Two months ago, Barrister Danladi Ibrahim mounted the saddle as the Acting Managing Director of Lokoja-based National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA). But rather than throw a lavish party like such appointees are wont to do, he immediately went to work, knowing that he is confronted with the enormous task of transforming the waterways and make them not just economically vibrant but also ease the problem of transportation and movement of goods across the country. He told PAUL UKPABIO that he is an old war horse who has got what it takes to overcome the challenge, having worked in the water for 17 years. The lawyer and former banker also shares his lifestyle.
You have been in the maritime industry for quite a while. What has been the attraction?
I have tasted the judiciary and the banking industry. The truth is that I have found the maritime industry the most interesting of all the sectors I have worked. That is because the maritime industry has exposed me locally and internationally. Like the saying goes, ‘join the navy and know the world.’ That is exactly how the maritime industry is.
So, it is now my ambition to transform the waterways so that Nigerians can start seeing the world through the waterways, just as I have fine-tuned myself to the level of international best practices.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I was born in Kebbi State in 1963, though my parents are from Borno State. I found it a good thing to go to school then and attended Government Secondary School in Katangora (Niger State). Afterwards, I went to the University of Sokoto in 1982 and graduated in 1988. I studied Common Law and Sharia.
It seems you have lived all your life in the northern part of Nigeria…
Not really. Rather, I have lived around Nigeria. After University of Sokoto, I went to the Law School in Lagos, when it was the only one in the whole country. I graduated in 1989 and served with the Police CID in Yola. In 1990, I was employed in the Sokoto State Ministry of Justice as a state counsel.
When Kebbi state was created, I moved to Kebbi State as a state counsel and eventually became a Chief Magistrate in 1992. In 1994, I gained employment in NDIC.
What memories do you recall of your years in the banking industry?
I was part of the team that drafted the Failed Banks Decree during the General Abacha regime. I was also in the prosecution team that tried several bank officials for failed banks. In 1998, I left NDIC to join the National Inland Waterways Authority as a Principal Manager. From there, I rose to the post of General Manager, Legal services and Company Secretary before my appointment as the Acting Managing Director two months ago.
Your friends complain that you are all work and no play.
(Laughs) That is not true. I play badminton at my spare time, sometimes very regular. I love to play badminton. I have been a sportsman from childhood. I also do work-outs to remain fit.
How about your family life?
I am happily married. I have grown up children who are presently in the university.
You run a federal government agency that has to do with water. Can you tell us about it?
The National Inland Waterways Authority is an offshore of Inland Waterways Department of the Federal Ministry of Transportation. In 1978, the then Head of State, General Sani Abacha, promulgated a decree which transformed and metamorphosed the department into a full-fledged Federal Government parastatal. That was when NIWA, as it is now called, was born.
Would you say it has been relevant?
Yes, it has. Inland waterways transportation has been a significant sector of the Nigerian economy since 1957 when the then colonial masters had a ‘white’ paper which made the inland waterway sub-sector an important aspect of the Nigerian economy. After independence, it became a department of the Federal Ministry of Transport and has now transformed into a parastatal. So, it has been a significant part of the Nigerian economy.
It was what the colonial masters used to flourish the economy. We all know about Mungo Park ventures, UAC, Royal Niger Trading Company and others. This was the means of transportation that was used to transport raw materials from the hinterland to the southern part of the country and then on to overseas. That was vibrant until the 1980s when the sector started having challenges, which gave rise to the promulgation of the decree that gave birth to NIWA.
The inland waterways sub-sector is the only means of transport through which bulky goods can be moved more easily, even than the roads, the railway and air transport. For instance, an 800-ton capacity barge is equivalent to about 45 trailer loads, which means that if you are transporting an 800-ton load on the waterways, you have already taken 45 trailers off the road. This will of course reduce the cost of maintaining our roads, save lives and make the food that we have on our tables cheaper because the cost of transportation is cheaper. Therefore it becomes a direct reflection of what comes to our table as food and how it could spur and influence the economy for growth.
If our waterways are that important, why are we not having them transformed by your organisation?
