In the absence of other reliable transportation system in many of our coastal communities, people tend to pile into whatever watercraft happens to be going towards the direction they are headed. But the challenge is that this often necessitates overcrowding when small wooden canoes carry passengers far beyond their capacity. It is therefore little surprise that the body count in the number of deaths occasioned by boat mishaps on the nation’s waterways keeps mounting. While Nigerians may not be paying attention, hardly a week passes without reports of a boat accident and often with heavy casualty figures.
On 6th June this year, about 28 persons lost their lives when a canoe conveying them across River Benue capsized in Benue State. The victims were travelling from Ijaha in Makurdi Local Government Area of Benue State to participate in the annual convention of their church. Earlier in Lagos, a boat conveying 19 passengers and two crew members from Ebute-Ero to Ikorodu in the night also capsized. However, the Lagos situation seemed to be a little bit better than that of Benue as 10 persons were lucky to be rescued while others lost their lives in the mishap.
It is tragic that despite various water management authorities that we have in this country, our waterways still remain death traps. There is no doubt that water transportation could be one clear source of decongesting the roads. However, there is an urgent need for the enforcement of operational standards for all ferry and canoe operators across the country’s waterways. There should also be regular inspection of these boats just like motor vehicles are inspected and deemed road worthy or marked ‘off the road’, in order to detect dilapidated and rickety boats which constitute serious hazard to human lives. Provision of emergency services along the water ways is also worthy of consideration. The absence of such emergency agencies often contributes to the high casualty figures recorded when boat accidents occur.
There is hardly any ferry, canoe or the so-called “flying boat” that keeps to the exact passenger number specification. Perhaps more important is the obvious absence of enforcement of safety standards since not much is known about the existence of any mandatory operational guidelines for ownership of ferries and boats.
That explains why in some instances boats that were constructed to carry not more than 20 persons could be loaded with 50 or more passengers especially at peak periods when people are in a hurry to get back to their places. Consequently, when the canoe encounters stormy conditions along the water, the sheer weight of the human cargo and other luggage would make it easily susceptible to capsize. Furthermore, the fact that there are no life-jackets on board is a sure guarantee that casualty was bound to be high.
It is even more disturbing that we have marine police in the country who always seem more or less to be nowhere to be found in environs where water tragedies occur. If they are marine police, shouldn’t they be permanently stationed around waterways and swiftly swing to action when tragedies occur on the waters by promptly rescuing victims? What is the essence of the existence of Nigeria Inland Waterways Authority, (NIWA)?
We therefore call on both the federal and state governments to halt the constant and needless waste of human lives on our waterways. This will entail putting in place adequate safety measures.