Dayo Dunmoye, a Maritime Business Consultant and Pioneer, Apapa-Ijegun Ferry Operation has highlighted the inherent business opportunities in inland waterways transportation. In an exclusive interview with The Nigerian Maritime News (TNMN), Dunmoye shares his over fifteen years experience in the industry and offers salient industry projections for the future. TNMN brings the excerpts;
Inland Waters Operations
I think the market is growing. I believe the opportunities are there now more than ever before. Lagos is growing, Nigeria is growing and because there is more focus on intra African trade with the African Continental Free Trade Agreement so the opportunities are becoming more obvious to people- investors, stakeholders- that we need to up our game. Nigeria is well positioned than many West African countries, Nigeria has a sizeable amount of the coastal waters but most importantly is that it has remained a potential for too long. We have to start looking at how we can translate those potentials to actual assets and resources that would start making money for us.
From my personal research, I believe that without it, it’s just going to delay the return on investment for investors. It is imperative that when you start, technologies are readily available and are also cheap. By cheap, I mean they are accessible. If we prove to investors that the opportunity for them to make money is there, the money would come and investors would invest. It is just like the Lekki toll bridge for example; when it meets the need of the users, you would see people who would pay for it. So, when an operator on the inland waterways in Lagos operates eight hours during the daylight and all of a sudden because of the infrastructure you put in place, the operator is now able to operate 24 hours a day, that is times three the number of hours they used to operate, that means they will make more money, definitely, that operator would be happy, the investors who puts money down for this infrastructure would be able to get returns on their investment. When you make it easy for the operator to make money, then the operator would be happy for you to charge them some percentage off what they are making.
Insecurity on the Waterways
There is insecurity but so also are the opportunities. I see more opportunities than insecurities. The number of reported incidents on waterways by NIWA is less than what occurs on the road because of low accessibility and low patronage. So, we are not unaware of the possibility that once people start patronising the waterway, it might become a soft spot for many bad people but the same way you build infrastructure to improve the security on the road is the same way you will put measures in place. Fast rescue crafts, jetties that are manned, area drones for surveillance, once you don’t have any dark spots on the waterways, it makes it difficult for these bad guys to operate. They usually say that bad men operate in the dark. When you don’t create a dark spot along our waterways, it makes it difficult for them to operate.
Harnessing the Opportunities in Riverine Communities
It is a matter of interest and quick wins. When you have an environment where people have been disappointed severally and where people have been promised and the promise has not been fulfilled, there is that animosity towards development but everybody wants development. It is just a matter of how you sell it to them- you bring stakeholders in and show them what is in their best interest. You can point them in the right direction. Trust is the currency of doing business. People kick against any kind of development coming from people they do not trust. Riverine communities move from point A to point B. People in Igbokoda, Ondo state move to Lagos using wooden canoe(s) that can take nothing less than 300 people every week. You have fishermen bringing fish to Lagos to sell. If you tell them that you want to improve their lot and you want to bring a twenty ton barge or ferry to take them, and you are going to be charging them times three of their fare, do you think they will take it, they will not, even though the barge/ferry is faster. You must respect their way of doing things. Yes, you can improve it but you must respect it to gain their trust.
Multiple Taxation from Government
It is like what the Manufacturers Association are talking about when they talked about double or multiple taxation. When you are done paying to the State government, you just see that the Federal government might come up on you to stop your business and prevent you from operating. As a businessman, everyday you don’t operate you are losing money so, you are forced to comply. In Lagos, we pay PAYE (Pay As You Earn), it goes to the State government, and businesses pay to FIRS. If the Federal government wants to ease business, they should be able to delineate and tell us exactly who owns what. The water bodies are at the prerogative of the Federal and State governments but they can delimit it and say for example that the international waters has a limit that belongs to Nigeria, outside that is a no-man zone, international water. The same thing should apply. If you are operating within a certain level, you pay to the State government, that way everybody’s interest is taken care of. If you are going to bring a 20 ton or 200 ton barge into the waters and it is going to disrupt the fishermen then you should not pay the same thing with what the fisherman is paying and the money should be such that part of it goes for the protection of the environment and to secure the waterways. It is just a matter of stakeholders sitting down, having a conversation among themselves and looking at it objectively.
Digitalising these things also makes it a lot easier because the world is fast moving from paper documentation into digitalisation, which makes it more transparent. Accessing loan is a different issue altogether. When you have already spent let us say 70% of the chunk of the money which you want to use to establish your business on paying taxes, how easy will it be to even recoup your money and how easy will it be for you to go to a bank and say I am in dire straits, I need money. All these play together because the bank would want to be sure that you have met all the State’s requirement and which State? Is it the Federal government or the State or even the association? Because everybody is a law unto himself, it is difficult.
Accessing Fund for Infrastructure
The industry requires patient money not MMM, not Bitcoin money. Some of these commercial banks cannot readily fund this because they don’t readily have the innate understanding of what is going on in the industry. So, first thing first, we have to educate the regulators to know how they can treat those people who approach them for money. It took the Bank of Industry awhile but finally they have gotten their acts together when it comes to equipment financing and believe you me, maritime equipment are not cheap. An outboard engine can easily buy a Hummer Jeep and you might need two or three of it on a forty-passenger vessel for it to operate properly. So, when the regulators don’t understand, and you start asking them for N50million, they are like, I thought we are going to have one gigantic or big vessel. First is to create awareness and educate the operators. Second is for them to understand what the industry needs. If you give out loans and it is not enough, the industry will die and every party will lose. If you give enough money and you are not patient for that money to grow from infancy stage that means you are setting them up to die early. Also, when the access to fund is there but the regulation is inimical, you would not be able to manage the upheaval that is why the first step I mentioned is that you must put intelligent, very well aware regulators in place.
If an unaware regulator changes the regulation, it can cripple the industry. For us to succeed, the finance must be there, it must be patient money, we must be smart enough to know what is going on in the industry, we must be well aware and well abreast of the technologies that are out there and the challenges that the operators are facing to help them deliver and yield returns.
NIWA Standards/Design for Boats Operating In-country
It is saddening that lives will be lost before the regulators wake up but it is better late than never. From my perspective I think what NIWA and LASWA has done is pretty commendable. The boats should be accredited so they should regulate on the standard of what is required in the industry but I want to add that the specification that they gave, was it based on research? Was it based on credible evidence or was it knee-jerk? You find out that boat incidents sometimes decrease and sometimes spike up again. So, this invariably tells me that it may just be more than the size of the boat. Is that solution doable? That is another question for another day. From my perspective as a stakeholder in the industry, I would rather they carried out their research and check the attitude of the operators and the people who are involved in the industry. The industry should work by data supported by evidences and there should be a short, medium and long term approach to it. We know that engine boats that don’t use outboard engines and all that don’t have accidents. How are they going about it that they don’t have accidents? There must be a method. If you can learn from those ones, you can translate that learning to the ones that are having accidents. What are they doing? Maybe capacity enhancement, maybe training, maybe using their associations to punish them or using a carrot and stick method to ensure compliance would have solved the problem instead of saying small boats should leave the water and operators should get bigger boats. Do they have the capacity to do so? That is another big question that is left hanging. It is a good move because one life lost is one too many but at the same time, is it effective? Does it solve the problem? That I would leave for researchers and people in the industry.