The sub-sector has suffered a lot of neglect from the past administrations. It was only when the President Muhammadu Buhari was the Chairman of PTF (Petroleum Trust Fund) that the reactivation of the sector started. He awarded the contract for the dredging of the Niger River. But during the government of Obasanjo, not much was done. As a matter of fact, the contract which Buhari awarded was terminated and the fund meant for that particular contract was recovered.
However, when the Late President Yar’adua came into government, the real re-engineering came up, and that gave an opportunity for the dredging of the River Niger from Baro to Warri in Delta State. That has been concluded and we are now maintening that aspect. Last year, ex-President Goodluck Jonathan awarded the contract for the dredging of River Benue to the tune of about N26 million. That has not commenced because there is no cash backing.
How are the waterways going to work for Nigerians and what is the way forward?
The biggest challenge is funding. Inland Waterways across the world, especially in most countries, are financed through what is called a trust fund. That happens in America too. It is usually called Inland Waterways Trust Fund. It is a fund contributed by stakeholders through 2% of the fuel consumed in the course of activities on the waterways. That can easily be replicated in Nigeria. Though it may not be to the exact immediately, but it can be achieved. That is because in Nigeria, we have a big pool of stakeholders. An example of this is the fact that 70 to 80 per cent of oil exploration activities in this country are done on the waterways. Yet these oil companies pay us peanuts.
We were in court with Shell in 2004 and we had a judgment against them at the Federal High Court for a sum that was just a couple of millions of naira but has now risen into several millions of naira. These are some of the challenges we have with the oil companies. All the dams that generate electricity in this country are all on our waterways, yet NEPA, before privatization, never paid us any money to correct the negation which their activities have cost to navigation in our inland waterways. Not to forget all the dredging companies that operate in Lagos, Niger Delta and other places around the country.
So you can see that we have a very large pool. The only way we can correct this is by amending our enabling act. That is because the financial provision in our enabling act is very weak and inadequate. But by the time we amend our enabling act and enhance the financial provision to create a trust fund which will be contributed by the stakeholders I have mentioned, the issue of funding will be solved.
Do you see that happening?
Yes, I see that happening because we already have a bill before the National Assembly and the president is someone who has the Inland Waterways at the back of his heart, because he was the first person that started the transformation process in this particular sector. Therefore, we believe that this government will give us the much support we need to change the fortunes and activities and results of the sector.
Supposing the government gives you the needed fund for the waterways to provide alternative support for mass transportation of people and goods, do you have the manpower and other modalities in place?
By the time one has the financial ability in place, all other issues will meet up with a valid solution. We will be able to train and re-train locally and internationally and also be able to bring in investors to drive it. It is a massive project and one that is long due. It will enhance the much needed development support for our economy.
You just mentioned the issue of training your staff locally. Are the facilities there?
What we do in terms of training is that, when we buy a craft, the manufacturer comes down here to train our staff. Then from time to time, we visit the manufacturers at their factory for on-the-site training.
What time frame are you looking at for this transformation?
It is really much about the National Assembly. If for instance the National Assembly passes into effect our pending bill within this year, then in the next two years, we would have transformed our waterways to international standard. Even as I speak to you, we have few companies that are utilising the waterways from Ajaokuta in Kogi State to Onitsha, and from there to Warri. We have several companies already utilising our waterways.
There is a company in Kogi State at present that manufactures tiles. They have three barges of 800, 500 and 300 tons capacity. They use these each month to transport their tiles from Ajaokuta to Onitsha on a regular basis. We are also presently in touch with a company that is interested in starting to use hovercraft to transport passengers from Lagos to Abuja. We have met with them, we commenced talks and we are at the concluding stage of the talks for this laudable project now. It is what we call hover barge.
These are goods and highly recommended as they do not really need high water level. If the water level is not very high, they can hover. It is about air; it moves on the surface of the water and does not require much depth.
How safe are our waterways?
They are very safe. They are safer than the roads and are also cheaper. It is even more environmentally friendly. During the last administration of ex President Jonathan, we had discussions with the Chief of Defence Staff then and the other service chiefs, and they agreed to give physical security. Right now, we have a police command attached to us and we have security patrol boats at our disposal. So, these are the kind of security apparatus that we have in place.
Still on an alternative mass transit system in the nation and your plans for passenger travel on the waterways, when the hovercrafts arrive and commence operations, will they operate day and night or during the day alone?
