What have been the Department of Transportation's priorities over the past years?
At least 100 people enter Lagos State every hour and the majority of them decide to stay. However, since Nigeria's independence in the 1960s, Lagos' infrastructure, when the state's population was less than 3 million, has not improved to accommodate a population that is now 10 times larger. In addition, the pipelines for the distribution of petroleum products are regularly sabotaged and dysfunctional, posing another key issue, especially considering that Lagos is the origin of most of the petroleum products used across Nigeria. Moreover, with the key Apapa and Tin Can ports in Lagos, the city imports goods for two-thirds of Nigeria's 180 million people. Our challenges have further increased because of the laxity observed in terms of regulation of those activities. Notably, since Nigeria is run by a federal system of governmens, the state government is constrained as bridges and highways around ports are to be maintained by the federal government.
Can you tell us more about the waterways?
I am excited about water transportation because of the size of its expected impact. At least a quarter of Lagos' surface area comprises water but, unfortunately, water transportation accounts for less than 2% of total transportation, mainly because water transportation requires huge, long-term investments along with the fact that a large number of Nigerians are unaccustomed to water transport. Nonetheless, I commissioned a thinktank to develop a roadmap that was later shared with the governor, who provided his input. Similarly, we held a Water Transportation Roundtable with representatives from South Africa, the US, the UK, the Netherlands, and Germany, and all parties showed interest in investing in the plan. Other than that, what is important is to involve the two ports of Lagos into discussion because they clog up the major arteries of the main road system. We need to develop jetties, terminals, and water lines to ensure that the unidirectional movements can be reduced by distributing traffic across the waterways.
What is the timeframe for the waterways project?
The University of Lagos has agreed to host the pilot project so that we can make use of its research facilities in terms of the mechanical and passenger movement. Importantly, the university has a waterfront and at least 50,000 people visit it every day, allowing us to test run the water transport solution. According to my estimates, the university project can kick off by the end of 2019. By 2020, we want to scale up with financial and other partners. We are aware that we need to further advocate the project and spread knowledge regarding its benefits to counter common fears.
What is the Ministry of Transportation's outlook in 2019?
The challenges we face right now present a great opportunity for us to think outside of the box and harness the great potential we have in terms of human capacity and the potential for water transportation. In addition, high on the agenda is the use of renewable energies and how we can harness this to solve the challenges and create opportunities for our people. Lagos State, in terms of economic size, is the fifth-largest in Africa, and if we harness the potential of the water transportation sector, we can deepen the economic base to a point where Nigeria can catch up with Algeria, which is ranked fourth, and beyond.