Mr. Gani Tazan Balogun, is the President, Association of Tourist Boat Operators and Water Transporters of Nigeria (ATBOWATON), and the MD/CEO, Gani Tarzan Marine Enterprises. In this interview, he spoke with Cliffsimeon Akalonu, on the need for the government to fund local and indigenous boat builders and provide fuel stations on the inland water ways
As an indigenous boat builder and pioneer water transporter, what has really changed in terms of technology?
Today we have more boat operators on the water ways unlike before. In the olden days, we used 15 horse power engines and the biggest then was 25 horse power engine but now, we are using 200, 250 even double of it. Those days what we have was banana boats made of planks, that can carry about 30-40 passengers but right now, we are having what is called speed boats.
Sometime in 2017, you told me that your association (ATBOWATON) in conjunction with the Nigerian Navy are trying to start building locally made boats. What happened to this dream?
Yes! We approached the Navy in this regard because importing boats from abroad is very expensive. But as at today, it has not really been materialized because the funds needed to start up the project is not yet in hand and as a matter of fact the banks are not helpful. We are pleading to the federal government to assist us with funds so as we can achieve this dream with what we have and by so doing jobs will be created direct or indirect. We must not always be dependent on other people’s products, we can equally produce them here and maybe become Africa’s hub for boats.
What have you done as an association to convince the government on the need for boat building in Nigeria?
We have written severally to the federal and state governments to find means of producing locally made boats in Nigeria. We have told them that when we start producing these boats here, it will boost the economy, indigenous operators will save enough from the cost of importation, shipping and all that, it will also create employment as I earlier said. We have given the government too many designs of what is to be produced and that if they can make a different choice or give us alternative as to how they would want us to produce, but all we get is silence. Note that, the Nigeria Navy is ready anytime and once this fund is released, we kick off production.
Where do you think water transportation has fallen short of glory presently?
There has always been improvement in the water transportation but the only vital area that I want to be touched seriously is policy because government has not really done well in this aspect and by the time we bring good headed people especially those who have the nation at heart, to help draft policies of water transportation and monitor them, then it will regain its glory not bringing those who come to do paper work.
Currently what are the challenges facing the association?
Good! The most challenging, remains the issue of lack of petrol stations on the water ways. They should look into this so as members can easily get access on the water ways other than taking jerry cans outside to go get fuel and you can imagine the inconveniences. We have been clamouring for this even in the time of Obasanjo till now. We face a lot when going to buy fuel outside our premises and that is why we want something done in this aspect because it is also part of water Transport infrastructure. Secondly, wrecks on the waterways. Some of the accidents you hear happened on the water ways were caused by wrecks. Yes the government is doing something on it but something needs to be done fast. Though LASWA has started putting signs on the waterways which we also commend them to do more because more can be done.
Can you shade light on some of the achievements of the association?
The major one remains advocacy for safety on the water ways and by so doing, we have achieved up to 80% compliance on safety. My association started the use of life jackets and no one can dispute that, so it is a plus one to us. The association has been able to nurture members, educating people on the activities of water transportation. For example, at Ikorodu, almost 90% of operators there are our members and by having this huge number of operators, we are adding value to economy of the nation and the states too.
Sometime last year, the International Maritime Organization IMO), labelled Nigeria as one of the poorest in maritime activities. What is your take on this?
May be the reason why they said so was that we do not manufacture anything. For example, I built the batch that carries cars across the waters and I needed the government to encourage me not by giving me any kobo. I think they expected us to be manufacturing boats by now and not depending on other manufacturers.
What do you have in stock for 2019?
What we have in stock, is a better service than what we have been doing. We want to launch a campaign called “Accident Free Waterways”, in conjunction with the NIWA and LASWA.
Outside you, are there other boat assemblers and why do we have less availability of boat spare parts?
There are many boat assemblers. In the case of non-availability of boat spare parts, exchange rate could be the cause.
How do you think you and your association have added value to economy?
We have added value to the Nigerian economy by paying our dues and taxes through the services we render. We have added value by transporting people who may have spent longer time coming into Lagos in few minutes. I have added value by servicing of labour. I have also added value by piloting the advocacy for safety on the waterways.
Where do you think the Federal government need to intervene in the water transportation business?
I want them to encourage indigenous boat builders in Nigeria. Instead of giving us money to go to America and buy boats, they should give it to us to manufacture boats here for the standard use on our waterways.
What is your message to your customers? My message is that, our customers should always expect better services from and my members. I want to tell them that without them there will be no me.