Olanrewaju Lawal, Birnin-Kebbi
To many of these communities, the attraction to travel distance by boat, despite the inherent risk, is only but natural and historical. It has been one of their means of transportation from times past just as many have found it more convenient to convey their goods and wares to different markets in different adjoining communities.
At Bagodo, businessmen, smugglers and car dealers from Niger Republic and Nigeria use locally made boats to convey their goods to nearest markets. At the dock of Yauri River, farmers, travelers and businessmen also use the locally constructed boats to convey passengers to their various destinations.
Kebbi State lies on the edge of the famous River Niger. The river flows into and branches off to Ngaski and Yauri rivers. Beautiful as the mode of transport may have been across the years, however, the stake is becoming higher as accidents on these waterways are frighteningly increasing on a daily basis.
Many have lost their lives on transit and many more may follow the same tragic path except some urgent steps are taken by the authorities both at the state and federal levels to check the situation. The concerned authorities are already alarmed at this development. Records indicate that they are worried by the reoccurrence of these mishaps.
Just a few weeks ago, 18 travelers went down the water in Shanga Local Government following collision of two canoes conveying traders and their goods. The accident, which occurred at Barikin Sakace village in Shanga, was a terrible scene as the lifeless bodies of victims were fetched out of the river by some good Samaritans.
“The passengers were in the habit of travelling at night, not minding the dangers lurking in the dark,” said a distraught witness. The worst part is that the boat operators are fond of over loading with goods and passengers.”
Chairman of Yauri Local Government, Alhaji Musa Muhammed, expressed disgust at this incident. He explained that the recent boat mishap that claimed 19 lives on their way from Jeribago to Tuteku village in Niger State was largely the fault of the boat operator, who declined to adhere to the advice of the officers of inland waterways.
For that carelessness, he paid dearly with his life and the lives of his innocent passengers. His boat capsized to the force of a strong wind, which besieged them on their way to their destination. Area Manager of the National Inland Water Ways Authorities (NIWWA), in Yauri LG, Bisallah Abubakar, said 19 dead bodies were recovered while four of them were still missing: “The accident was caused by a collision of the boat with derelicts and tree outcrops on the river.”
Abdullahi Takwa, chairman, Yauri Boat Builders and Wakilin Sarkin Ruwa (Representative of Chief of the River) represented the incident in a slightly different picture:
“This accident was due to overload of passengers and not because of a stump as we also had in an earlier report. Fifteen bodies were first recovered on the day of the accident. The other seven bodies recovered by Kasabo villagers were not reported to the authorities. These gave us a total of 22 deaths in the accident.”
He called on the authorities to monitor the activities of the boat operators, urging government to sanction them against overloading their boats as well as compel them to provide lifejackets for their passengers.
State Director General of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Mustapha Yunusa Maihaja, told Daily Sun that local boat drivers do not obey government policy on the use of safety jackets. Represented by Director, Search and Rescue, Air-Commodore Sunny Paul Ohemu, he disclosed: “Federal Government is not likely to provide the operators with modern speed boats. Rather, they should ensure that they comply with safety rules.”
To rescue his people from these frequent boat mishaps, Deputy Senate Leader, Bala Na’Allah, donated passenger and ambulance boats to the communities in his Kebbi South. Each of the beneficiaries in Yauri, Shanga and Ngaski local governments received two ambulance boats and a 20-seater passenger boat respectively.
He said: “The boats are to serve as a mean of transportation for passengers and patients, including pregnant women and children in the riverine communities across Yauri Emirate Council of Kebbi South and neighbouring communities of Niger State.”
He disclosed that 60 life jackets were provided.
Aliyu Gado, secretary of Yauri Emirate Council, noted that since 1999, they have never had a legislator that bothered himself about securing the means of transportation of the people of the emirate.