From Noah Ebije, Kaduna
To say the people of Katarma village in Chikun Local Government Area of Kaduna State are in danger over geographical location, is an understatement.
The people are indeed, between the proverbial devil and the deep blue sea because nature has denied them access to their kinsmen and government in Kaduna.
The community is at the boundary of Niger State and Kaduna. It shares boundary with Munya Local Government Area of Niger State.
So, for Katarma people, bad roads have stopped them from coming to Kaduna, but rather they go to Niger State by boat, the only means of transportation which had led to the death many traders over the years due to boat mishaps.
This patronage of markets in Niger State by Katarma residents who are predominantly Gbagi people of Kaduna State, is believed to be enriching the revenue base of Niger State.
The community leader of Katarma, Chief Callo A. Katarma told Sunday Sun in an interview that the people had suffered three cases of boat mishaps over the years on their way to the markets.
The community leader said the recent mishap which occurred on September 17, 2017, happened because the boat was overloaded with villagers who were going to a market in a village in Niger State. The boat capsized after it was buffeted by a very strong wave set off by rain storm.
Chief Katarma said 12 persons died in the incident, which occurred in River Kaduna, but which is known among the natives as River Kogi.
The deceased were reported to have boarded a canoe from Fitir village heading for the market in Zumba village in Shiroro Local Government Area of Niger state when they ran into a heavy storm.
He noted that previous mishaps also occurred in September, raising concerns about whether there is some kind of mysterious connection.
Recalling that incident, Katarma said: “In our community, the only means of transportation is by river. Our people go to a weekly market in Niger State. The community is located at the boundary of Niger and Kaduna states. So, the closest market to our community is in Munya Local Government area of Niger State.
“We use local boat to reach the market every market day. But there was this market day that our people were going to the market and the boat capsized.”
On that fateful day, three boats were following each other; one in front, the second one was in the middle, and the third one was at the back. So the middle boat had a problem and there was a storm on the river on that day.
The affected boat was carrying 35 passengers and goods worth thousands of naira. When the boat capsized, 12 persons drowned. But 23 survived because they knew how to swim. They made effort to remain afloat until they were rescued by the boat coming behind the capsized boat.
That incident was the third time that the community would witness such tragic boat mishap.
“We have been crying to the Kaduna State government to construct and build motorable road and bridge for us. It is lack of good roads that always compels us to travel by river to Niger State to sell our goods,” Katarma said.
In essence, Kaduna state is losing revenue that it could have generated from the community, and Niger State has been the beneficiary because the traders pay levies and taxes in the markets where they sell their goods.
Katarma implored the state government to build a bridge across the river to enable his people have access to other parts of Kaduna, which is where they belong.
“I still remember very well that the first boat mishap happened on September 29, 1998, when six persons died. And shortly after the 1998 incident, another one occurred in September the following year, but I can’t remember the exact date.
Again this year, it happened, just on September 17, 2017. So every September has become a nightmare for us. We have been appealing to Kaduna State government to come to our aid because our community is in danger.
“But we are happy that this year’s incident attracted the sympathy of Kaduna State government through a member of the State House of Assembly, Honourable Mark Yari, who represents Chikun constituency.
Interestingly, Kaduna State Governor, Nasir El-Rufai responded immediately. So for the first time, the community got relief materials within 24 hours from the state government.
But the irony was that the state government officials who brought the relief materials could not enter the community because of terrible state of the roads. They stopped at Gwagwada village, where they handed over the materials to leaders of Katarma community.
“We are appealing to Governor El-Rufai to give us access road so that we can come to markets in Kaduna and boost the state revenue. We are mostly farmers. There is also prospect for discovery of mineral resources if government shows commitment.
“We are equally worried that security is very loose in the area because we don’t have a police post. Whenever there is a security issue, we only report to Niger State police stations,” Katarma lamented.
He added: “Another challenge is that we don’t have primary healthcare services. The health centre built by the local government is not functional. If our women want to give birth, they have to go to Niger State, taking the risk of using boats to cross the river to get to health centres.
“In 1998, it was a local government in Niger State that assisted us with relief materials. Those that died in the boat mishap were given mass burial by the riverside. On general election day, where we have nine polling stations, we have to stay in Niger State to vote for our Kaduna people because of bad roads.
Katarma is over 100 kilometers from the Kaduna State capital. Many years ago, the Kaduna State government built a primary school here. We have junior secondary school which needs maintenance.
Only very few persons own cars in the community, but they cannot drive the cars during raining season, except when it is dry season.
Chipping in, the Secretary General, Gbyagi Development Union, Mr. Peter Aboki said: “We pray that such incident should not happen again. Therefore, we are appealing and calling on government to provide a bridge, good roads and life jackets to the people because they are between the devil and the deep blue sea. The people can wear life jackets whenever they are travelling by boat.”
Recall that Kaduna Internal Revenue Service had early last year inaugurated committees in the state, towards finding ways of improving revenue generation and collection in the state.