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Danger, death, woes on inland waterways

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Passenegers on a boat with disregard for safety. Photo:Google

Aisha Ibrahim was so naïve; she should have insisted on a life jacket. She took the risk, even when everyone in the boat had a life jacket. The journey was from Ojo to Liverpool in Apapa. Few minutes after takeoff, the unexpected happened, and she was full of regrets.

The boat carrying 20 passengers capsized between Liverpool and Coconut – under the Bridge in Lagos. Three persons were confirmed dead, but Aisha Ibrahim was among the survivors.

“I was saved by the His grace. My mind was sealed; I thought it was over, but God said no,” she said sotto voce.

Not many boat passengers across the country are as lucky as Aisha. Their lives had been cut short due to recklessness and negligence by boat operators. The inefficiency and poor implementation of policies by the government agencies that are mandated to monitor and create smooth sail on the waterways are also unpardonable.

River Niger and River Benue constitute the major channels for inland navigation, which include, but not limited to the Cross River, Port Novo – Badagry-Lagos waterways, Lekki and Lagos Lagoons, Ogun-Ondo waterways, Benin River, Escravos channel, Nun River, Imo River, Orashi River, Ethiope River Ugwuta Lake, Lake Chad and the numerous creeks in the Niger Delta.

Sadly, high rate of fatal accidents on the Nigerian inland waterways has assumed a worrisome dimension in recent times. The latest incident happened in Lagos, when the Managing Director, Nigerian Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA), Senator Olorunnimbe Mamora, and officials were on a voyage and managed to escape death by the whisker.

It was gathered that the incident happened when the boat Mamora and co. were travelling in, on tour of Lagos area office facilities, hit an abandoned wreck tucked in the brown water.

The incident reportedly occurred shortly after inspecting the NIWA CMS office facilities in Apapa, Ijora, and Oyingbo jetties, and heading towards the Osborne foreshore to also inspect Texas connection ferries. NIWA’s official on the convoy described the situation as a close encounter with the mercy of God.

Technical Adviser to the Managing Director, Emmanuel Ilori, said the wreck was an underwater wreck, adding that the present management of the Authority is seriously concerned about safety and security in the nation’s inland waterways.

He said: “Safety and security of inland waterways are the priority of the present management of NIWA. It is not only issue of wreck removal, we will remove wrecks, causes of wrecks and these are what we will be looking at fundamentally. So, to prevent boat mishaps on the inland waterways and to be sure that when wrecks are removed they are not dumped into another place where it will become another hazard.

“What we are looking at is to survey the wrecks. It is not only wrecks that we see on the surface alone because we also have wrecks under the water and these are underwater issues that is why we say when people remove wrecks, we want to understand how they will dispose the wrecks and it won’t cause another hazard elsewhere.

“Don’t forget that the boat the MD was travelling in went over the wreck. The primary thing is to survey the water and identify whatever it is. Even if it cannot be removed, we will tell boat operators to avoid the area because of wrecks. Wrecks removal is not the immediate solution, but to identify where the wrecks are and begins to remove them and know how to dispose. Also, identify where the wrecks are, and mark them so that people are aware of where danger lies and avoid it.”

Recall that over the years, there have been many calls for the removal of wrecks on the inland waterways that contributed to mishaps.

Apart from wrecks, dirt, hyacinths, and other non-renewable items thrown into the water are sometimes responsible for accidents on Nigerian waters.

For example, on October 27, about four persons reportedly died in a boat accident in the Ashangwa, Lafia East Development Area of Nasarawa State. One of the survivors, Mrs. Felina Agwale, said the boat paddler was too young to handle the boat.

Earlier on October 24, about 20 persons had died in a boat, which left Logo at 8 p.m. and capsized on the Buruku side of the river Katsina-Ala.

Also, in August, a boat travelling from CMS to Ikorodu had capsized, claiming five lives. This was about two months after a May 25 incident in which 24 passengers escaped death when two boats collided and capsized in the Ojo area of Lagos State. The accident occurred at 7:45pm close to the Ojo Terminal.

However, some 12 passengers were not as lucky on August 20, 2017. They all died in a boat accident in the Ilashe area of the state. It was gathered that the boat capsized shortly after leaving an unauthorised jetty.

Similarly, a police sergeant, Mary Adesoba, attached to the Zone 2 Police Command, Onikan, Lagos, lost her life on October 10, 2017, after a boat capsized on the Third Mainland Bridge waterways. The boat was en route Ebute-Ero from Ikorodu when the mishap happened around 10 a.m. when it hit a submerged object.

Also, on May 25, 2016, a woman died after a commercial boat en route to Victoria Island, Lagos, from Ikorodu ran into a log of wood and capsized. Some 27 other passengers on board the speedboat escaped death with varying degrees of injuries.

Although, investigations revealed that human factors such as mechanical faults, over-speeding, over-loading, piracy, attacks, collision, are responsible for some of the accidents, natural occurrences like rainstorm and turbulent weather also share some blame.

Stakeholders are worried that the agencies saddled with the responsibility of managing the waterways are taking a backseat and less proactive about handling critical safety issues on the waterways.

In Lagos, job-duplication between NIWA and the Lagos State Waterways Authority (LASWA), continue to mar operations as they battle for control of the waterways. The duo have been at loggerheads since 2008.

But boat operators that spoke with The Guardian, in Lagos, said there is hardly any presence of the regulators at the jetties, but only use their discretion to always play safe.

Benson Brown, a boat operator said: “Whenever they (regulators) come, it is always about money. But when you request for any assistance or clearance of waterways, it becomes a herculean task. What we have been doing is to manoeuvre the waterways to avoid wrecks and hyacinths. We know the route, but accidents only occur by mistake or when there is an unexpected wreck on the way.

“Help us beg government to dredge the channels, and clear the wrecks and hyacinths so that we can be sure of a safe journey. It is getting out of hand, and it is very sad that we are losing people to this problem,” he said.

A passenger, Tolulope Adeyemi, said: “Water transportation is very interesting but the need for safety is very paramount. Sometimes, people take it for granted, but the implication is that frequent accidents scare passengers away from water transport, and this leads to job loss for operators.”


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