that more people would be attracted to tourism.
“The drivers must be well trained so people will have more confidence in the water transportation,” she added.
Samuel Odewumi, Transport Geography Professor at the Lagos State University, Ojo, advised the state government to provide the necessary infrastructure and fully explore Private-Public Partnership arrangement to make waterways attractive to tourists.
He said, “The Lagos-Badagry Expressway is currently a limiting factor for tourism. Some 10 years ago, Badagry used to be a place for spending holidays. Three elements are crucial for water transportation in Badagry and other parts of the state. First, the route itself needs dredging and removal of wrecks. Like roads, waterways need to be maintained.
“Also, entrances to most of the jetties are waterlogged and difficult to access. They must be fixed. There should be enough and secured space for people to park their vehicles. All these things need not be government funded. Private Public Partnership is the right way to go. Government funding cannot sustain it. It will just work for some time and stop.
“Government can lease an expanse of land to private bodies to develop hotels, restaurants, car parks, among others so that when you get to jetties, it is a whole booming economy. For instance in Falomo, it is a whole bustling activity. Government needs not spend a dime yet. Within a year or two it will be making huge sums of money.”
Odewumi lamented that chalets at Badagry breach where tourists could relax were in a deplorable state and urged that they should be renovated.
He also advised that overlap of duties among the state ministry of transportation, ministry of works and LASWA as well as rivalry between LASWA and NIWA must be addressed.
He added, “LAGFERRY is inadequate for Lagos water transportation and tourism and the government is aware. The idea is to show the way for private investors. If infrastructures are put in place, private investors will come on board.
“Private bodies are the owners of tourism and it is the government’s duty to provide basic infrastructural facilities to make it work. The major disadvantage of local fibre boats is that they are open boats and are not suitable for cruising. Lagos is a tropical area where it can rain any time.”
On his part, a Professor of Hospitality Management and Tourism, Chukwuemeka Paulinus, said Badagry has a number of artefacts related to transatlantic slave trade many people would be interested to see.
He said there was the need for the government to make water transportation work to improve accessibility to the historical monuments limited by the bad road network.
Paulinus stated, “The first thing is the government’s will to make the water transportation work. The government needs to intensify efforts on water transportation. Private investors should be licensed to operate. They will likely bring in cruises. The waterways should also be dredged to make the boats sailable.
“Tourism is a private sector-driven enterprise but the government must invest in it by providing the necessary infrastructure. If the waterways are dredged and safe, investors will come on board.”
We’ll improve access to tourist destinations in Badagry– LASWA
Replying to our correspondent’s enquiries on the state of water transportation in the state and its potential for boosting tourism in Badagry, LASWA Managing Director, Damilola Emmanuel, said the agency constantly advocated the use of waterways as an alternative to road transport.
According to him, over 15,000 people currently commute daily from Badagry to Lagos Island, adding that the government is renovating and building new jetties in Apa Badagry, Ijegun Egba, Liverpool, Ebute-Ero among other locations along the Ojo-Badagry axis to boost waterways patronage and reduce vehicular traffic on the Lagos Badagry Expressway.
Emmanuel said, “These efforts will surely improve access to tourist destinations in Badagry as most of these tourism sites such as the Point of No Return and the Slave Barracuda are linked to the waterways.
“Aside from carrying out daily patrol and enforcement where we always check and sanction erring ferry operators, we regularly conduct on-the-spot assessment on all ferries operating on the waterways to ascertain their seaworthiness. Currently, we are distributing free life jackets to ferry operators, passengers and pupils in the Riverine areas.”
He stated further that LASWA had acquired two patrol boats to deepen safety operations while search and rescue units would be set up in Ojo and Ikorodu routes with a central control room for real-time monitoring of the waterways.
The LASWA MD also claimed that the agency had focused on removing wrecks on the Ikorodu axis this year while NIMASA and NIWA were removing those on the Ojo-Badagry route.
He added, “Removal of wrecks is taking collaboration with federal agencies taking the larger chunk.”