Nigeria Police Force’s marine unit has said that between 10 and 15 dead bodies are recovered on a daily basis on Lagos waterways, BAYO AKOMOLAFE reports on this ugly trend
No fewer than 10 million Nigerians travel on inland waterways monthly. About 20 per cent of the voyagers are living in Lagos State.
Some of the passengers are ferried to various destinations by rickety boats and unlicensed sailors in a chaotic and disorderly manner.
Apart from rickety crafts, the use of fake life jackets, inferior quality furniture, inadequate planning and coordination, malfunctioning of equipment have become the other of the day.
Also, it was learnt that 90 per cent of boat operators were neither trained seafarers nor licensed to operate ferries on the waterways.
Other problems are lack of capacity and technically qualified personnel, safety standards, security and technology. For several years, the problems associated with boat accidents have been under-emphasized in the country.
Water transportation in Nigeria has suffered severe infrastructural and human capacity neglect, a situation that propelled boat mishaps and increased fatality rate all over the country.
Agencies such as NIWA saddled with the responsibility of managing the water ways have been under-funded and lack human capacity, skill to manage the waterways. As a result of the inefficiency in management and personnel, many people have lost their lives to boat mishaps.
In Lagos State, virtually all the waterways have been infected with one problem or the other. Some of the water routes include Ikorodu-Marina/CMS; Marina – Mile 2; Ikorodu – Addax/Falomo; Ikorodu-EbuteEro; Marina-IjegunEgba-Ebute-Ojo; Mile 2 – Marina/CMS-Mekwen-Falomo; Badore– Ijede; Badore – Five Cowries; Marina – Oworonshonki; Ebute Ojo – Ijegun Egba; Oworonsonki – Five Cowries and Baiyeku – Langbasa.
On these routes, accidents have become a daily affair.
For instance, Lagos has had its own share of tragic mishaps on the waterways since 2016 till date
But last year, was particularly dreadful for inland water transportation commuters as the waterways were poorly monitored due to lack of enforcement by Nigerian Inland Waterways Authority.
As boat accidents continue to escalate, the number of victims kept swelling up yearly. Scores of people have been reported dead while some have been declared missing in different boat accidents across the state.
For instance, between March and November, 2016, no fewer than 122 passengers lost their lives in Lagos alone.
In March, a boat conveying 17 passengers capsized in Badore area of Eti-Osa Local Government Area of Lagos State, killing seven persons.
Between January and April, 2016, more than 50 people lost their lives in Lagos alone due to lack of control and safety standard as operators are allowed to operate without best practices.
Also in October this year, a police woman died and 19 others rescued after a passenger boat, Sealink Boat Services capsized into a log of wood at Ebute-Ero in Lagos.
It was learnt that the deceased’s husband was also in the boat but he survived the mishap.
This year alone, Nigeria Police Force, Marine Unit said that in Lagos State alone, its officials recovered between 10 and 15 dead bodies along lagoon waterways and coastal shorelines every day.
Its Deputy Superintendent of Police’s marine unit, Ufuomanefe Akusu noted that there had been numerous occurrences of boat mishaps in the state.
Also, Assistant Inspector General of Police in charge of Marine Affairs, Mr. Alkali Usman, stressed the need by the Federal Government to invest in water transportation infrastructure.
He told the port economic regulator, Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC) in Lagos to work with the police to succeed, adding that the police will put all necessary measures in place to address challenges faced on the waterways.
Usman explained in Lagos that the marine command was created to assist other maritime agencies in the sector, adding that policing the blue or brown waterways is necessary in order to encourage businesses.
It was learnt that some families of the victims of boat accident have been facing hardship after the demise of their bread winners.
For instance, the family of Lasisi Ojajide Kareemat at Ijede was one of the unlucky ones.
His wife, Mrs Kafilat Kareem, said that the seven people her husband left behind have not recovered from the shock of the last year’s boat accident.
