From Olanrewaju Lawal, Birnin-Kebbi
Sixteen-year-old Yahusa Abdullahi and his younger brother, Babangida Abdullahi, 12, are still bewildered by their miraculous survival in a boat accident in which seven of their co-passengers drowned.
The tragic incident happened on October 12, 2017, as they were returning from their father’s onion farm across Yauri river in Yauri Local Government Area of Kebbi State.
On the fateful day, about 5.30pm the commercial boat capsized in the middle of the river. Seven passengers, five men and two women, died right in their presence, but the two brothers were rescued alive by local divers, who quickly found them.
Yahusa who narrated to Sunday Sun what happened said that at a certain point in the middle of the river a strong wave arose and made the person piloting the boat to lose control of it. .
His words: “We left our village Rukubalo to Hikiya village where our father’s onion farm is located. After we finished our work about 5:30pm we boarded a canoe to come back home. On our way, rain started falling and a wind arose. We had no option but to continue moving towards our village as we were already at the middle of the river. So, it was due to the wind and rain that our boat capsized on the river.”
He disclosed that the dead passengers all came from the family of Alhaji Abdullahi Maikano Rukubalo.
The boat mishap was one of recent incidents in which boats capsized on the river. About 100 deaths had been recorded in these incidents involving Kebbi indigenes and nearby Niger Republic and Niger state respectively within the past two months of 2017.
Recall that about 100 traders from Gaya and Dosso in Niger Republic, who were travelling to Lolo market in Bagudo Local Government area, Kebbi State through River Niger suffered a mishap when the boat sank, and 53 passengers drowned while 46 were rescued.
Again, Kebbi Sate Governor Abubakar Atiku Bagudu had to pay a condolence visit to the President of Niger Republic, Muhammed Yusuf, in Niamey, following the tragic incident in which 36 traders from that country died, many others were not seen at all and 46 passengers were rescued out 150 traders that had been onboard the capsized boat.
Investigation by Sunday Sun at Yauri town showed that the popular boat station is called Kasabu, which operates for 24/7 with fares ranging from N150 to N200. Another boat station in the area is Maishayar Saki where boat operators charge between N50 and N150 depending on the distance of the journey. It was observed that most of the local boats are often overloaded with passengers and goods.
Chairman of Yauri Local Government Area, Alhaji Musa Muhammed explained that the 19 passengers who died were on their way from Jeribago in Yauri Local Government Area of Kebbi State to Tuteku village in Niger State was caused by the driver of the canoe who did not heed warnings.
Mohammad said: “The village is close to the market; they were going to trade in Yauri when a strong wind churned the water and cause the wave to rise and made the canoe to capsize. Two persons that drowned were a Fulani woman and an elderly person. The officials of Nigerian Inland Waterways Authority warned the driver not to embark of the trip, given the adverse weather condition, but he gave deaf ears to the warnings.”
Area Manager of National Inland Water Ways Authorities (NIWA) in charge of Yauri Local Government, Bisallah Abubakar confirmed there were 38 passengers on the wooden boat. He said 19 dead bodies were recovered while four were missing. The incident was caused by collision between the boat and derelicts and tree outcrops on the river.
Abdullahi Takwa, chairman of Yauri Boat Builders and Wakilin Sarkin Ruwa (representative of Chief of the River) told Sunday Sun in Yauri town that the wooden boat splintered because it was overloaded with passengers.
“This boat mishap was due to overloading and not because of a stump as we also heard in earlier reports. About 15 bodies were first recovered on the day of the accident. The other seven bodies recovered by Kasabo village were not reported to the authorities. This give a total of 22 deaths in the accident,” Mr. Takwa said.
Takwa called on the authorities to monitor the activities of boat operators to check their tendency to overload and make them provide life jackets to passengers. He warned that unless strict compliance was enforced with the rules for travel on water, especially in poor weather conditions, the tragedies would continue.
Meanwhile recurring incidents of boat mishaps in Kebbi State has drawn the attention of the Director General of National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Engr. Mustapha Yunusa Maihaja, who came to commiserate with victims through his representive, the Director of Search and Rescue of the Agency, Air-Commodore Sunny Paul Ohemu, who told Sunday Sun that the local boat drivers did not comply with rules stipulated by the state government which had previously directed the boat operators to use life jackets while traveling on the river.
The NEMA DG, who visited to comfort the victims of boat mishaps and distribute relief materials to the victims, noted that the Federal would not provide any modern speedboats for them for the meantime. “Rather they should ensure that they comply with safety rules on water whenever they are travelling with their canoes.”