Hamisu Abdullahi , a resident of Jibu village in Wukari Local Government Area of Taraba State, is now a grief-stricken man. Abdullahi informed Weekly Trust that it was about three weeks ago that he married his first wife, Bararatu. He said the occasion was heralded by jubilation not only in his immediate family, but in the entire village.
However, 20 days after the marriage, death came with brutal arrogance and snatched his wife away while they were still honeymooning. He is now a widower, no thanks to the monumental tragedy that struck last Sunday in the form of the boat mishap in which 27 women and children, including Abdullahi’s wife, reportedly perished.
While recounting the last moments that he spent with his new wife before that fateful day, Abdullahi effortlessly battled with emotions. “I find it difficult to come to terms with the reality that my wife, Bararatu, has left me. But I submit everything to the will of God,” he said even as his sweat-soaked face bore the furrows of sorrow.
He is not the only grieving man in Jibu land. Indeed, the whole community of over six thousand inhabitants is now wrapped in a blanket of lugubriousness. As those who lost their loved ones painfully bury the corpses of the deceased, the survivors of the tragedy are living in a state of fingernail-biting hysteria.
Among the dead, thirteen were children while the remaining fourteen were women, including nursing mothers. Alhaji Yakubu A. Tafida, the Village Head of Jibu, set the tone of the current mood in the community. He described the mishap as a monumental disaster which is the first of its kind in Jibu. Tafida who has been receiving scores of sympathisers at his palace following the incident, however, said it was an act of God which cannot be questioned by mortals.
He said: “It is quite painful, especially for the families of the bereaved; more so that the deceased were women and children between the ages of two and 13 years. But we take solace in the fact that death is a necessary end.”
How did the Jibu boat mishap occur on that ‘black Sunday’? Weekly Trust gathered that on that day at about 9:30 in the morning, a total of 67 passengers boarded the ill-fated boat. They comprised women and children who were billed to attend a naming ceremony at a neighbouring village called Kangyal. Situated at about ten kilometres away, Kangyal and Jibu are separated by tributaries of the River Benue and the Donga River which co-join to form a confluence that runs through the two sister communities.
About midway into the journey, a strong wave was said to have surged through the surface of the waters thereby causing the splattering of water into the moving boat. Apparently enveloped by panic, the women, many of whom were holding onto their kids, rose from one end of the canoe to the opposite end thereby bringing overbearing weight on one side.
Consequently, the waves started spilling water inside the boat with intensity. “We all started shouting for help as we held firmly to our children”, said Ubaida, one of the female survivors who narrated her ordeal to our reporter.
Although she was rescued alive, Ubaida’s two-year-old daughter slipped off her hands and drowned. Her lifeless body was among the thirteen children whose corpses were later recovered and deposited at the bank of the river. Weekly Trust further gathered that following the alarm raised by the passengers, some fishermen rushed to the drowning boat on a rescue operation.
“No sooner had we evacuated the remaining passengers on board the canoe to our boat than it too sank under the water due to the intensity of the surging waves,” said one of the fishermen who offered rescue mission.
By the following morning [Monday], twenty-two corpses were found floating at the bank of the river. The figure kept rising due to the recovery of more bodies. By the time Weekly Trust visited Jibu last Wednesday, the Village Head, Yakubu A. Tafida, confirmed 27 deaths.
However, the effort of the fishermen as well as other volunteers on rescue mission paid off as 40 out of the 67 passengers on board were rescued. The ‘pilot’ of the boat, an Urhobo fisherman, is said to have swum to safety and disappeared since the day of the incident. Many of the survivors were still recuperating at the hospital when Weekly Trust visited. Some who spoke with our reporter at their homes in Jibu said they are too traumatised to recount their experiences.
Scores of sympathisers have been pouring into Jibu to commiserate with the families of the bereaved. The Taraba State governor, Danbaba Suntai, and his deputy were out of the country when the incident occurred. The Chief of Staff to the governor, Garvey Yaweh, led a government delegation on a sympathy visit to the area last Tuesday. He was said to have presented relief materials, including food items to the survivors and families of the deceased.
The member representing the area in the state House of Assembly, Daniel Ishaya Gani, who was also there on a condolence visit, described the incident as “shocking”. “I would have loved the governor to personally visit this place to appreciate the plight of the people”, Gani said, pointing out that lack of access roads had left the villagers at the mercy of ferrying across the rivers by locally-constructed boats.
Gani called on the state government to provide the people with modern speed engine boats as alternatives to the locally-constructed canoes, so as to reduce the risk of future boat mishaps.