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Voyage of death… Miraculous escape for Adelaja… Bello, others, not so lucky



Muheez Bello

IT was a cruel twist of fate for Muheez Olayinka Bello that on a day he would have thrown a wild party to celebrate his birthday and joy of successfully delivering his ward to his party for the presidential elections held at the weekend, he was rather lowered six feet into the ground to have his eternal rest. Bello, the All Progressives Congress (APC) chairmanship aspirant for Epe Local Government Area, was among the six people who died in a boat accident after voting in Saturday’s elections.

He was survived by a wife and three children. The incident also claimed the life of the son of Olu of Epe, Aremo Azeez Adewale, while Bello’s wife Monsurat, who was also on the death boat, survived and is currently receiving treatment at the Epe General Hospital. The news of the boat mishap had shocked many Epe residents, who, hours earlier, had mobilized intensely for citizens to troop out en masse and vote for his party as his most preferred birthday present. Many prayed hard for the story to be untrue as frantic search for his body was going on. All hopes were, however, lost when divers pulled out Muheez’s body from the sea in the early hours of Sunday.

He has since been buried according to Muslim rites. The late grassroots politician, who lost his mother last January, was a young man in his prime passionate about the development of Nigeria and had always advocated for the country’s elite to make sacrifices for future generations. It was with such conviction he left his job as Chevron’s Government Relations Representative, Policy Government and Public Affairs (PGPA), put his young family on the line to run for the office of the Local Government chairman in Epe. Muheez was called to the Bar in 2003, after completing his training at the Nigerian Law School and graduating from the Lagos State University (LASU).

He was also an alumnus of the School of Management in Geneva, Switzerland and made a name for himself with top law firms in Nigeria before becoming a partner in his own firm, Bello and Odeleke in 2006. Widely regarded as one of the pioneers of entertainment, telecommunication, and electric-power sector law practice in Nigeria, Muheez served as adviser to top Nigerian music stars like 2face Idibia, Eldee, Sasha P, among many others.

Bello’s tragic death has raised the calls by Lagosians for the state government to step up its regulatory functions and emergency response in the water transport sector. “This is one death too many. I know there are many unreported boat mishaps at Amuwo Odofin, Ikorodu, Epe and other parts of Lagos. But Bello’s death should not be in vain. Our waterways are no longer safe and that is supposed to help in reducing the severe traffic on our roads, especially in a coastal state like Lagos. May God bless his soul,” Oluyinka Oyeniji, a friend of the deceased, said.

Though Bello is dead and forever silent and cannot come back to life to share how he died, but just recently someone in the same situation with Bello was fortunate to escape death and now happily lives to share her experience. No one would have known what transpired and how she and her co-voyagers met death in the high seas if she had not escaped to tell the story.

That person is Bose Adelaja, a reporter with the Vanguard newspaper. The following is her story: On Monday, March 16, a 22-seater boat with 20 passengers on board including my humble self (Bose Adelaja), sailed off Bayeku-Ikorodu heading for Victoria Island at about 9.10am. I am not a stranger to this voyage for a long while as the way out of the daily backbreaking traffic congestion on the Ikorodu-Mile 12 axis. From the takeoff point at the jetty in Ikorodu, it’s a pleasant experience that won’t make you regret journeying by road.

Usually, as a passenger steps into the terminal, he or she is welcomed with a handshake after which you obtain a sailing ticket of N600 and wait until a boat is ready to sail. Before boarding, you are instructed to fill the manifest form and wear a life jacket.

Passengers on board are mostly of elite class, living in that part of Lagos, but heading for their various destinations on Victoria Island, Ikoyi or Lekki, a supposed journey of 45 minutes. On this particular day, I had an assignment to pursue on the island and I was one of the 20 passengers on board. The journey was smooth at the beginning, the elements were friendly and the sea was calm.

Some of the passengers began chatting; pinging or making phone calls while the boat with the inscription ‘Peter and Paul’ sailed onboard. The local captain and the sea guide were not left out, as they were busy with their routine of ensuring a safe trip. Barely 10 minutes into the journey, a sudden and dreadful sound came from the rear and the wave from the front hit the boat. Without any warning, the journey was halted in the middle of a great sea. Then came apprehension from the passengers as nobody knew what transpired until the captain cried out, holding his head with his hands and shouting in vernacular “Mo gbe! Engine oko ti jabo si’nu Omi” (Am in trouble! The boat engine has dropped into the sea).

That was when it dawned on Adelaja and her co-passengers that there was danger. Firstly, the captain attempted diving headlong into the sea in search of the missing engine and this heightened the fear that gripped all the passengers as they began wailing, weeping, shouting or offering prayers in different languages. The journalist among them in a last ditch effort to proffer solution pulled a call through to the General Manager of the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA), Dr. Femi Oke-Osanyintolu, to intimate him of the ugly scene.

He listened patiently to the complaint and offered only his assurances that all would be well, but help never came from the agency. At this time, the boat had started spinning round in 360 degrees. However, that call to the LASEMA boss calmed all frayed nerves for a few minutes hoping against hope that a miracle would happen with a prompt response from the agency. In the intervening period, one of the passengers got through to the terminal and a rescue boat was sent to the relief and delight of all on board.

Immediately all passengers were out of harm’s way, they began to reflect on their close shave with death and how lucky they were to be alive. A passenger, who simply gave his name as “Opon Ifa”, condemned the nonchalance attitude of LASEMA to the yearning of the stranded passengers. Another passenger, Adams Oghene, said he has not been a patron of water transport but for an appointment he was almost late for and the bumper-to-bumper traffic situation on Lagos roads, he decided to give the voyage a try. “After alighting from the rescue boat sent by the private jetty, I began to ponder what could have happened if the situation went out of hand, what would LASEMA be telling the world despite being informed.

He would have posed before television cameras to claim how effective his agency has been in the discharge of its duties.

“Many thoughts crossed through my mind; firstly the tragic incident that befell my family within a year in 2006. That was the darkest year of my life when I lost three dear ones, my late mother, Mrs. Abike Oyedele, and two siblings, Titilayo Amope and Mr. Wale Oyedele, who died few weeks to the conclusion of his doctorate. I was imagining if my life would end same way but I thank God such didn’t happen.”

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