Interviews

NIGERIA: Our challenges in water transportation can be solved by Government – Ganiyu

Travelling by boatOne of the major stakeholders in the water transportation and recreation business in Lagos State is Ganiyu Sekoni Balogun, popularly called Tarzan the Boat man.  In this chat Ganiyu shares his views on water transportation in Lagos state, the challenges facing practitioners among other issues. Excerpts:

On how he got into the boat business, Ganiyu Balogun said; “I got into the boat business because my father used to work for the Nigerian Army and he lived in Tarkwa Bay and there was no other way of getting there without travelling by boat, so that means everyday movement to Lagos must be by boat. “Going to school was at the island, Tarkwa Bay, but any time we were leaving the island, it has to be by boat and my father had one and since then, I fell in love with water-related businesses.”

Growing up on the Island of Tarkwa Bay probably formed his love for the water, but his venturing into the business of ferrying people could be traced to his father and a chance meeting with a white man called Hammond. “Through the help of God and my father, when I finished my early school, I met a white man called Mr. Hammond who worked as an insurance broker. There was a time he came to Tarkwa Bay but unfortunately missed his boat back to Lagos.

I had to assist him to get another boat to take him to town. “I paid for the boat that took him to town, so he asked me to come to his office for the money I paid and on getting there, he asked me what I was doing and I told him I just finished school and not doing anything at the time. He asked if I would not mind driving him around. “Since I love machines, I told him yes and started driving him around, but my father was not happy about that at all.

He did not want me to be a driver and since my father had a lot of machines parked in the house, whenever I closed from driving Mr. Hammond, I will go back home to start working on those engines. He added; “Weekends that I don’t drive Mr. Hammond, I assist my father to drive his boats for commercial purposes. From there, with the assistance of the man (Mr. Percy) that took over from Mr. Hammond, I was able to buy a boat. I refunded the money before Percy left.

“From there, I got more boats from where I was operating at the Federal Palace Hotel and then moved to Marina and from there to Eleke Crescent. That was how I grew the business. Balogun revealed that from the savings he made from working and the loan he got from Mr. Percy, he was able to buy a boat.

“My salary then was less than N500, but the total money, I can’t remember, but the loan from Mr. Percy was about N1000.  I paid back that amount. There was an American diplomat that I used to work on his boat, he assisted just like other friends, but the major help was from my father as he was into the business too.”

Challenges:Having spent  years ferrying people, goods and cars on Lagos waterways, Balogun said the major challenge facing the water transportation business today has to do with the dirty nature of our waterways. “In fact, our waterways are now dirtier than before as there was control.

In the past, you could not throw things in the water, but the control is gone. If you look around, you can see many of our engines parked up because of the debris on waterways. He added that fuelling the boat engines is another major challenge. “You need fuel stations on the waterways from where you can buy fuel for the boats, but they are not there yet.

“Government policies at times are at variance with what the operators need, there are some overzealous government officials too who use the name of government to create obstacles for the business. Most of the challenges in this business are government-related.

I am a contented person by nature, and I am not the type that wants to take from the government without giving back to same government.” Balogun revealed that sometime in 2006, he was invited along with other stakeholders in the sector by the government as well as those interested in water transport business in the state.

“They said they wanted the support of the stakeholders as many Nigerians had not seen the brighter side of the investment in the sector. “Many people are scared of water and so will not want to invest in the sector; my company took up the challenge and took up many of the routes that were not run then.

Asiwaju Tinubu had the foresight by asking that jetties be built in many places. “We took over four of the jetties, the government then felt the development of the waterways will reduce traffic on our roads and it did, as many people parked their cars to take boats.  Today, there are more commercial boats operating on Lagos. Speaking on the profitability of the business, he said it is profitable for those who have the passion.

“As it is not a business you go into if you want quick money, if you are just interested in the business because of the profit, you might not get it right.  You need the passion, because it is not like buying and selling, here we are talking of transportation business.

Balogun, who built barges that can ferry cars on Lagos waterways, said; “In this business, you invest millions or billions which you don’t expect to recoup in a year Unlike trading where you buy a good today for N10 and sell tomorrow for N20, in water transport, you invest a huge amount of money in and you need to wait for the investment even before talking about profit.”

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