For a couple of years now, many Nigerians have lost their lives in boat accidents that happened across the country.
Surprisingly, the northern part, which ordinarily, has not much water body, has had a fair share of the mishaps.
Although, southern part of the country also witnesses boat mishaps, it is not surprising to many because the region boasts of heavy water bodies. Most southern states, particularly in the Niger Delta region, the South West and parts of the South-East region, are coastal areas, where water transport systems thrive.
However, in the last three months, cases of boat mishaps have continued unabated, especially in the northern part of the country, thus, sparking concerns about the management of water transport in Nigeria, and in the northern states particularly.
On Monday, September 4, two lives were lost when a canoe travelling between Mayo-Ine and Mayo Belwa in Mayo Belwa Local Government Area of Adamawa State capsized.
Four days after the unfortunate incident, specifically on Friday, September 8, another water accident involving a canoe paddling 23 traders and farmers from Rugange village, Yola, in Yola-South Local Government Area of Adamawa State occurred. This particular mishap, which happened in Njuwa Lake at Dandu Village, killed 15 people.
Then, on Sunday, September 10, another boat capsized in the Mokwa area of Niger State, where over 30 farmers were reportedly killed.
The following day, on Monday, another boat conveying dozens of passengers was overturned by strong wind in Gurin, Fufore Local Area of Adamawa State. Eleven bodies were reported to have been recovered by local divers, while many more remained missing.
Also, recall that in June, over 100 people lost their lives when the boat they were travelling in, capsized in Patigi area of Kwara State. The deceased were reportedly returning from a marriage ceremony, which took place in the neighbouring Niger State when the sad incident occurred.
In the last three months, no fewer than 936 people have died in water accidents in Lagos, Ondo, Niger, Taraba, Benue, Kwara, Kebbi, Bauchi, Sokoto, Adamawa, Nasarawa, Cross-River, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Anambra States, among others.
The recent spate of boat mishaps has drawn the ire of Nigerians with many calling on both the federal and the state governments to go beyond the normal rhetoric expressing condolences to the deceased families and ordering for probes into the many incidents, and ensure that concrete, measurable steps were urgently taken to arrest the disturbing trend.
Experts blame the rising trend on the failure of the government at all levels to entrench an efficient and effective safety system in the waterways.
Those who hold this view wondered why operators would not provide ordinary life jackets for their passengers. They also stressed that where jackets are provided, some passengers would insist that they don’t want to put on the jacket, and they would be allowed to enter the boat instead of forcing such passengers to disembark.
There are others who attributed the majority of the water accidents to the use of wooden canoes for transport in many communities instead of embracing modern boats.
Others blame the development on overloading.
A leading voice among this group is a Professor of Transportation, Samuel Odewunmi.
He noted that overloading was a major cause of boat mishap, even as he also blamed the operators for engaging in activities that predispose them to accidents like drinking alcohol and consuming other dangerous hard substances.
“There is the issue of overload. In most of those boats, the operators carry more than their normal capacity. We normally have many of them that are overloaded. So, with the smallest turbulence, the boat just capsizes.
“The second reason is the condition of those boats. If you go into history, there were cases when the engine just stopped midstream. This happens when there is high tide. In most of our rivers, the current is so high and when this happens, the boat starts drifting, and the next thing that will follow is capsizing.
“I went to Igbokoda to use those boats when I was doing a particular research, and I observed that all those boys were on something. They take all sorts of drugs and alcoholic drinks before embarking on trips,” he revealed.
Odewunmi, who was one time Dean, School of Transportation and Logistics, Lagos State University, did not forget the place of proper regulation in the whole scenario.
He said: “Where there is regulation, especially in Lagos where we have Lagos State Waterways Authority, LASWA, enforcement is not as rigorous as it is expected to be. The operation of those boats should stop around 6pm or 7pm at most, but you would discover that most of them operate at night. In our transportation system, enforcement is usually our weak side.”
Also, speaking on the development, a member of Nigeria Merchant Navy Officers, and Water Transport Senior Staff Association, NMNO/WTSSA, who doesn’t want his name in print, insisted that all the boats that operate on the waterways need to be examined to determine those that ought to be phased out.
He said there should be regular training of those who are operating the boat.
“Let them be certified; let it not be an all comer’s affairs, where anybody can just come in and start operating a boat.
“Those who operate the boats must also be examined. There must be an annual inspection and they must go back to class for their certificates to be examined,” he said.
He noted that most of the operators and passengers don’t use life-jackets.
“Some passengers would not like to use the life-jacket; they will tell you, it is not their business. I think anybody who refuses to use a life-jacket should not be allowed to be in a boat,” he said.
He also charged the regulatory authorities to be alive to their responsibilities.
