By Dr. Anthony Danladi Ali

Department of History and International Studies
Federal University Lokoja
P.M.B. 1154, Lokoja, Kogi State, Nigeria
TEL: (234)07080296488

Paper Presented at the Annual Lecture of Nigeria Union of Journalist (NUJ), Kogi State Chapter, Date: 5th November, 2020, Venue: NUJ Press Centre, Lokoja, Kogi State, Nigeria, Time: 10 am

It is imperative for government to develop inland water transportation in Nigeria because it is cheaper, safer, more environmentally friendly, with less operating cost and Cargo handling capacity. This study focuses on ‘Inland Water Transportation: The Untapped Potentials in Nigeria’s Economy 1901- 2019’ The problem of this study is that although, Nigeria is well drained by over three hundred inland rivers and waterways, these natural waterways have not been developed for the transportation of goods and people. The paper argue that the commercial life of the inland waterways in Nigeria could be sustained by the industrial and agricultural products of the hinterlands. This paper is significant because bulky commodities from the sea ports such as steel, cement, wood, and fragile goods such as glass, diary products to river side towns are better conveyed on the inland waterways. This paper recommends amongst others that; all inland river terminals and ports in Nigeria be dredged and furnished by government with infrastructural facilities, Second, an intermodal transport system be put in place such that light railways and roads be constructed to link all state capitals, Third, Artificial canals would open up alternative passenger routes particularly in river side settlements.

November, 2020
Key Words: Inland Waterways, Transportation, Potentials, Untapped, Economy.

Background to Study

A.D. Ali (2010), in his Doctoral dissertation at the University of Lagos wrote that from 1901, the colonial government operated fleets of crafts on Nigeria’s inland waterways. Since independence in 1960, these inland waterways have not been improved and utilised as modes of transportation. From the 1970s the tonnage of cargo shipped on the inland waterways have declined progressively. Currently, the tonnage transported cargo on the Lower Niger River is negligible. The Government Marine Department (GMD) was established in 1901.

In 1954, the Inland Waterways Department (I.W.D) was created out of the Government Marin Department and in 1997, the National Inland Waterways Authority (N.I.W.A.), took over from the I.W.D). Subsequent government in Nigeria have been paying lip services developing inland water transportation in Nigeria.
Statement of Problem
The first problem facing inland Water transportation in Nigeria is the decline in water traffc. From 1870, commercial navigation and transportation into the hinterlands of Nigeria grew with the expansion of Nigeria’s export trade. Passenger traffic on the Lower Niger and Benue Rivers also grew with the increase in the volume of trade. But, with the construction of new roads in the 1920s, the extension of the existing ones in the 1940a, and with greater number of lorry available on the roads for transportation, Water transportation came in serious competition with road transportation.
The second major problem facing inland water transportation in Nigeria is poor government attention to the sector. Since independence in 1960, the Nigerian government is not interested in developing inland water transportation as alternative to roads and railways. The Government Marine fleets in 1907 consisted of 14 self-propelled vessels, 15 poling house-boats, four lighter, and two pontoons. By 1956, the Inland Waterways Department (I.W.D) operated 179 units of various craft. These craft were used to perform a wide range of government activities such as administrative, medical, ferry operation, creek services, channels demarcation, river patrols and surveys. The cash revenue of the Marine Department for the year 1937 and 1938 amounted to £73,3014 (Seventy Three Thousand, Three Hundred and Fourteen Pounce).
The third major problem facing inland water transportation in Nigeria is poor infrastructure and operational facilities. It was for this purpose and to motivate investors that the Nigerian government established NIWA in 1997, unfortunately, it has not lived to its expectations. In the colonial period the Marine Department piloted vessels which visited the Nigerian Ports. The essence of this was to safeguard against accident. Cylindrical buoys manufactured at the Dockyards of Apapa and Lokoja were laid for moorings at the various rivers, creeks and the Nigerian Ports. The Marine Department also undertook the construction of various craft which included 70-feet diesel engine touring launches, 36-feet diesel engine launches, steel poling barges, surf boats etc. Contrary to general belief, all government crafts built in Nigeria were designed and constructed entirely in the dockyards of the Marine Department. They were not imported in sections to be put together. Plates were received in flat sheets and frames in straight length. They were cut and worked into shape by African labour. The only complete units imported were the engines.

