Abu Nmodu writes on the circumstances that led to the latest boat mishap in Niger State’s part of River Kaduna and how the disaster has awaken the authorities to their responsibilities.
Zumba Market is a popular market along the bank of River Kaduna in Shiroro local government area of Niger State. It attracts various petty traders from the state and neighboring Kaduna State every Saturday.
Traders from the neighboring Kaduna State travel by boat to the market because River Kaduna separate the market from some of the villages in Kaduna state whose inhabitants find the market closer to sell their wares.
It has always been an incident-free weekly water navigation for the traders until last weekend when the boat conveying no fewer than 60 persons and their wares capsized with 22 of them drowning.
The boat carrying about 60 people, five cows, six sheep, eight bags of maize, four bags of rice and some other food items capsized on river after it broke into two, 30 minutes into the two hours journey to Kwata Market in Zumba Niger State.
The boat mishap occurred by Kiri Village in Munya local government area of Niger state, whereas the victims were traders and farmers from Kaduna State heading to the popular Kwata Market in Zumba , Shiroro local government area of Niger State. Only two Fulani men with their cows are Niger State victims in the boat.
No cause of the mishap has been firmly established, but it is guessed that it may have been partly caused by the ceaseless downpour of that day, which that made the level of the river to rise, and with the tide, easily turned over the overloaded boat.
Only four of the 60 passengers were rescued alive, while others are believed to have drowned in the river, just few kilometers up stream Shiroro Dam. Twenty-two bodies have so far been recovered. The report of the rescue team that showed after the incident showed that the passengers were mostly women who were going to the market.
The director general Niger State Emergency Management Agency, NSEMA, Alhaji Ibrahim Ahmed Inga told our correspondent immediately the incident occurred that local divers and a team of search and rescue operators were drafted to the river to try and recover the bodies of the victim and rescue those still alive.
Consequently no fewer than 12 bodies, among them 10 females and an eight year-old-boy were recovered from the scene of the boat mishap. The bodies were recovered also with additional help from Marine Police, stationed at Shiroro Dam.
The police public relations officer PPRO, Niger State Command, ASP Babalola Adewole confirmed that the command mandated a team of Marine Police to help in the rescue operation.
Some of bodies recovered were buried along the river bank, while some whose relatives wanted to organize burial for were taken to their homes for burial.
The Niger state governor, Abubakar Sani Bello who was represented at the scene of the mass burial by the river bank by his chief of staff, Hon Mikhail el-Amin Bmitoshai described the incident as unfortunate and urged the people to see it as an act of God.
The governor while commiserating with the families of the victims of the boat mishap expressed concern over the inability of boat operators in all the inland waterways of the state to abide by the best marine transportation practices.
The chief of staff, accompanied by some top government functionaries from the area visited the scene of the mishap, traveling by boat for two and half hours for an on-the-spot assessment of incident and to commiserate with the families of the victims.
The incessant boat mishap in Niger state, which mostly claim children and women who could not swim have always been attributed to the rise in water level occasioned by heavy down pour. On the other hand, government officials associate the occurrence with overloading of the boats, which mostly are rickety.
Ahmed of Niger state emergency agency claims that the agency had always sensitized boat operators and water travelers in the riverine communities against boat overloading, especially during the rainy season and to always wear life jackets as precautionary measures to safe guard lives in the event of marine accidents.
Our correspondent’s findings revealed that there is law making it mandatory for operators of boats in the state to provide life jacket for passengers, however, the law is observed rather in breach. Worse is the total lack of will on the part of government to enforce compliance to the law.
To enhance the enforcement of all the laws on water transport in the state, the chief of staff to the governor had to now declare that the state government will set up what he called Water Ways Transport Agency that would regulate the activities of boats operators in the state.
From the chief of staff’s utterances, it took the latest mass death of water travellers in the state for the government to discover that all the boat operators in the state provide no life jackets for their passengers.
“The government will make sure that no boat operators carry passengers without protective jackets when the agency becomes operational. The state has witnessed too many boat mishaps. The government will soon come up with an agency that will regulate and monitor their activities so as to avoid some of these avoidable incidents on our water ways,” Bmitoshai said.
The chief of staff further disclosed that the state government will acquire the life jackets and give to boat operators at subsidized rates, pointing out that “when that is done, no operator will be allowed to carry passengers without protective jackets.”
As observed by the governor’s chief of staff every year especially during the rainy season, incidences of boat mishaps are always recorded either along the water ways on River Kaduna or along River Niger in Agwara and Kainji axis of the state.
The situation prompted the immediate past administration in the state to pass the moribund law that made it compulsory for the operators of either local or engine boats in the state to provide protective jacket for passengers. With the latest drowning of passengers, the present government in the state has now proposed further to set up an agency to take care of the state’s inland water ways.
The more thorny issue however is that the entire inland water ways in Niger by the Act establishing the Nigeria Inland Water ways Authority NIWA is under NIWA as a federal agency. It could be noted that in Niger, the inland water ways have two major rivers cutting across several kilometers from upper to middle course, yet there is no office of NIWA in the state.
It is believed that with the office of NIWA in the state the issues concerning regulations and enforcement of inland water ways laws would not be a burden of the state government hence some of exclusive laws gave the control of water transportation to the relevant agencies of the federal government.
Following the latest mishap in Niger and that which occurred earlier in Bagudo local government area of Kebbi state that may have cumulatively consumed over 100 lives, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and NIWA have expressed readiness to make water transportation safer and more viable in country.
The chairman, Governing Board of the NIMASA, Maj-General Jonathan Garba
in a statement signed by Adakole Ejegbudu, said NIMASA and NIWA were exploring ways of pooling their knowledge and resources together to ensure that water transportation is safe in the country.
According to him, the two bodies would achieve that objective with the collaboration of other stakeholders in making water transportation a safe mode of transportation in the country.
“I hope to share news of a concrete collaboration strategy between the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) and other relevant stakeholders soon.
“I wish to extend my heartfelt condolences to all those who lost loved ones in these terrible accidents and to the governors of those states, their excellencies Alhaji Abubakar Sani Bello of Niger and Sen Abubakar Atiku Bagudu of Kebbi state. My thoughts and prayers are with you.
“A few days I commended the leadership of National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) for keeping the nation’s waterways navigable and for their vision of making all 10,000 km of our waterways viable. I stand with the leadership of NIWA in this period of mourning and share in their renewed resolve to make marine transportation safer.”
“This is the challenge that all stakeholders must rise up to. As is often said in the maritime world, all hands must be on deck.”