Poorly-secured Lagos waterways put coastal communities, travellers and investments along the coastline at a risk, GEOFF IYATSE, who traversed the Lagos tributaries in a boat, write.
I had just been welcomed to Ebute Jetty in Ikorodu, Lagos State, by a lone attendant, who cared less about nothing, save the tattered life jackets he was distributing. The guy’s sight reminded me of the frightening tales of how boats capsize before passengers would realise that the so-called life jackets they wear have expired.
Apparently, the safety materials were unwashed for, possibly, months and had changed colour. But I was not sure this was a sufficient reason to conclude that they had expired.
A lady who had collected the life-saving jacket before me and was walking towards the anchored boat was probably also not comfortable with it. Even after boarding, she continued to dust the apparel.
I collected the one given to me and feigned a smile with the boatman. After all, something occupying my inner recess told me I would need him as we embarked on the journey. Therefore, finding fault or arguing at that early stage could put me at a disadvantage when I would seek his favour.
The premises of the jetty were as quiet as the unmanned ticketing office. At one corner of the small pier was the 20-seater speedboat that was to take us through the heart of the Atlantic Ocean in 35 minutes later. It was just all alone on the jetty.
Standing on the craft, one could see several miles away without sighting any other boat, whether parked or on a motion. The only facilities that were visible looked like rusty installations that were rotting away and contaminating on the sea.
Again, the only audible noise one could hear was occasional singing and squeaking by birds. Indeed, it was an escape from the animated city life, but a frightening one. For one, in the entire serene environment, nothing suggested that there was a military presence around the jetty. Here was a town where criminals struck some banks less than two months earlier and escaped with no less than N80m via speedboats.
At another nearby jetty, there was no boat at all, not even for a charter service. For those familiar with the terrain, normal commercial services start about 4pm in this landing stage. Except for two security guards that looked after a garage of cars, the place was like a ghost hamlet. There was no presence of a public security agency in the neighbourhood too.
In company with five other passengers and three operators, we left the shore of Ikorodu at 1:52pm. I was a little nervous even though I had spent a countless number of hours on speedboats before. It appeared every other co-traveller, apart from the boatmen, was also apprehensive.
In about five minutes into the turbulent sea, it was obvious that we were going to be alone on the aggressive Atlantic, and to our fate. No boat was travelling in or opposite our direction. Mostly importantly, there were no surveillance boats in sight.
About 10 minutes into the journey, the fading sound from Ikorodu’s industrial activities had disappeared completely. There was no single reminder that we were still in Lagos territory. As we cruised on the turbulent sea, all we could hear was the humming of the boat engine and the splashing wave. This was continuous and deafening.
There was still no sight of any patrol boat. Then, I began to ponder the risk we all faced supposing we were transporting valuable items and criminals intercepted us. “Who would save us from pirates? What if we met with the kind of robbers that laid siege to Ikorodu banks about two months ago?” I asked myself?
This particular journey reminded me of an experience on a route in Delta State. From Warri to Ugborodo, the host community of Escravos, you could count more than five military checkpoints in less than 30 minutes on the creeks.
Rather than guaranteeing safer navigation, the security personnel had commercialised the posts and would threaten to drown passengers of ‘stubborn’ boatmen, those who refused to ‘settle.’ The presence of military men was my fear on the voyage on the dangerous Warri creeks. But on Ikorodu/Marina route, the opposite was the case. I dreaded their absence.
In recent times, the Lagos waterways have provided a secure means of escaping arrest for daredevil robbers. The Ikorodu and Lekki cases are typical examples. “Was there any link between the unsecured nature of the waterways and the emerging trick of robbers?” I pondered.
There was a relief eventually when I sighted the Third Mainland Bridge from a distance. A few villagers, perhaps residents of floating Makoko, were seen paddling ferries within a reachable distance. One could also sight fast-moving flowing traffic on the bridge. The expansive Victoria Island and Lekki were also visible.
But that was after we had spent over 20 minutes on the lonely waterway. Al least for this noticeable signs, we concluded that we were no longer ‘alone’ on the Atlantic.
Ordinarily, one would think that part of the city would get more security attention. Sadly, with the vast cluster of investments lining along the shoreline of Ikoyi, Victoria Inland, Lekki and Marina, there were no military boats patrolling the sea to prevent possible threats.
We were welcomed to Marina by some loafers, several of them loitering along the banks of the jetty. They were frightening enough to remind us that we were, after all, in Lagos.
There were clusters of boats waiting to commence the evening commercial services to Ikorodu especially. A few of them were shuttling between the Lagos Island and Apapa Wharf. Unlike the Ikorodu pier where one could not get a bottle of soft drink to buy, Marina jetty was packed with an array of commercial activities, such as trading and ticketing.
But clearly missing in the harvest of activities that kept the place alive was the all-important security presence. There were no naval officers on the shore; there were no policemen at the boisterous jetty to ensure that each passenger that boarded a boat was going on a legal assignment.
On Ikorodo to Ajah, another route that takes hundreds of restive Lagosians off the busy metropolitan roads daily, the experience was not different.
From Ojo to Ikaare
From Apapa to Badagry is a stretch of sea separating several communities from Lagos. Residents of the communities, unlike their Ikorodu counterparts, know no other life than that of boats and water. For every errand and business that these people need to carry out in the city, they take to a boat ride.
Before now, I had heard some tales about life in Ikaare, fragmented villages occupied by majorly Béninoise and Togolese immigrants. Finally, there was a need to navigate the lagoons that encircle the place two weeks ago.
Not knowing exactly what informed my decision, I chose to ride on the water separating Ikaare from Ojo on a Sunday.