Conceptual Clarification.

A.D. Ali (2010), in his Doctoral dissertation defines transportation as the movement of man and materials from one location to another. It has always been an important activity of man from the most primitive to the most advanced states. From a marketing point of view, transportation fulfills the need to move goods from points of production to points of sale and consumption in the quantities required or needed at a reasonable cost. Transportation is also crucial to the development of any nation because of its impact on social, political and economic activities. Indeed, J.G. Bell has remarked that among the things that make a nation great are: fertile soil, busy workshops and mobility of people. Transportation is both a result and cause of an advancing society. In modern times integrated transportation reflects the level of advancement of a country.
Inland Water Transport
A.D. Ali (2010), identifies inland waterways as the best mode by which man transported himself before other modes were used. Rivers have very considerable influence on many phases of human activities as indicated by geographical and historical facts. The Nigerian inland waterways comprise the coastal creeks, the Lagoons, Lakes, and Rivers. These natural waterways run from Badagry in the extreme west to Calabar in the south-east of the country. Boulton (1969), in The Peageant of Transport Through The Ages, noted that vast stride was made in the possibilities of water transport when the steam engine was invented as motive power. Mechanical transportation became popular in the nineteenth century when the steam engine invented by James Watt in 1765 was applied to both water and rail transportation. Steam boat was first used on tide water (water that rises and falls regularly i.e. not stagnant) and on the inland waterways in 1807 on the Hudson River.
W. H. Boulton (1969), in his researches on inland water transportation wrote that the Yangtze is the principal freight line to interior China. Despite limitations imposed by hills and rapids, the River Congo carries a heavy traffic. It is navigable for thousand miles above its mouth. The River Amazon is so wide, deep and free from obstructions that it is navigable by ocean steamers for 2,300 miles to Iquitos in Peru. The bulk of river commerce in the United State is carried on the Mississippi.
In comparison, A.D. Ali (2010), noted that Some of the most important cities, towns and villages in Nigeria are situated along river. Towns like Yawuri, New Bussa, Jebba, Pategi, Lokoja, Onitsha, Asaba, Warri are along the Niger. Along the River Niger also are found industries. Examples are paper mill at Jebba, sugar factories at Bachita and Sunti, iron smelter at Itakpe-Ajaokuta and petroleum at Warri. Unfortunately, the natural waterways in Nigeria have not been developed for the transportation of goods and people.
Economy is the totality of productive activity in a society. It is the percentage expansion or reduction of productive activities which brings about wealth creation in a society or country over a given period usually one year. Economic development is a qualitative change in human society. Economic development has universal indices. Transport is a major precondition for economic development. While development is very necessary and urgent in Africa, Nigeria’s political leaders have no sense of urgency in attending to the necessary conditions for development but have engaged themselves with victimization of political opponent, intolerance, and with little attention to potentials of moving out of underdevelopment.
The Economics of Water Transport
A.D. Ali (2010), in his Doctoral Dissertation enumerated the advantages of water transportation over other modes of transport. Water transport is efficient, affordable, environmentally friendly, waterways does not suffer traction, it is suitable for bulky commodities such as iron ore, stone, gravel, cement, coal, forest products, lower accident rate, cheaper cargo-carrying capacity, etc. It might interest us to note that the River Thames was once London,s high street from the 1750s, when the waterways served as the dominant mode of transport particularly with the invention of the steam engine by James Watts in 1765 up to the 1840s, when the railway came as substitute to water transport.
