The economy of locals in riverine communities may be facing a threat of collapse over the rising spate of boat accidents.
From Kebbi, through River Niger/Benue to the lagoons in the South-West, South-South and South-East, there is the lack of observed navigational equipment in the inland waterways with recurring accidents resulting in the death of mostly traders.
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A check by Daily Trust revealed that between 2006 and 2018, over 1,607 persons lost their lives in various boat accidents. Data sourced based on reported cases further showed that between April and September 2017, about 100 persons died in six boat accidents in Lagos, Kebbi and Niger states.
Just recently, over 80 persons died in a boat mishap in Kebbi. Majority of the dead were traders who travelled from their villages in Borgu, Niger to Wara market in Kebbi and were returning home when the boat carrying over 150 passengers, motorcycles, livestock, among others, capsized, reportedly from overloading.
To monitor inland waterway navigation and ensure it is safe, the federal government created the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA). However, the increasing mishaps under the watch of NIWA is beginning to raise concerns by operators in the maritime sectors and others
The authority’s management had, in 2017, said the authority acquired several speedboats manned by its water transport marshals while it posted special marshals to various zones across the country to enforce strict compliance to safety regulations by inland waterway transporters.
NIWA missing in action
In spite of these acclaimed efforts, observers believe NIWA is missing in action especially on waterways patrol and safety enforcement.
The Niger State Police Command in a statement by its PRO, Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Abiodun Wasiu, directed commercial boat operators to ensure strict safety compliance that includes providing live jackets for passengers and banning overloading of boats. It assumed this role in the absence of NIWA after the accident.
Worried stakeholders are demanding to know where the special boat marshals of NIWA were, when the boat took off with overcrowded passengers and goods from Niger.
The Managing Director of NIWA, Dr. George Moghalu, at a meeting in Lagos recently expressed the readiness of the Authority to rid the waterways of rickety boats and unlicensed divers. He also said boat passengers must be properly kitted and that wearing of life jackets was compulsory.
However, there is more to enforcement of these safety rules, than mere pronouncements, stated some maritime operators, who claimed the federal government had invested hugely in NIWA without any visibility on safety impact by water transport users.
There are also fears that the inland economies are facing threat especially for agric businesses. The recent Niger/Kebbi accident is affecting shipment of foodstuffs, such as soya-beans and corn, said an agribusiness consultant, Joseph Shuabu.
He said most of the deceased are mainly women who depend on the proceeds from the weekly sales adding that now that a good number of them have died, it would create fear in the minds of others.
The maritime experts called on the Federal Ministry of Transportation to order an audit of the navigational equipment and probe the causes of the increased water transportation accidents.
Rising in defence of NIWA’s operations, the General Manager, Corporate Affairs, Mr Jibril Darda’u, insisted that more water safety marshals have been recruited to enforce and monitor activities of boat operators.
He said NIWA has also established additional final offices for quick response to distress calls.
“We also have as ad-hoc staff, local divers who form the bulk of search and rescue efforts. However, operators, for selfish reasons, would want to overload their boats,” said Darda’u.