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Nigeria waterways: Death traps

By Simon Abah
08 May 2015   |   4:41 am
YOU would imagine - that Nigeria is so poor, reason why many people have resorted to self-help in providing security for themselves, paving their roads, digging bore-holes so as to get drinking water and, many other services that government should provide.

BoatYOU would imagine – that Nigeria is so poor, reason why many people have resorted to self-help in providing security for themselves, paving their roads, digging bore-holes so as to get drinking water and, many other services that government should provide.

It was Abraham Lincoln, who said and I believe it to be so that, “the legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but cannot do for themselves in their separate and individual capacities.”

How come communities of people in Nigeria, like mine in Agaliga Efabo, in Olamaboro Local Council area of Kogi State do not have paved roads, electricity (not even solar powered panels), and no portable water? How come our water ways are run by individuals with unsound ferries with no government presence and intervention? You might be tempted to assume that lack of resources inhibits the government from providing direction that will promote safety of citizens on the country’s water ways.

But it is open knowledge, in the public domain, that Nigeria – – since independence has collected trillions of pounds as aid from the international community to develop polity, this is many times, more than the amount the United States of America invested in the re-building of Western Europe after the end of the World War II. Yet, there isn’t anything to show for it because of the behaviour and mindset of government’s officials whose interest is, “what is in it for me?” Rather than, “how I may genuinely serve.”

You begin to wonder that, even though they say they have prudently reinvested monies recovered from a late despot into the polity, all you feel are the effects in the wind.

When the children of Israel as stated in the Holy Book begged the Almighty Creator for food whilst in the desert on their way out of Egypt, manna was sent from Heaven to them, likewise quails which were blown to them from the sea for meat but our governments keep pies in the sky and ask citizens to squander energies by jumping to get them.

Government officials care only about the ‘momentary’ and not the ‘future.’ They fly in private jets while the community is hugely underdeveloped.  Regrettably, they are not pilloried but celebrated.

As a rule I read the editorial of major newspapers daily when I can afford the time and also the major news line (latest news). So, on Saturday, March 28, 2015, after elections in Port Harcourt, I relaxed to check news update online. Many caught my attention but one headline, stood out in one of the newspapers, ‘Epe Monarch’s son, five others drown after voting.’

It was really touching and heart rending. How was I to know that one of the deceased was my boyhood friend many years ago in Kaduna State? I didn’t have the least amount of inkling.

First the name Muheez Bello was misspelt as Muiz Bello and even though Epe (his LGA) was cited in the article, I wasn’t startled. But the following day on Sunday, March 29, 2015, I got a call from a friend in Lagos who was in the know about my relationship with Muheez. “Abah, I just read in the papers that a certain Muheez drowned after a boat he was in, capsized on his way back after casting his votes yesterday, could that be the Muheez you know?” I was nervous and straightaway after several calls to all of his lines which didn’t go through and I became frightened.

I called his younger brother who confirmed the shocking story. How was I to know he was campaigning for elective office? We had discussed this in the past and he knew my position about the murky waters of Nigeria’s politics, especially for young competitors, he hadn’t turned 40.

Just the same way many of my worrywarts ask me why I submit efforts for publication. I am sure he was waiting to win the elections before letting me know.

He always shared his successes. Muheez from the get-go has always wanted to serve the public. On a visit to Lagos in 2004, he told me: “Someday, I will like to go into politics, become chairman of council of my local government in Epe and who knows become governor of Lagos State in future.”

We even drove to Epe where he shared further vision. He had all it takes to achieve that. He was bright, very smart and a people’s person. It wasn’t for nothing that he won a Gani Fawehinmi competition on essay writing many years ago, got a handshake from the luminary and went abroad for a period as a result of that, neither was it for nothing that he studied law, practised for a while before he became special adviser to the Governor of Lagos State on Youth Affairs.

It wasn’t by a stroke of luck that he got the opportunity to work in Chevron Nigeria Limited and to have met many personalities such as Pat Utomi etc., which he told me about with elation.

How come our waterways are left to be operated by people who are nothing but swashbucklers? A moment ago on my way back from a burial at Okrika in Rivers State with my significant-other, we entered a boat from that point to Marine Base in Port Harcourt. The protective vests that we were given were flabby and the hooks could not clip-in and that meant we were unfastened.

Midway into the journey, the engine stopped propelling and the conductor suddenly started invoking mantras (incantations), doggedly to the water body and surprisingly the engine revved back to life. This took forever with no help in sight.

I swore never to travel by boat anymore. Muheez’s dream was cut short by a government that is not alive to its duty. As I write many calamities are happening on our water ways but our heavy-eyed government cares for nothing.

You need to hear tales of boat drivers careering with reckless abandon with passengers as if they are on a racing competition. You wonder how countries in the West are able to have well-balanced water transportation while ours is nothing compared to activities of the pre-industrialised age.

Epe, Lagos and Nigeria have lost somebody who would have added his own quota greatly to the nation’s development. According to John F. Kennedy, “if a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.”

Let it be known that the federal and Lagos State governments are to blame for the deaths of my friend, and those with him and, also other states and the Federal Government for other deaths too many to mention – caused by the negligence of a government blasé enough not to build bridges, an irresponsible government that hands-off running a sector with good boats (like the NLNG types) as a social service but left it in the hands of total turkeys.

How long are we going to remain a developing country with a developing people? • Abah wrote from Port Harcourt.