A waterways mishap is a tragedy which comes with devastating consequences ,as most victims are left with tales of a traumatic experience often resulting in scores of deaths.
Boat mishaps which happen to be the common tragedy on Nigeria’s waterways, always claim lives of victims for failure to take precautionary measures by using safety kits while travelling on water.
Most of the locals living within the riverine areas lack knowledge of the need for safety Jackets, which help in the event of any emergency, because the Jackets allow the victims to remain afloat before rescue comes their way.
Few months ago a tragedy struck in Jigawa state which led to the untimely death of 15 teenage girls, out of whom seven brides-to-be from four riverine communities of the state died at same time, after the canoe that was ferrying them across the Hadejia river to neighouring Gilima village, capsized.
Among the brides to be, five were from Doro which include, Mariam Rabilu, Aisha Rabilu, Marsida Lawal, Ubaida Dan-azumi, Shamsiya Gadalli Hussaini and Kokiya Murtala, while one each from Darai, Amina Hussaini and Damatuwa, Saiyara Munkaila.
On the fateful day, 15 teenage girls between the ages of seven to 18 from Darai, Doro, Kargo and Damatuwa communities, all in Jahun Local Government Area lost their lives while crossing a river to neighbouring Gilma community in Taura Local Government Area.
The 31 passengers in the ill fated canoe were all girls going for a paid job in neighouring Gilima community. 15 of them died when the canoe capsized. It is a tradition among teenage girls from these communities to work in surrounding plantations for paid labour.
The victims who met their untimely death were crossing river Hadejia when the tragedy struck at around 9 am on the fateful day, leading to the death of eight teenage girls from Doro, five from Darai, one each from kargo and Damutawa communities.
In the past several lives were lost as a result of waterways mishaps in rivers, consequent upon which the Jigawa state government made it compulsory for all canoe operators and passengers to wear life jackets whenever travelling or crossing waterways in the state.
It has become necessary to make the use of life Jacket compulsory in the state, following the deaths of the teenage girls.
The Executive Secretary of State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), Sani Yusuf Babura made the announcement on the mandatory use of life jackets ,while distributing 300 pieces of such jackets to some selected canoe operators manning 44 crossing points, along the 250 kilometer stretch of the river Hadejia. Distributing the life Jackets at the Dorowa crossing point in Darai district of Jahun Local Government Area, the particular place where the teenage girls lost their lives, Babura told Canoe Operators that each will be given eight pieces of the life Jackets, and these include that of the operator.
According to him, from now henceforth, no canoe will carry more than 10 passengers per trip ,on either crossing or travelling along the waterways in the state, adding that each canoe has the capacity to carry 10 passengers but regulated it to eight, hence the distribution of eight life Jackets per canoe operator and his passengers.
He stressed that it is expected to have only eight passengers on board,as the space for the remaining two passengers will be used for the luggage.
The distribution of the life jackets that was conducted recently was the first phase under the new intervention, as the agency is working on identifying more of these crossing points, so that more of the canoe operators and their passengers will benefit from the intervention.
The state government spent over N2.5 million to purchase the first batch of life Jackets, adding that out of this there are 50 smaller pieces for children.
The life Jackets have reflectors and whistles which will help the rescue team to locate victims. In times of emergency the jacket reflects brightly in the night, while the victim could use the whistle to call for help.
Plans are also underway to make a law in the state on the use of life jackets for any user of the state waterways, since proposal for that has since been taken before the state House of Assembly, for legislating on the law that will make it criminal to cross or travel on the state water ways, without life jackets.
“Any canoe operator who refuses to use or give his passengers the life jackets during the crossing or travelling on water ways, would face the full wrath of the law. A proposal has since been forwarded to the state House of Assembly for legislation on possible laws to take care of the defaulters.
“Each of the life jackets has the capacity of keeping objects worth 200 kilograms afloat. We have distributed 300 pieces of life jackets to 44 canoe operators. Each of the operators was given eight pieces of life jackets, which is equivalent to a full passenger load of a canoe. It is now a law that no canoe operator will take more than eight passengers in a canoe, while either crossing or travelling on the river in Jigawa state,” he said.
However, in order to forestall the recurrence of such water ways tragedy, state deputy governor, Barrister Ibrahim Hassan Hadejia also announced during the distribution of the life jackets ,that the state government had concluded arrangements to construct military bailey bridges at six different crossing points along the river Hadejia.
The bridges planned to be constructed by the state government are not conventional ones, but the type that could be assembled and fixed at a point of construction.
The state government has since started discussing with the Nigeria Army Corps of Engineers for the construction of such bridges, he said.
He stressed “The construction of the bridges could have been completed earlier than now, but due to the shortage of some of the major components, this stalled the commencement of the work, and as soon as the components are brought into the country, work on the selected locations would commence.”
The components will soon be made available as some were going to be locally fabricated, adding that once all the components are supplied, it would not take more than three days to assemble the bridges.
“We are going to construct bailey bridges at six identified crossing points along river Hadejia ,in order to forestall the recurrence of the tragedy that occurred recently in the state. After we finish with this first phase, additional crossing points will also be identified, and they will benefit from similar interventions,” he stated.
One of the locals from the benefiting communities, Ishiayaku Darai, told this reporter that not only the distribution but making it compulsory for the water ways users to use life jackets, made the intervention more meaningful, because it would go a long way to saving a lot of lives ,adding that if the proposed bridges became a reality, the risk involved in crossing the river would be completely eliminated.
He said about 700 people risked being drowned on daily basis, because they had to cross the river to the neighbouring villages for paid jobs, saying apart from reducing the risk by the provision of life jackets and bridges, their communities would also be exposed to bigger and better markets for their farm produce in neighbouring Kano state.
“If the bridge is constructed it will only take us 40 minutes as against the two hours drive to reach Kano. We produce farm produce in sufficient quantity ,which is capable of feeding a bigger market.
“The use of life jackets will no doubt reduce the rate of calamities experienced in these communities, but the construction of these bridges will provide a permanent solution to such tragedies, without which the riverine communities do not have any option than to use the same unsafe way of crossing the river.”