The Federal Government has begun a water transportation scheme in Lokoja, the Kogi State capital.
The commencement of the scheme has raised hopes in several quarters that Nigerians may soon begin to enjoy alternative means of transportation across the country. It was gathered that with the beginning of the initiative, the gradual return of human movement through the country's inland water network has begun.
The scheme, launched through the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA), is expected to blossom with plan to procure no fewer than 50 boats to ensure that the whole country's littoral areas are covered under the water transportation scheme. The scheme was launched in Lokoja with a 23-seater ferry boat. The boat was said to have conveyed about 13 passengers to Onitsha from Lokoja.
Managing Director of NIWA, Mr. Ahmed Aminu Yar'Adua, who formally launched the scheme, also addressed the passengers before their voyage to Lokoja, describing water transportation as safer than the road transport
According to him, it was the first time government through NIWA would embark on commercial transportation on the dredged River Niger, adding that the maiden voyage was to test-run it. Other routes will also start soon.
Yar'Adua, an architect, said the whole idea was to let the people know that transportation on waterway was possible in the country so as to decongest the road. He explained that water transportation was possible, especially through collaboration with the private sector
"NIWA is expecting about six boats but only one has arrived now and by the time others arrived 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 up to Bomadi as well as Lokoja to Makurdi," he said.
While emphasising the importance of water transport, Yar'Adua said at the end the journey people would believe that water transportation 'is safe' and would begin to patronise it.
He said private sector would soon key into the initiative as many companies had already indicated interest in the business.
"About three or four people have shown interest that they want to partner us and we will soon sit down and discuss that. It is still something new so there are things to be sorted out. Now price is not really the matter, we have to continue bringing in people so that they get used to it. As the maiden voyage was successful it is an indication that water transportation is possible. It will take a boat four hours to get to Onitsha from Lokoja.
"While road transporters are collecting N1,000 for the journey, passengers would only pay far less to get to the same destination even when the cost of each of the boats was higher than vehicles on the roads. Each boat costs about N45 million", he said.