Lokoja — Is the dredging of River Niger completed? But when? In the midst of these posers, water transportation has begun between Lokoja and Onitsha.
The commencement of water transportation by the Nigeria Inland Ways Authority (NIWA) is a welcome development and it only means things would change for the better. These are the words of Ozor Obinna Udeaja JP, first Vice President of Igbo Community in Lokoja, Kogi State capital, who was exhilarated by the water transportation debut from Lokoja to Onitsha.
Udeaja, who is a trader in Lokoja told Weekly Trust that with the boat transportation, the stress traders face on the road would soon be over.
"As you can see, the journey is so smooth, no galloping and there is no fear of reckless driving. In fact, I recommend boat transportation to all the traders in Kogi State; it has been tested and trusted now. I boarded the boat to experience the journey to be able to tell my people about it," he said.
He said though they have been able to sensitize their people about it, yet are still apprehensive being a new innovation in the nation's transportation system. "Now that I have seen things for myself, I believe my people would embrace it and we will mobilize co-traders to be using it."
He, however, commended the NIWA for the initiative and called on the people to come and enjoy the wonderful comfort he has enjoyed for five hours and that he would recommend boat transport to both traders and any other person going to Onitsha.
NIWA, on December 23, test-run boat transportation from Lokoja to Onitsha. The Managing Director of NIWA, Arc. Ahmed Aminu Yar'Adua said NIWA wanted to reduce the pressure on Nigeria's roads and change people's orientation about water transportation.
Besides, he said, NIWA has purchased a 45-seater modern boat, fully air conditioned, with two television sets to ferry people and goods from Lokoja to Onitsha at a moderate price.
Though many passengers were not on board being the first time, the 10 passengers who boarded the boat said they were very happy at the smooth and comfortable nature of the journey to Onitsha.
Sixty-year-old Chuka Obanleze, another passenger in the boat, said it was a good concept by the NIWA if they can sustain it. "As you can see, the journey is so smooth and unlike the road, there is no much stress like traffic hold up and potholes. In fact, it is better than the road transportation.
"I had planned to travel by road, but when I went out yesterday I overheard people talking about it, so I came to inquire about it and I saw the boat hence I decided to give it a trial this morning and now that we have arrived at Onitsha safely without stress, I am convinced now that NIWA is really out for business," he said.
Mr. Obanleze, who was visibly excited on alighting from the boat at Onitsha Dock yard, said "I will tell my people that NIWA is doing a good thing and that whoever wants to travel to Onitsha should do so by the River Niger.
Also, Mrs. Umeh Ozor, who was traveling with her children, could not hide her joy. She told Weekly Trust she would no longer travel by road as long as the boat service is available.
According to her, she was apprehensive when she boarded the boat as she has never entered one before, adding that "with my experience now, it is safer, cheaper as well as less stress-free compared with vehicles."
"With this experience, I will tell my people to always travel by the river Niger because it is convenient. I only spent about N4,000, if I had go by road I would have end up spending closed to N10,000 and it would not have been as fast as this due to traffic as a result of the influx of travelers for Christmas celebration.
Weekly Trust's reporter, who was also on board, observed that it takes the boat five hours to reach Onitsha from Lokoja. The captain of the boat however pointed out that it supposed to have been four hours but because they are testing running, the journey lasted five hours.
Another passenger in the boat, Yakubu Ayodele Idris, commended NIWA for the initiative. He told Weekly Trust that he boarded the boat so as to have a firsthand experience so that he can justifiably talk about it from an informed point of view.
"I don't have any business in Onitsha, I only board the boat to see thing for myself. It is a good idea so I will advise those concerned to sensitise the peole to start using water transportation to Onitsha because it is cheaper and safer compared with road transport," he said.
Meanwhile, NIWA Managing Director Arc Ahmed Aminu Yar'Adua, who addressed passengers before leaving the Lokoja dock yard, said water transportation is safer than road.
According to him, it is the first time NIWA is starting a commercial transportation from Lokoja to Onitsha using the dredged channel on the river Niger, saying that the journey is to test run and that other route will also commenced soon.
He said passengers are apprehensive because this is the first time a boat is moving on the water ways from Lokoja to Onitsha, assuring them that the water way is safe and that NIWA has been using the channel.
Arc. Yar'adua said the whole idea was to let the people know that transportation on water way is possible in the country so as to decongest the road, saying they will do it in collaboration with the private sectors that had already indicated interest.
"NIWA is expecting about six boats but only one has arrived now and by the time others arrive we would put them on other routes. We will put one in Lagos, two in Yenagoa-Brass, one in Port Harcourt, one in Calabar- Oron, we also hope to put one in Onitsha down to south- South to Bomadi and also we want to put another one from Lokoja to Makurdi," he said.
While emphasizing water transport, Arc. Yar'Adua said at the end the journey, people would believe that water transportation is safe and patronize it while private sector would be brought in as many companies had already indicated interest.
"About three or four people have shown interest that they want to partner with us and we would sit down and discuss that. It is still something new so there are things to be sorted out. As at now, price is not really the matter, we have to continue bringing in people so that they get used to it. I am that the journey was successful as this has shown that water transportation is possible," he said.
According to him, it will take a boat four hours from Lokoja to Onitsha, saying that they are collecting a thousand naira for the journey.