A.D. Ali (1991), in his Master’s Thesis at the University of Jos stressed the economic importance of water transportation to the development of society is that it offered to riverside peoples early opportunities for movement. Water as a gift of nature served as one of the earliest means of communication. It. was through these natural high ways that the first Europeans penetrated into the interior of the West African sub-region. Aside from the use of caravan trade routes into the hinterland of Nigeria, water transport provided the most important linkages between the settlements of the interior of Nigeria and the riverside settlements.
Ogunremi (G.O. Ogunremi, 1982), in Counting The Camels, explained that the important advantage of water transport was not in speed but in overall cost and in saving of labour, For example, the dugout canoe which was popularly in use in West Africa before the invention of the steam engine, was cheaper than pack animals such as the camels, donkeys, horses, and head porterage. Also, canoes have a greater carrying capacity than pack animals. A canoe was the cheapest mode of transport for both short and long distance journeys in pre-colonial Nigeria.
A.D. Ali (2012B), in Trade and Transport in the Lower Niger Region, noted that:
Water transport is the oldest mode of transportation, it is the most energy efficient form of transportation and gives the lowest running cost. Less amount of energy is required to overcome friction and propel a vehicle on water than is required on land and far less than to keep a vehicle airborne. This advantage has made it possible for large quantities of bulky goods to be conveyed on water such as iron-ore, grains, liquids such as petroleum products, and steel products. About 70 percent of international trade travels by water while the balance is carried by either land or air (A.D. Ali (2012B).
Steamers carry more goods than motor vehicles. A motor vehicle cannot carry more than 36 passengers and if it is carrying mixed loads that are a combination of passengers and goods then the weight or size .of the goods carried decreases as the number of passengers increased or vice versa. There is no doubt about the fact that the operation of water transport gave massive employment and created purchasing power which stimulated the growth of commerce and consequently increased mass consumption and improved the standard of living. Eye witness report that:
According to Alhaji Suleiman Nmagaga and collaborated by the report of Central Water Transportation Company Limited 1980 Diary:
During the booming European water traffic in Lokoja, the population of U.A.C. staff alone was higher than the current population of all civil servants in Lokoja. There was no unemployment in Lokoja during the booming European Water Traffic. All Lokoja sons were gainfully employed and some trained into skilled professions such as captains, pilot, technicians etc.
Politics of Inland Water Transportation in Nigeria
There had been controversy over the issue of dredging the Lower Niger River from the colonial period to make it navigable all year round from the confluence of the Rivers Niger and Benue at Lokoja to the open sea at Burutu in Delta State, Nigeria. For instance in 1908, The Governor of Northern Nigeria at Zungeru, Sir E.P.C. Girouard wrote to the Secretary of State for the Colonies in requesting for money advance from Southern Nigeria to Northern Nigeria for dredging operations on the River Niger. When the Secretary of State informed the Governor of Southern Nigeria, Sir W. Egerton, he replied in a letter dated 29th November, 1908, that:
My contention is that the dredging was proposed by the government of Northern Nigeria, that this government has not been consulted on the subject, that throughout the correspondence it was arranged and assumed that the expense would fall on Northern Nigeria, that if any portion of the expense is to fall on this administration the assent of the Legislative Council is required. It was assumed that the ₤50,000 for dredging on the Niger was to be treated on the same terms as and included in the railway loan. The first mention of any contribution at all by Southern Nigeria is on my dispatch “confidential” of the 14th of September when I suggested that half the cost of the dredging carried out south of Onitsha might be contributed by this government. (NAI Sessional Paper No. 34 of 1931).
