Across the globe, water transportation is said to be the oldest, cheapest and safest mode of conveying people and goods. The risks of accidents and breakdowns, with this form of transport, are arguably minimal as compared to any other form of transport.
But this might not be 100 per cent correct in Nigeria, as the waterways have continued to dispatch people to their early graves. Over the years, Nigeria’s waterways have become channels of sorrow and death.
From Lagos to Benue, Bayelsa to Bauchi, the sad tales of unquantifiable and irreparable loss have continued unabated.
The unhealthy development has become a source of major concern to many Nigerians. Many stakeholders and keen followers of the ugly trend have always called on the authorities to ensure that the laid down safety guidelines were strictly adhered to by the transporters as well as the passengers.
Water transport, especially by ship, has the largest carrying capacity and is most suitable for carrying bulky goods over long distances. Indisputably, it has played a very significant role in bringing different parts of the world closer. Water transport is indispensable to foreign trade, and it contributes in no small ways to nations’ Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
But investors and analysts have said that the incessant catastrophes on the waterways keep distorting the economic potential embedded in this mode of transportation. Rather than attracting investors and more patronage, the news of perennial mishaps scares many people away.
Just last Friday, ten passengers were confirmed dead, while four have remained missing on a passenger boat that capsized near Badagry in Lagos. The ill-fated boat , which took off from Kirikiri, was said to be just a few metres from its destination.
Sources said that the boat sank in heavy currents, while others revealed that the accident occurred as a result of negligence on the part of the captain.
One thing that has remained prominent and bothersome over the years, as observed by many people, is the fact that most of passengers don’t wear life jackets, which is contrary to maritime safety regulations. This fresh incident in Lagos was also linked to this factor.
Confirming the incident, the General Manager of the Lagos State Waterways Authority (LASWA), Oluwadamilola Emmanuel, on July 31, stated that the boat left Kirikiri carrying 19 passengers, but could not successfully ferry the passengers to their destination.
He said: “On Wednesday, July 29, it was reported that an open boat carrying 19 passengers capsized at about 6.00 pm while enroute Badagry from Kirikiri.
“A survivor’s account states that the boat captain got distracted trying to collect fares from a passenger and the boat was overturned by the current while most passengers were yet to put on their life jackets properly.
“A total of 19 persons were involved in the incident, while five were rescued with 10 persons confirmed dead and four still unaccounted for, including the boat deckhand.
“LASWA has apprehended the boat captain and has handed him over to the marine police for further investigation and sanctions.”
The July 29 incident was one of many others that have claimed lives in Lagos and other parts of the country, where people in those areas depend on water transport for their daily routines.
It is believed that most of the accidents could have been avoided if caution was not thrown to the wind. Boat accidents are common in Nigeria mainly because of over-loading, disregard for safety guidelines, lack of maintenance and bad weather.
Worried by the frequent accidents on Nigeria’s waterways, just like many other Nigerians, a Lagos lawmaker has raised the alarm over the recurring deaths on Nigeria’s waterways.
The lawmaker, Mr David Setonji, who represents Badagry Constituency II in Lagos House of Assembly, described the recent accident as one but too many.
He noted that the drowning of 14 persons on their way to the coastal city was as a result of the total collapse of the Lagos-Badagry Expressway, which forced the victims to undertake the ill-fated journey on waterways.
“I am devastated by the pictures of the victims of the boat mishap that happened between Lagos and Badagry.
“Our people are looking for alternative means of transportation due to the total collapse and neglect of the Badagry expressway.
“We have made repeated calls for completion of work on this very important access road to Badagry. We have suffered greatly and are still suffering. Governance should be about the welfare and safety of the people.
“I am begging the government to urgently intervene to make the road safer for people,” said Setonji, Chairman, House Committee on Home Affairs.
Also, on July 6, there was another tragedy in Lagos when a boat mishap claimed seven lives. At the end of the search, 14 passengers were rescued by emergency responders. The boat purportedly sank following heavy rains.
The Director-General, Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA), Dr Olufemi Oke-Osanyintolu, said 14 people were rescued alive in the mishap, while seven died at the end of the rescue operation.
Oke-Osanyintolu confirmed this at the Ipakodo Jetty during the conclusion of the search and rescue operation at Ipadoko Ferry Terminal in Ikorodu.
The LASEMA boss said that the incident happened around 8 p.m. on July 3, having departed Ebute-Ero enroute Ikorodu in violation of nighttime restrictions.
He, however, reminded the public to abide by the safety regulations of the state, including appropriate usage of life jackets and restrictions on timing and plying of the waterways.
A day earlier, on July 5, no fewer than 21 persons were feared dead, as a boat capsized in Benue State. The incident happened when a boat in which they were travelling capsized on River Benue on that fateful Sunday afternoon. It was gathered that the boat had 23 passengers on board when the incident happened.
According to an eyewitness: “The persons were all Christian faithful, who were going on a journey for their annual convention when the boat in which they were travelling capsized.
“Immediately, we heard of the incident, we put a call to the police who went in search of the drowned persons.”
The Benue State Police Command confirmed the incident, but said two persons were rescued alive.
Police Public Relations Officer, Catherine Anene, in a statement, said: “On July 5 at about 2,30pm information was received that 23 members of ECAN Church, Ijaha, Makurdi Local Government boarded a boat to attend a conference across River Benue.”
On December 10, 2019, one person died while 19 others were rescued in another mishap on the Lagos lagoon involving a passenger boat.
The 20-seater boat was said to have capsized at about 7.30pm on December 9, 2019.
According to LASWA, the boat was travelling to the Ojo area of the state. It was reported that the boat encountered strong waves which forced it under the water and emptied the passengers on board into the lagoon.
But through the efforts of local divers, not many deaths were recorded in the incident. The divers were said to have responded immediately, and were able to rescue 19 passengers a few minutes after the incident. One passenger died, however.
Boat mishaps leading to the death of passengers are common occurrences on Lagos waterways.
On June 29, 2019, a boat carrying 27 passengers capsized at the Ipakan Boat Jetty, Egbin, Ikorodu, leading to the death of at least 12 passengers.
Nigerians have demanded punitive measures to be put in place and that the authorities punish offenders accordingly. They believe such an action would serve as a deterrent to others. They also maintained that it would avert other looming tragedies on the body of waters.
Perturbed by the number of deaths and other losses on a supposedly safe mode of transport, a businessman in Lagos, Mr Sunday Ademuyiwa opined that the sector was not firmly monitored by regulatory agencies.
Said: “It is normal that when people are not punished for offence committed, not just the same people will continue the act but others will join the train. If nobody ever got arrested for not having a driver’s licence, none of us would have bothered processing one.
“It is the same thing all over the world. When law enforcement is weak, people are tempted to live freely and flout the law.
“I am only appealing to those in charge of regulating the sector to make water transport system safer and attractive to the people. For the fact that it is relatively cheap, one will expect that it will be patronised more by the common man in the street.”