Without much traffic trouble getting through Mile 2 and Ojo, I was standing at the Ojo Jetty a few minutes after 9am. With almost every boat and ferry used for local dredging, one would need the assistance of a resident to identify a commercial boat.
Unlike the noiseless Ikorodu jetties, Ojo was raucous and energetic. And unlike Marina where you have many idle boys, everybody at the Ojo waterfront on that Sunday morning was almost neck-deep in the shallow water packing sand into a ferry.
For several minutes, I stood wondering whom to talk to since everybody appeared too busy to and would not want to be disturbed.
Eventually, I excused a young man (maybe in his mid-20s). We had a short but useful chat. Moni, as he introduced himself, ran a commercial boat service on the sea. But he had another more profitable engagement that morning with definite targets to meet. Hence, he and his boat were not available for a hire as I proposed.
While we were still talking (on boating and the safety of the waterways), Moni made a telephone call to his friend who had visited a drinking joint to ‘prepare’ himself for the day. I told Moni how excited I was getting a two-or-more-hour ride on the sea just for a fun.
“But I am scared I could be harassed by some miscreants or overzealous naval officers,” I explained to him.
But Moni, who I later learnt is a son of an immigrant fisherman, responded, “You don’t have to worry. There is nobody to stop you on the sea. The reason you do not see any boat on the water is that today is Sunday. Before the next two hours, you will see some people going to the Ikaare Beach. Everywhere (waving across the still water) will be busy.”
With an agreement on fare and the time we would spend concluded, I leaped into the steaming boat belonging to Moni’s friend, Ade Lemo. My offer appeared strange to him: I was not going to any particular community or a beach but just riding a boat for the fun of it.
“I have never done this. It is either a passenger is going to a particular beach or to a community in Ikaare. Some people who have a serious business to do at Ikaare are even scared of boarding a boat. And you want to ride on a boat without any mission in the place you are going to?” he asked curiously.
Still without a definite destination in mind, we set for a navigation that would eventually last for over two hours. The conditions were clear: an extra minute beyond the agreed one hour would attract an extra charge.
Lemo was good at boating but he was extremely reserved. Within 30 minutes, we had covered several miles. He knew when to speed and when to slow down. Indeed, contrary to my previous boating experience, the water was calm. I could only guess why: it was early in the morning and it was yet undisturbed.
The sea was deserted. There was no sign of fishing in the vast water surrounding communities that rely on aquatic activities for sustenance.
Again, despite the fact that our escapade took us round the water, cruising on a number of tributaries, there were no probing eyes on the water; there was no security patrol team on the sea.
We crisscrossed the sea to view the cocoanut island called Ikaare from different angles. The question I kept asking myself was: who caters to the security of the water in the crime-prone Ojo and Ajangbadi axis? There was no signal that there would be any help should the boat rider (who I had a lot of admiration for) chose to act funny.
Perhaps, fear is not the right word to describe my emotional state the moment the thought flashed my mind. But I was disturbed. Lemo would not know what the time was; there was nothing on him that looked like a clock. But by now, we had spent over an hour on the sea.
Just to be sure his mind was not working an evil plan, I suggested we should return to a local jetty we had just passed at Ikaare for a break. He obliged.
Ikaare is a lovely community of people whose excitement about life is marred by lack of public facilities – no toilets, no electricity and no potable water to give them comfort in their thatched houses. I was not going to waste much time on the Island because my per-minute transport billing was reading. With the company of Lemo, I walked through the community.
On the other side was ample water stretching from Victoria Island to Badagry. But causing a little wonder was an SUV speeding on the unmanned and lonely seashore to wherever. A villager said the car possibly took off in Badagry and was heading for some destination in Lagos.
My second visit to Ikaare was on a workday, Friday to be precise. I wanted to be sure that the naval officials and other security agents who could have been assigned to the waterways in that part of Lagos were not on a weekend break during my previous trip.
Alas, the observations, except that more commercial boats were on duty, were the same. There was no security cover at the jetties. There was also no military presence on the water.
Earlier this year, a gang of 11 robbers attacked and robbed a commercial bank in Lekki, fleeing through the water with several millions of naira. Five people were killed during the operation. When the suspects were arrested in May, they confessed that they accessed Lekki from Langbasa with the aid of speedboats.
Suspects of a similar crime in Ikorodu also fled on speedboats after the robbery that lasted for about an hour.
The two incidents raised concern about the security of Lagos waterways and quality of policing in these tributaries.
We are everywhere in Lagos —Navy
But the Information Officer of the Western Naval Command, the Nigerian Navy, Lt. Commander Abdulsalam Sani, has said the command “has a presence in all the waterways in Lagos.”
Speaking on the telephone on Wednesday, Sani said the programme code-named Operation ‘Awatse’, which means dislodge vandals; which the command unveiled last October, had increased its presence in the Ikorodu coastal line particularly.
The force, he said, monitored the Lagos waterways with four capital ships and several patrol boats. Sani, however, declined to state the number of boats operating in the state and the number of personal deployed on daily basis to provide security in the creeks and seas.
On Ojo specifically, Sani, who said the naval base in the areas patrolled the creeks with an aircraft, added that the patrol boats attached to the Apapa operational area extended their surveillance to Ojo.
Beyond this assurance, he would not give details on the number of personnel and boats that cater to security in the highly-volatile Apapa-Ojo axis.
“I cannot give the number of boats that patrol the area. But the truth is that we are everywhere in Lagos. Our officers in Ojo carry out surveillance with an aircraft while the team in Apapa extends its boat patrol operations to the area as well,” Sani stressed.
Source: The PunchThe Punch