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Address incessant boat mishaps

It would be recalled that in 2020, a total of 102 lives were lost in boat mishaps across six states in the country:

The recent boat mishap in Munya Local Government Area of Niger State which led to the death of 35 people is one disaster too many. The latest incident which occurred on Saturday, May 15, 2021, is one in the series of many boat mishaps in the state and other parts of the country that has brought to the fore how lack of enforcement of regulations and flagrant violation of rules by operators on the nation’s waterways have over many years continued to lead to loss of lives. Most victims in the latest incident were from seven communities in the area, including returnees who had earlier fled their homes due to bandit attacks. Munya is one of the local government areas suffering from incessant attacks by bandits.

The boat, which was reportedly carrying over 100 people, capsized at Tijana about10 minutes to its destination in the over two-hour journey at around 6:30pm when the villagers were returning from a local market in Zumba located in Shiroro Local Government Area of the state. Out of the 35 who died, two children could not be rescued despite the effort of divers. A resident lost six members of his family.

The Chairman of boat operators in the area, Malam Saleh Alsam (Sarkin Girigi), said the six-month-old boat capsized because it hit a tree trunk thereby causing some of the firewood in the boat to fall into the river and water consequently entering the boat. He said 70 people, including the two boat operators, survived. 80 lives have been lost in different boat accidents in the past four years in Niger State.

It would be recalled that in 2020, a total of 102 lives were lost in boat mishaps across six states in the country: Anambra, Cross River, Bauchi, Lagos, Benue and Sokoto; with Bauchi having the highest fatality figure of 33 in two accidents. Lagos ranked second with 25 lives lost in three mishaps. Before the latest mishap in Niger State, a boat mishap in which one life was lost was recorded on March 22, 2021, on the Badagry water channel in Lagos.

Most of the boat mishaps have largely been attributed to the failure of relevant authorities, particularly the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA), to regulate activities of passenger ferry and boat operators. Poverty and lackadaisical attitude have been identified as major factors responsible for the lack of compliance by ferry and boat workers to operational policies. Besides, non-usage of life jackets and other life-saving appliances, overloading, night voyages, obstructions on waterways, violation of route usage and faulty engines are some of the causes linked to several of the boat mishaps.

Reacting, NIWA said it would investigate the immediate and remote causes of the recent boat mishap. NIWA’s Managing Director, Dr George Moghalu, in a statement, expressed worry over the loss of lives in boat mishaps, which he blamed on disregard for laid down safety regulations by boat operators, as well as passengers. Also speaking on the incident, the Niger/Kwara Area Manager of NIWA, Mr Akapo Adeboye, said boat operators and passengers had consistently ignored the use of life jackets because they believed that as fishermen they could swim.

Therefore, aggressive public enlightenment and education of ferry operators and passengers is key to addressing boat accidents. While we urge NIWA to embark on routine maintenance and dredging of inland waterways to clear obstructions, boat operators have a duty to report obstacles on their routes to NIWA.

State governments should put in place regulatory policies for boat operators; defining safety rules for public water transportation. We also encourage state governments to intervene with modern boats equipped with safety equipment in water transportation in the same way they manage mass transit bus services. Government could subsidise the sale of life jackets to public boat operators for use of their passengers. Boat operators and passengers must be made to comply with laid down rules, and anyone found wanting should be sanctioned appropriately.

The huge loss of lives and property in incessant boat accidents in the country is avertible if regulatory authorities, boat operators and passengers do the right thing.

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