By Frank Meke
There is a significant aspect, indeed a very important segment of our community largely forgotten, unprotected, unprofiled, and sadly seen as merely making up the numbers in our quest for national development agenda.
They are only factored as electioneering desirables, burden bearers, and witnesses to our rogue system and nothing more.
We leave them to die in piecemeal, pollute their environment, and celebrate their death. They count for nothing, maybe hardly worth more than the fish they sell to us from their backwater.
Prone to frequent avoidable accidents, their waterways, and our roads on water are mere political and geographical experiment. It is estimated that about sixty per cent of our productive population lives , commute, and trade on our waterways.
Let us not discuss the manner of their living and the lack of basic amenities, cottage health facilities, schools, and sporting services. Let us beam light on their geographical locations, 28 states out 36, from River Niger through the Nun and forcados to the Atlantic waters, the River Benue to its confluence with the Niger River in lokoja, the Cross River spreading its tributaries to Nigerian Cameroon borders.
From warri, our waterways and its neglected and abandoned communities meanders through forcados River, Bomadi, Patani , gbaran creeks , Nembe, Egbema , Degema, Hanya Town, Ogbakiri to Portharcourt.
There are villages, our people living along the Rivers sokoto, kaduna, Gongola, Donga , katsina Ala, Anambra, Ogun, Benin, Imo and Badagry
Lagos lagoon to Epe, Omu creek , Taifia kwei to Atijere, Aboto , Oluwa River to okitipupa and Gbekebo. Have you heard of Ofunama or the canal swating from Araromi through Aiyetero in Ondo state?
Rivers Benin, Ethiope, ossioma, and the blue waters of Azumini, Oguta , Orashi River, Egbema sombrero River.
Nigeria littoral communities are a telling showpiece of maritime tourism, natural resources endposts, and potentially viable developmental outposts fittered with neglect and hardly deserving attention.
These places to which this work could not mention their thousand villages, attracted the attention of British colonial merchants and their expedition forces who clearly and intelligently mapped out their huge natural resources, from agriculture, fisheries, oil palm plantations for rogue exploration and exportation. While the British stole us blind, we, in our time, vomit spittle on our people.
Unknown to many of our people, particularly our so-called ivy league political leaders and their hired consultants, Nigeria’s inland waterways and its communities share strategic security and socioeconomic boundaries with five African countries
Through our waters, we trade and mingle with Benin Republic , Equatorial Guinea, Cameroun, Chad, and Niger Republic.
To trade in goods and services, including the movement of people, requires top strategic planning and impact.
Ferry service providers and inter communities boat transport operators are groaning as the removal of fuel subsidy has grounded day to day living in our littoral communities.
A boat ride from Cms to Apapa, Epe, and Badagry is beyond the reach of our people living in these profiled places across the country.
No doubt boat mishaps will unfortunately increase as certain boat services economy may stimulate suicidal decisions, impacting negatively on carrying capacity,and circumvention of extant safety measures.
Indeed, life jackets will be adulterated due to the high cost of imported ones,as many shall resort to usage of paddled boats as against mechanised ones, sadly tripling uncensored heritage activities inimical to socioeconomic development, thus engendering toxic behavioural dispositions.
It is unfortunate that our desire to grow our nation and its economy is hardly given a deep thought, boldly ignoring the real economic contributors, focusing on euro centric economic fancies.
Apart from the all-important desire to fund and explore development opportunities clearly begging for our attention on our waterways and its neglected littoral communities, we have in our usual haste, not factored, the housing benefits to which our waterfronts across the country, could generate.
The Banana islands and Eko Atlantic cities could be replicated across the country, dredging billions of dollars in foreign exchange into our empty coffers. Though that is not my mission on this conversation, waterfront property developments could help map out new cities for industrial and luxury estates and to which will pipe jobs and unveil tourist recreational boom in our littoral communities.
As a matter of fact, it is important for this administration to quickly respond to the movement of our people through the waterways by providing them cheap and safe transport services. Eight thousand naira monthly as a palliative is an insult to a people who sits atop natural resources wealth but ignored by our myopic policies.
President, Association of Tourist Boat Operators and Water Transporters ( ATBOWATON), Dr Gani Balogun revealed that the removal of subsidy has made life unbearable for boat operators , and ferry services providers and most importantly, the passengers.
In lagos alone and also across the country, commuting by boats has become a luxury instead of a necessity, thus stifling rural economic opportunities, and boosting restiveness among young persons.
School children from these communities who hitherto were ferried probono by boat Operators to attend schools in nearby urban centres as part of their social responsibility ecosystem has been withdrawn, thus impacting negatively on the education of our children in those places.
Generally, life is poor and brutish in our littoral communities even before subsidy removal, and it is beyond imagination what should be going on there now.
President Bola Ahmed Tinubu should flood our littoral communities with water taxis and ferries and find a way to partner with registered boat operators to make life easier for our littoral families.
A dedicated funding scheme to help cushion the effects of subsidy removal can be arranged for established and tax paying boat operators and a special purpose boat services scheme for school children and market women provided by government free of encumbrances.
Since the new hike in petrol prices, most boat operators have withdrawn their services , booming the unemployment market and those still in business, struggling to make ends meet as the number of passengers have dipped.
To say boat operators and our littoral communities are bleeding is an understatement. To live and commute on our littoral frontiers is a nightmare, and my fears is that pirate activities and militancy may return to our waterways and littoral communities if this administration does not wake up and address this gap as a matter of urgent national security .