Worries as death toll rises on Nigeria’s inland waters
•Violation of safety rules causes accidents, says NIWA
• Agency to donate boats to Kebbi traders
There are concerns among stakeholders on the rising cases of boat accidents on Nigerian inland waterways in the last year. The Guardian estimates that about 347 people have lost their lives to avoidable accidents on the waterways, while the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) gave 168 persons as the estimated figure of casualties in the last one year.
This is even as many have called on the country to fully explore its water resources for transportation. The latest was the Kebbi State incident where over 160 people drowned after an overloaded boat ferrying passengers to the market sank in Niger River.
Chairman, Kebbi State Emergency Management Agency, Sani Dododo, said 60 bodies have been recovered so far while 83 missing passengers might not be found alive.
Sanni said 22 passengers were rescued shortly after the accident. “Not a single person has been rescued alive since then. Among the dead was a baby of less than a year,” he said.
Boat accidents are common in Nigeria, especially on the Niger River and Lagos with causes including overloading, poor condition of boats and underwater debris.
Early last month, 30 people drowned when an overloaded boat capsized in Niger State. This was just as the nation was getting relief from the July 2020 incident, when a boat ferrying 100 local traders split into two after hitting a stump during a storm as they were returning from a local market.
In the same month, about 28 passengers were feared dead when their overcrowded boat capsized in Benue state, while another seven people were confirmed dead in Ikorodu outside the economic hub of Lagos when their boat sank following heavy rain.
Besides, no fewer than 13 persons were confirmed dead in August 2020, after a boat capsized in Lagos. The Lagos boat accident occurred around 5:45 pm at Kirikiri, Apapa, less than 24 hours after 18 people cheated death in two boat accidents on Victoria Island.
Earlier in July 2020, eight passengers died in a boat mishap in Ikorodu Lagos. An industry expert, Joseph Igbokwe said: “It is very absurd to read regularly, reports about boat mishaps resulting in loss of lives and properties instead of breakthroughs made by marine engineers and naval architects on shipbuilding, efficient wreck removal and ship recycling.
“It is equally disturbing when the causes of a ship capsizing in the country are repeatedly, common requiring little government intervention to avert them but without necessary official concerted efforts to reverse the ugly trend of loss of enormous resources.”
President, National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA), Lucky Amiwero, in a chat with The Guardian, said negligence of the government regulatory agencies, particularly the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) and Lagos State Water Authority (LASWA) was responsible for the frequent accidents claiming lives on the waters.
He said the agencies’ presence were not felt at the jetties in terms of monitoring compliance with safety rules, while the channels were not properly dredged to give ways for smooth sailing.
Although he also blamed some of the accidents on overloading, Amiwero said the government should buy standard ferries that guarantee the safety of passengers.
According to him, the need to expand on Nigeria’s water transportation could not be underestimated, while the standard facilities should be provided, while safety rules should be enforced.
Spokesperson, NIWA, Jibril Dauda’u, told The Guardian that the accidents occurred due to violation of safety regulations. He said the Kebbi boat was overloaded and that was very unfortunate as it violates the rules.
He said NIWA has increased the number of its area office in that area in Niger to take care of Niger/Kwara and another one in Sokoto to take care of Sokoto/Zamfara, while the Kebbi own will take care Kebbi in other to checkmate boat operators activities.
“The major problem used to be lack of adherence to our safety guidelines. These include overloading, night sailing and lack of use of life jackets. We use to enforce our laws on these operators, but unfortunately, they are stubborn about it. What kind of boat in the world will take 180 passengers with their motorcycles, livestock and food stock. That is recklessness.
“We have discovered that they have a shortage of boats in that area. That is why they always rush to go home. By Wednesday or Thursday, we are donating about six boats to that area to reduce the rush. We will enforce the use of life jackets and ensure there is no night sailing,” he said.