Enhancing the transport system in the country will help in addressing the current burden on roads.
There is no doubt that water transport remains a veritable avenue to reduce the present over reliance on road transport across the country. Presently the movement of persons, goods and service is more on the roads that criss-cross the country.
For a country with enormous inland waterways, about 8,600km, roughly 60 per cent is unused, which is an anomaly. The longest inland waterways are the Niger River and its tributary, the Benue River, which are largely unused. The most used, especially by larger powered boats and for commerce, are in the Niger Delta and all along the coast from Lagos Lagoon to Cross River.
Rail, another channel of transportation has also been neglected over time. As of 2003, Nigeria's rail system had 3,557 kilometers of track, 19 kilometers of which were dual gauge and the remainder, standard gauge.
The country has two major rail lines: one connects Lagos on the Bight of Benin and Nguru in the northern state of Yobe; the other connects Port Harcourt in the Niger Delta and Maiduguri in the northeastern state of Borno. However the rail system is not optimally used, until the present administration which is trying to rejuvenate the rail system. Much as being done in this sub sector should have been extended to the nation's vast waterways.
Already, the over-dependence on the road transport across Nigeria has impacted negatively on her socio-economic development. It is on record that 40 to 80 percent income of Nigerian workers are spent on transportation, with road being the dominant mode of commuting.
Again, 50 to 60 percent cost of freight is consumed by road transportation. Pathetically, most of the roads are poorly maintained and are often cited as a cause for the country's high rate of traffic fatalities as trucks compete for space with other road users.
Besides, the roads easily get bad as the weight of vehicular movement weigh heavily on the state of the roads. The huge cost aside, it takes time and skill to get the roads network back to shape.
Review of Policy That this has contributed to the high cost of roads maintenance across Nigeria is to say the least. This partly explained why stakeholders in the transport industry have continued to pick holes in Nigerian transport policy. They often use different forum to draw the attention of the federal government to the ills in the policy just as they demand for a review to meet the demands of the present realities.
A transport expert, Professor Bamidele Badejo, said for Nigerians to see the desires changes in the transport industry something tangible need to be done. He did not only picked holes in the Nigeria's transport policy, but also enumerated strategies for effective public transport management in the country.
A senior lecturer and former Lagos State Commissioner of Transportation, Badejo linked bad leadership to an absence of a national transport policy, which he said, forms the cardinal challenge facing the country's transport sector in the last 100 years of her existence.
In an inaugural lecture titled "Transporting the Future Today: Portrait of Nigeria" delivered at Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye, Ogun State., he said over the years the transport industry in the country had witnessed several missed opportunities, especially its potentially as an engine of growth and development. He added that Nigeria has not innovated nor invented the right approach towards tapping the full benefits of transport sector.
It is clear that carrying out a critical review of the transport industry to give water transport its right position in the scheme of things will help in arresting the present over dependence on road transport. Doing so will entail putting certain measures in place so that the desired change and impact can be felt by the citizenry. It is imperative for the authorities to put right policies in place and implement them strictly.
The relevant government agencies must also enact regulations that will guide operators in water transport. By the provisions of the laws establishing it, the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) has a responsibility to put rules and regulations to sanitise water transport. Besides putting the regulations in place, it must ensure its enforcement. This is the way to ensure there is efficiency in water transport in the country.
In apparent response to this challenge, NIWA has said it has concluded plans to launch an inland waterways code for its use and regulation.
Speaking the just concluded 2014 stakeholders' conference on the economic use of the Onitsha River Port, NIWA's Managing Director, Hajiya Inna Maryam Ciroma said that the code is long overdue adding that work has commenced on it. Ciroma said that code will also serve as a guide, law on the use of the waterways for operators.
She explained that the need to regulate the use of the nation's waterways cannot be overemphasized considering the security challenges that have been facing the nation in recent times.
Stakeholders have made it clear that its workability depends on several layers of approval before the code come on stream. It must be noted that aside the approvals that NIWA is waiting to get, the authority will also have to carry its relevant agencies along in the entire process. The code when finally approved will stem the indiscriminate use of the waters and checkmate the excesses of illegal dredgers.
They averred that the code will not only bring about safety on the waterways, it will regulate the use of all river crafts and vessels operation within the land waterways in Nigeria.
Those who spoke to THISDAY said apart from rules and regulation on the use of the waterways, it will also contain penalties for violation as it ill deal with the issue of overloading, not wearing of live jackets.
Last Words It is also vital that all relevant stakeholders are sensitised before the code is put into operation as every necessary step need to be taken to ensure that everything about the code is put in proper perspective. Against the backdrop that there is a nexus between a visionary leadership and comprehensive national transport policy, there is need for a roadmap to salvage Nigeria from the current dysfunction of the transport sector.
Nigeria cannot make progress without improved transportation system. Also, the sector cannot advance without a well-planned public transportation system for which water transportation is a key component. It is germane the relevant government agencies address the questions begging for questions in the transport industry. This is one of the reasons why many stakeholders in the transport industry have opined that as Nigerians would be deciding political leadership in 2015, transport "must be one of the key issues of the electorate' must demand.
According to them, the paradigm must change to accord it with the national aspiration demanding a better country. We canvass that transport - and in this context, efficient and effective national transportation agenda - must become one of the issues that the electorate should demand from the country's political leadership in the next election. Going forward, Nigeria's transport and mobility quagmire must be effectively settled and in doing this water transport must be given a priority so that Nigerians can more viable options in moving from one place to another with ease.
There should be a comprehensive transport policy to take care of the vast waterways, the rail system and the aviation sector for the country to move forward.