When the Governor of the Northern Provinces, Sir Percy Girouard, first initiated the move to dredge the Lower Niger River the Governor of Southern Nigeria, Sir Egerton, did not subscribe to the move. Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa’s Motion on the Floor of the Federal House of Representatives in the 196s, calling for a dredging of the Lower Niger River up to Lokoja? When Olusegun Obasanjo was President the federal government told Nigerians that it has completed the dredging of the Lower Niger River from the confluence of the Rivers Niger and Benue to the open sea at Burutu. The river side dwellers argued to the contrary. Federal government of Nigeria in October, 2020, declared Onitsha inland River port as the last terminal on the River Niger. These are some of the politics and ambiguities of developing inland water transportation in Nigeria. The politics of water transport on the Lower Niger have continued till date.
This paper concludes that there is so much politics concerning the development of inland water transportation in Nigeria. It is this same politics that has retard Nigeria’s economic development since independence in 1960, particularly, in the transport sector. This study has shown that Nigeria is fortunate to have over three hundred rivers and waterways drained its territory as natural waterways. Although, these natural waterway can be improved as transport infrastructure the federal government does not take inland water transportation seriously. The Nigerian inland waterways comprise the coastal creeks, the Lagoons, Lakes, and Rivers. These natural waterways run from Badagry in the extreme west to Calabar in the south-east of the country. It is imperative for government to develop inland water transportation in Nigeria because it is cheaper, safer, more environmentally friendly, with less operating cost and Cargo handling capacity. In the opening years of the twentieth century the colonial government operated fleets of crafts on these inland waters. In the 1950s, more than 800,000 tons of cargoes were shipped on the Lower Niger. Unfortunately, since the 1970s, transportation on Nigeria’s inland waterways has continued to decline to negligible proportion.
This paper recommends as follows:
First, all inland river terminals and ports in Nigeria be dredged and furnished by government with infrastructural facilities like boats, jetties, ferries, landing, loading, and unloading facilities.
Second, an intermodal transport system be put in place such that light railways and roads be constructed to link all state capitals in Nigeria and the major river ports to ease the movement of people and goods.
Third, Artificial canals would open up alternative passenger routes particularly in river side settlements.
Third, if inland water transport is properly planned and operated it can take as much as thirty percent of vehicles, trailers and trucks off Nigeria roads. Water transport has a high prospect of revenue yielding, and employment generation. Inland water ports can generate more income by increasing their usage.
A.D. Ali. Nature and Impact of Trade And Inland Water Transport in the Lower Niger Region 1879-1997. Ph. D Thesis, Department of History and Strategic Studies, University of Lagos, Nigeria, December, 2010.
A.D. Ali. The Role of Lokoja in Inland Water Transport 1870-1960. M.A. Thesis, Department of History, Faculty of Arts, University of Jos, Nigeria, October, 1991.
A.D. Ali Trade and Transport in the Lower Niger 1830-2011. Adenuga Concepts, Nigeria, 2012.
J.G. Bell, et al. The Economic and Planning of Transport. London,
Heinemann, 1983
W.H. Boulton. The Peageant of Transport Through The Ages. Benjamin Blom, New York, U.S.A., 1969
W.J. Hall. and G.J. Kirk (eds). History of the World: Earliest Times to
the Present Day. China, SNP Leefing Printers Ltd, 2005
NEDECO Netherlands Engineering Consultants River Studies And Recommendations on Improvement of Niger and Benue. Amsterdam, The Hague, North Holland Publishing Company, Vol. 1,1959.
Dudley F. Pegrum, Transportation Economics and Public Policy
G.O. Ogunremi: Counting the camels. The Economic of transportation in pre-colonial Nigeria. 1982.
John Flint: Sir George Goldie and the Making of Nigeria (Oxford 1960.
NAK/KAD. MIN. AGRIC. 2204 Transport Advisory Board.
NAI Sessional Paper No. 34 of 1931. Paper laid on the Table of the Legislative Council. Subject: Annual Report on the Marine Department, Nigeria, for the Year 1930.
Interview, Alhaji Suleiman Nmaga, 72, Contractor, Lokoja, Kogi State, Nigeria, 28/9 and 5/10 1990.


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