It was a very sad day on Monday, June 12, 2023, after news broke that over 100 persons have lost their lives when a boat capsized down the river Niger, in Kwara state.
Reports indicate that the vessel was carrying around 300 passengers travelling from Kwara state to Niger state after a wedding. The boat capsized after part of the vessel collapsed, causing water to flood the boat, police said.
Kwara state police said 106 had died, with around 144 rescued from the river. It added that more than half of the dead came from the village of Ebu, while another 38 were from nearby Dzakan village.
Earlier, the Emir of Patigi Ibrahim Umar Bologi II – the traditional ruler of the area where it happened, told journalists that river waves overtook the boat and forced it to crash into a tree that had washed into the river, causing the boat to capsize.
Kwara state Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq gave his “heartfelt condolences” to the victims’ loved ones.
He visited the affected villages and promised to provide them with one thousand life jackets to kick-start a safety education initiative.
The Governor also said he had initiated discussions with the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) on how to better enforce safety regulations.
We recall that in October last year, at least 76 people were killed in Anambra state when a boat, which was carrying at least 80 people, capsized in the Ogbaru.
Most of the victims were women and children, trying to reach safety after their community had been inundated by floodwater.
Meanwhile, President Bola Tinubu has ordered a thorough investigation into the death of scores in a boat accident in Kwara.
The president said his administration will look into the challenges of inland water transportation in the country “to ensure that safety and operational standards are strictly adhered to”.
Nonetheless, in as much as we can take the explanation of the traditional ruler as the immediate cause of the accident, we also have to review possible remote causes of the accident.
The statement credited to the Kwara state governor, suggests that there is no presence of NIWA in that area. NIWA is supposed to maintain a presence in all inland waters communities.
It has also been noted that most times, aside the metropolitan areas like Lagos, many inland waterways passengers do not use life jackets.
Moreso, aside Lagos state that has a functional and vibrant Inland waterways agency that complements the efforts of NIWA, we are not aware of any other state that has an active agency in this regard.
Also, many boat operators do overload their poorly maintained vessels.
Though NIWA has been fighting Lagos state government over the legality or otherwise of the Lagos State Waterways Authority (LASWA), it is now imperative for concerned state governments to take water transportation safety seriously.
NIWA, with its headquarters in neighbouring Kogi state, seemed to be absent when it mattered most. The agency must up its game and strengthen its enforcement measures beyond metropolitan areas.