The Stone Wharf Jetty in Oyingbo, Lagos Mainland is home to  what is arguably Nigeria’s largest crayfish market.

The market convenes every other nine days and is kept wet by fishermen in Ilaje in Ondo State and other parts of the Niger Delta.

Every market day, a local vessel carrying seafood cargo – crayfish, dried fish, snails – berths at the Jetty and traders across Lagos feast on the cheap supplies of the abundant seafood cargo.

Some traders also patronise the market to boost their export businesses.

Besides seafood, the vessels also bring other non-seafood cargo such as drums of dry gins, plantain, coconut, garri, palm oil and several other agricultural produces.

The local vessels are essential to the survival of the market. At the last market day, the Bounce News crew caught up with the captain of one of the local vessels.

“My name is Captain Adebawo Eliam Aboluwa. I have been a sailor since 1993,” he told Bounce News, his hands clasped around a wooden steering wheel attached to a blank and rough wooden dashboard.

The wooden vessel has no form of navigational equipment, and Captain Adebawo has sailed it successfully from Ilaje in Ondo To Lagos, carrying tons of cargo worth estimated 20 million naira every other nine days for the past 25 years.

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Captain Adebawo is of the Ilaje stock in Ondo State where sailing comes naturally to the people as it is what their forefathers bequeathed to them.

“Maybe you have heard of Ayetoro community in Ondo State. They specialise in training sailors. They have their training school and some of the people they have trained are in London as expert and professional sailors.

“Many others are working here in Nigeria in Port Harcourt, Calabar, Delta etc. They are always recognised anywhere they take their certificates to.

“That was where I got trained. We were trained using local language on how to pilot this boat,” he said.

He said people find it difficult to understand how he manages to sail a boat without navigational help.

“There are some expatriate Julius Berge engineers who see us along the Epe channel and they are always surprised as well as embarrassed that we still use this type of boat.

“Sometimes they come inside, ask for readers and compass, which we have none and they ask me how I manage to sail to my destination.

“And I used to tell them that we are Ilaje people. Boat sailing is what we inherited from our forefathers and with or without readers or compass, we are able to sail boats,” an enthused Adebawo explained.

When asked if, without any navigation technology, he could sail to Europe, he answered in the affirmative.

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“Yes, I can go to Europe….(laughs). But it will make it much easier to sail to Europe with a vessel equipped with navigational equipment,” he said.

Challenges

But despite having enjoyed his job for the past 25 years, challenges remain which now makes his job unenticing.

One of those challenges is police harassment due to fishermen fishing on the channel.

“We sail from Lagos to Ondo State regularly and we encounter several obstacles on our route. The major problem we have are the fishermen who fish on the sea channel.

“They are not supposed to be fishing on the channel but whenever they set their net in the channel, it is us that the Navy police arrest and take to their base,” Adebayo lamented.  

According to Adebayo, they have reported these cases severally to the police but “those policemen, this Nigeria is too corrupt…when they arrest you, they will talk to you but at the end of the day, they will not follow protocol.”

It is against the law for fishermen to fish on the channel that these boats sail by. But instead of arresting the fishermen, it is the boat operators that are arrested.

He cannot remember how many times he has been arrested. But the latest was in February this year, when he got arrested and he had to pay 30,000 naira to free himself and his vessel.

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“Sometimes, we pay as much as 100,000 naira. All because people are fishing in the channel. When you give them sign, they don’t cooperate with you, they will be asking you to redirect your boat to another channel.

“But this is wrong because as a sailor, you cannot abandon our designated channel to the creek, whereby if you follow them, they will direct you wrongly and if you follow them, you will see yourself where you don’t expect, and the boat would be grounded. And when that happens, you know these market women, they won’t be able to meet up here at the market,” he said.

Solution

The solution, according to Adebawo, “is for the authorities to educate the fishermen that they are not supposed to fish on the channel where the boat sails.

“More so, the government can dredge the sea from Lagos to Ondo State or to Warri because there are some creeks along the sea that if you don’t know your way very well, you cannot sail the boat to Ondo State.”

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