By Steve Agbota, [email protected] 08033302331
Over the years, many Nigerians have lost their lives as a result of the incessant boat mishaps in the nation’s inland waterways across the country. These are ordinary Nigerians who were probably trying to avoid traffic jams, which have become common on most of the nation’s busy and bad roads.
These boat accidents majorly occurred in the riverine communities in all the 22 out of 36 states that engage in water transportation system in the country. The most popular ones among them are Niger, Benue, Lagos, Rivers and Bayelsa. Boat accidents commonly occurred in these areas, which usually claim many lives.
Experts on several occasions blamed the maladroitness of the government agencies especially the Nigerian Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) who are saddled with responsibility of regulating activities of passenger ferries and boat operators on the nation’s waterways.
It is disturbing when the causes of boat capsizing in the country are repeatedly common requiring little government intervention to avert them but without necessary official concerted efforts to reverse the ugly trend of loss of enormous lives and resources. Although government claimed to have provided enough policy framework on how to ensure safety in the Nigerian waters, but there is lack of enforcement on the part of executing agencies.
Asides, Daily Sun learnt that overloading of passengers and goods; wrecks, water hyacinth, night voyages by ferry operators; obstructions on waterways; violation of route usage; faulty boat and ferry engines; non usage of life jackets and other life-saving appliances, fueling of boat on the water amongst others are some of the factors usually responsible for the mishaps.
Experts said such incidences would continue to happen unless the mind-set of the locals is changed and relevant authorities take charge of the waterways.
The worst of the boat accident happened last two weeks, when 35 people were confirmed dead following a rescue operation by local divers when a boat carrying over 100 people capsized at Tijana in Munya Local Government Area of Niger State.
Out of the 35 who died, it was learnt that two children could not be rescued despite the effort of the divers and rescue team while the remaining 33 people have been buried.
According to sources in the area, a local boat carrying about 100 people including women and children capsized 10 minutes to their destination in the about 2 hours journey at about 6:30pm on Saturday when the villagers were returning from a local market in Zumba, Shiroro Local Government Area of the state.
Among the victims were some returnees who had earlier fled their homes with their children due to bandit attacks.
The National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) said it would investigate the immediate and remote causes of the recent boat mishap.
NIWA’s Managing Director, Dr George Moghalu, in a statement made available by the Authority’s General Manager Corporate Affairs, Jibril Darda’u, expressed worries over loss of lives in boat mishaps, which he blamed on disregard for laid down safety regulations by ferry and boat operators as well as passengers.
“The authority is particularly pained by the unwarranted loss of lives and property due to disregard for established rules and regulations guiding passenger ferry operations in the country.
“For safety reasons, night sailing is banned; the use of life jackets and other life saving appliances is mandatory, even as overloading of boats is a criminal offence.
“Yet, boat skippers and crew are fond of flouting these rules. Nevertheless, NIWA will continue to engage in aggressive enlightenment and education of ferry operators and passengers alike,” he said.
NIWA, while commiserating with families of passengers who lost their lives in the mishap, urged boat and ferry operators to abide by all safety requirements to avoid recurrence of such mishap in the future.
However, data from Nigeria Watch showed that 1607 lives were lost in 180 boat accidents between June 2006 and May 2015. Between 2017 and 2018 alone, thousands of Nigerians lost their lives along Nigerian inland waterways across the riverine communities of the country due to boat/canoe accidents. Within the same period, industry watchers put the figure of those who died in water accidents at 1005.
Not less than 99 persons died in six boat mishaps that occurred in Kebbi, Niger and Lagos States between April and September 2017 alone, according to survey.
Several boat accidents claimed thousands of lives between 2019 and 2020.
In July 2019, 15 people died after a boat carried 21 passengers capsised, three people were alive while others were missing.
In July 2020, no fewer than 10 passengers escaped death when their boat capsized on Lagos Waterways.
Also, four also died in another mishap while 14 were rescued in a-20 capacity passenger boat mishap in Lagos. Meanwhile, in August 2020, 10 dead in Lagos boat mishap.
September 2020, two dead, four rescued as another boat capsizes in Lagos. August 2020, nine dead in Sokoto boat mishap.
A Marine Engineer, Kingsley Fowler said that boat mishaps are more endemic than ever before in Nigeria due to increased patronage of water transportation.
According to him, for several years, the problems related with boat accidents have been under emphasised in Nigeria.
He added: “Water transportation in Nigeria has suffered severe infrastructural and human capacity neglect, a situation that propelled boat mishaps and increased fatality rate all over the country.
“Agencies such as NIWA saddled with the responsibility of managing the water ways has been under funded and mismanaged. Equipment deployed to monitor such water ways are obsolete and staffs are unequipped with the requisite skills to man the facilities,” he said.
As a result of the inefficiency in management and personnel, he said many people in their productive years have been lost to boat mishaps and many goods lost in recent times.
“While the precarious nature of water transportation in Nigeria is not restricted to managerial inefficiency and manpower ineptitude, the ignorance of boat riders and passengers in safety measures has proven to be worse.
“Boat riders rely on their over-rated knowledge of the water channels to convey passengers and goods to different destinations without adequate training and certification in safety measures and navigational techniques,” he said.
However, Mr. Akpam Benjamin, Speaking with Daily Sun, said it was so unfortunate that in this 21 century, Nigeria was still where it is in terms of maritime development.
He said: “As a Marine Engineer, I monitor all the incidents that happen across the Nigerian inland waterways. I can tell you that over 2000 persons lost their lives between 2017 and 2020.
No government agency that is responsible for manning waterways can be able to provide you this number because in Nigeria, we don’t keep data. People are afraid of moving through the roads and now the best alternative way is becoming a death trap and government is not concerned about it.”
He said boat operators are just allowed to do whatever they like, as there is no serious authority regulating their operations, adding that there are some quacks and inexperienced operators who just drive to make a living without knowing the rules and regulations guiding the boat business.
He stressed the need for government to establish an institution where operators will be mandated to attend boating education training to learn the rudiments of the business.
He added: “Boating laws and regulations, navigation rules, knot tying, trailering and what to do in a weather-related emergency are topics that must be included in the training.
Taking a boating education class and being alert while on the water can lower drivers’ chances of run-ins with other boats. All boaters need to know the meaning and implication of stand on and give way.”