“The regulatory authorities should also be around at various jetties to check the operators and ensure that all passengers put on life-jackets.
“Let the authorities also identify wrecks, and if possible, remove them along the waterways. Let the life jacket be properly worn and checked by authorities at disembarkation and embarkation,” he added.
He equally identified alcohol as another cause of accidents on waterways.
He made specific reference to weather as a contributory factor to boat mishaps.
He, therefore, asked the concerned authorities to rise to the challenge, saying, “There should be strict adherence to the law prohibiting alcohol intake by the boat drivers. The law says no alcohol 12 hours before a journey.
“There should also be strict adherence to the weather forecast before movement. The operators should be regulated.”
Again, a Nigeria Police Marine Officer, who preferred anonymity, also said although the incessant mishaps could be attributed to the tidal waves which had risen due to the fact that the water level had appreciated so much, many of the mishaps are still the handiwork of waterways users, who had thrown caution to the winds.
“Even when we, as enforcement agents, try to regulate them, sometimes, they prove so stubborn. They are supposed to use life safety appliances, like life jackets because they are the things that can keep people afloat if there is any accident, but they don’t,” he lamented.
He equally said overloading was responsible for most of the mishaps on waterways.
“Most of the boats are overloaded. Just like what obtains on the land when you see tricycle operators carrying too many loads, boats are also overloaded,” he said.
Responding to the report that whether boat drivers are not certified, the marine officer said: “We have various forms of certification. For local waterways users like the fishermen that operate in the local areas, they are not certified, but those that use engine boats are supposed to be certified by Nigeria Inland Waterways Authority, NIWA, which regulates their activities. But, at the level of enforcement, our own is to ensure that all the safety measures are applied.”
He added that recklessness on the part of waterways users equally contributes to boat accidents.
“Some of the boat operators are reckless so much that they engage in drunkenness, just like what you have on land. If you check most of the waterways jetties, they have places where people sell intoxicated drinks.
“So, some of them drink before they embark on the journey. Those are the things we discourage, and we also encourage the public to be aware of such actions,” he said.
In her contribution, the Founder and Coordinator, Women Arise Initiative for Change, Dr. Josephine Okei-Odumakin, described the development as sad and called for immediate action by all concerned authorities, particularly those in charge of the waterways.
She said: “One sad practice that I have noticed is the non-adherence of boat operators on the waterways to the use of safety jackets. And this has become a major factor that leads to loss of lives whenever there is a mishap on the waterway.
“Therefore, there must be an immediate enforcement of every law guiding the operations of the transport system on the waterways.
“Most importantly, there must be proper regulations and enforcement like what we have on our roads across the country through the efforts of the Federal Road Safety Corps; such efforts must be replicated on our waterways.”
Also speaking, Mr. Marcellus Onah chided both the state and federal governments’ agencies for failing in their responsibility.
He believes that the government has no justifiable reason for its inability to protect lives on waterways.
“To me, the excuse that the government does not have the capacity to police all the waterways in the country is untenable.
“It is either you are into water transport or you are out of it. But, if you accept it as a necessary means of transport, then you must deploy all necessary apparatus, including the regulatory tools, to ensure that it does not only function, but also that those who will make use of it are safe.
“Secondly, for a regulatory agency to say that it cannot force people to wear life jackets is also lame. I don’t believe such excuses. They should just sit up and do their job. Life is so precious to be wasted just like that,” he stated.
While most passengers wore life jackets, a few others didn’t bother to wear the life-saver.
When one of the operators, who gave his name as TJ was accosted, he simply said that some passengers don’t like putting on the life jacket and they can’t force them to do so.
He also said that those who refuse to put on jackets could be arrested by the marine police, if they run into them.
He affirmed that most of the local boat operators are not certified by any agency, except those who want to work in an expatriate company.
“It is only if you want to work with the white people that you bother about certification, otherwise most people here don’t have any certificate.
“There is no license like what obtain on land where people get driver’s license before they are allowed to drive a car. Here, it is not like that. Most of us learn it from our brothers. Again, most people who live in the riverine area cannot but learn how to drive a boat or how to paddle a canoe. For some people, it runs in their family,” he revealed.
On the allegation that they always overload their boat, he said: “The boats have different capacities. Some are 60 horsepower; others are 120, 150 or even more. If you load what a 120 horsepower boat is supposed to carry in a 60 horsepower boat, then it amounts to overloading. So, bros, it depends on the capacity of the boat engine,” he submitted.
He, however, admitted that some boats are actually too old and need to be replaced as they constitute a big threat to the safety of passengers.
Several of the boat mishaps in Nigeria give credence to the words of Federico Chini, who said: “It takes just one wave to capsize a boat, and one more to take it down.