Travelling by night is not safe. It is against the international maritime rules to travel by night, particularly passenger wise. But it will take these hovercrafts that I am talking about 3 to 6 hours to travel between Lagos and Lokoja. You can imagine how fast that is. So, if it is this fast, there is therefore no need for using it for night travel. It is not necessary at all. Most of the accidents and road disasters that we have been having take place at night.
Do you see the stakeholders supporting the re-engineering of the sector?
For instance, we want to start speaking with Aliko Dangote. Those are the kind of stakeholders we are referring to. This re-engineering will save him and his likes a lot in terms of safety and cost. A single barge saves them 45 trailers on the road. Those are the kind of stakeholders we are working towards, to cooperate and partner with us.
Do the other government agencies related to your organisation share your vision for the sub sector? For instance, not too long ago, there was a court case bordering on who has the superior authority over some parts of our waterways between the federal government and the state government. How do you intend to manage such issues?
Yes, some time ago in Lagos, I did make it clear that whatever conflict that the federal and state government agencies may have on issues relating to the waterways, there is the need for cooperation between all, because the ultimate aim of establishing all these agencies and organisations is to ensure a better economy for the nation and to make life easy generally for the citizens. So why can’t state governments and the federal government collaborate to achieve the ultimate goal?
How will Kogi State benefit from this planned wholesome change in the sub-sector?
We have been encouraging the government in the state to key into the expected success in this sub-sector. You can see that Kogi State is surrounded by water. Therefore, the success of the reforms will favour the state. And for the reform to succeed, we require a government policy that will restrict the movement of certain tonnage of goods on our roads. Such a policy will also boost transportation on the waterways, preserve our roads, end majority of the accidents caused by heavy duty trucks and long vehicles on our roads. By the time we have such a policy, it will enable certain tons of goods to be transported by water, and you can imagine the benefit from such convenience.
The good news here for National Inland Waterways Authority is also that, out of the 36 states of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 28 of these states are easily accessible by water.
What are the problems you foresee, apart from funding?
It still boils down to funding again, because infrastructure is a major challenge which funding will definitely overcome. We need facilities. The river ports and the jetties for instance. But I have good news: the National Inland Waterways Authority has not been folding its arms and waiting for a messiah as such. As I am speaking to you, we are constructing about four river ports at a go; one in Oguta in Imo State, which is almost 65 per cent complete; Baro in Niger State, we have completed that one and just waiting to award the contract for the cargo handling equipment; the one in Lokoja is almost 50 per cent complete. We have completed that of Onitsha and last year, we awarded the construction of the one in Makurdi, although it is yet to commence. We have construction of jetties all over.
We intend to bring mega structural development in all our strategic locations nationwide. For instance, in Warri, we have one of the biggest dock yards which we intend to turn around into a modern dockyard and then within the same environment, have a meaningful edifice that would be office complex and shopping mall; the same thing that we will do at the Lagos marina. We have a property on Queens’s Drive, Ikoyi, Lagos, which we will also give a befitting look.
Another problem some stakeholders really complain about is security. But as I said much earlier, we have set in place a mechanism to tackle such challenge and overcome such obstacle. We are already working at collaborating with the armed forces.
On the possibility of accidents on the waterways, how prepared are you?
We intend to have a programme of safety, which is a key aspect of our operations. That is why before a craft can ply our waterways, we must assess it and be sure that it is river-worthy.
On a lighter note, tell us about your fashion sense and style
I wear what I feel comfortable in. I do not really love bogus dressing. I hardly wear a cap, except I am going for an occasion. I love my body to be free. I also prefer simple dressing. Officially though, I’m usually in a suit.
If you were not a lawyer turned banker and one who works on water, what else would you be?
(Laughs) I would have been playing football, hockey or badminton. I have always been a sportsman. I still recall my participation in the university games then. It was called NUGA games. At the games in 1984 in Ife, I played hockey. I was the university captain. We qualified from our zone.
Can you recall any name you used to know in sports?
Yes, during a Nigerian All Secondary School games, I recall names like Paul Okoku, Tarila Okorowanta, Ali Jeje and some others who later formed the core of the 1983 Flying Eagles team.