Recounting her experience at Ijede in Lagos, Mrs Kafilat Kareem told New Telegraph that she had been facing a harrowing experience since January 30th, 2016 when her husband met his untimely death in a journey which supposed to take him only seven minutes from Ijede to Badore.
According to her, Olajide Kareem known as Orilobaara, an electronics/electrician, met his unfortunate death when the fibre boat he boarded stumbled on heap of massive sand assembled in the Lagos lagoon by sand dredgers.
Mrs Kareem noted that since his demise, she has been finding it difficult to feed and train the six children he left behind.
She mentioned their children names as Hassan, Lawal, Fatima, Aliat, Fridaus and Sultan.
Although, she said that the owner of the boat, Tarzan Marine Enterprises Limited, compensated the family with N300,000 for the accident.
However, Mrs Kareem noted that no compensation had been received from Lagos State Government.
Also, she said that no assistant had come from anybody as mining and scooping of sand continue at Ijede with impunity.
She appealed to the state government to assist her in training the six children.
She said: “My husband is an electrician. He worked with Ijede Local Council Development Area (LCDA). He also operate an electronic shop when he left home that fateful day, I didn’t know that would be the end of his life. I have been finding it difficult to buy books for our children. I was at home when I heard the news that my husband was among the people that died in the boat accident. Ever since then my life has never been the same.
“His death has created fear in me to travel by water to anywhere. Ever since then, my life has never been the same because of the role he played financially to every member of the family.”
Apart from Lagos State, other states in the country have had their own share of boat mishaps. In October, 2016, at least 15 dead bodies were in two boat mishaps that occurred in Kontagora and Borgu local government areas of Niger State on River Niger.
Similarly in November, 13 passengers lost their lives in a fire and boat mishap that on River Niger in Niger State.
Also, the tragic tale of mishaps continued, in 2017, when 99 persons died in six boat mishaps that occurred in Kebbi, Niger and Lagos States between April and September.
Two boat mishaps were recorded on River Niger and Lagos State, within the period.
It was revealed that 47 people were rescued, while some unspecified number of persons got missing.
The worst of the mishaps was recorded in Kebbi on September, 14 when 53 persons, who were mostly traders, lost their lives on River Niger.
Explaining the cause of accidents on the waterways, NIWA’s General Manager, Corporate Affairs, Mr. Tayo Fadile told New Telegraph that the bulk of the mishaps were happened in Lagos where there were high traffic of voyagers using waterways.
He explained that there was no much accident on the side of River Niger.
The general manager noted River Niger was underutilised as there was no enough barges on the rivers.
He said: “We at NIWA have tried our best in keeping the water save for Navigation.
On, Niger River, nobody can travel on barges or ferries without wearing his life jacket.”
Fadile said that the management had tried it best to monitor and control ferry and boat operators in all parts of the country.
He added that the authority lacks funds to execute capital projects due to low Internally Generated Revenue (IGR).
For instance, he explained that NIWA had said that commercial boats should have a minimum of four emergency exits, as well as toilet and waste treatment facilities for bigger boats with 70 or more passengers.
He added that commercial boats had been warned to adhere to a speed limit of six knots around jetties and a maximum of 15 knots as service speed as well as provide manifest of passengers on board.
“But despite our efforts we discovered that they still carry overload, over speed and indulge in alcohol. These are the major issues,” Fadile said.
He explained that the authority had noticed that the boat operators were difficult to control because of the alcohol they consumed.
The general manager noted that the authority had also circulated a notice to them that nobody should sail on the rivers or lagoon anything after six pm.
According to him: “We circulated the notice because NIWA has no facility and capacity for night voyage. The waters are not lightened but some of them still take the risk to travel in the night.
“Most of the accident in Lagos, for instance happened in the night, especially when the weather is foggy and nobody be able to see or identify the object in the front . NIWAS has no capacity to check all the ferry and boat operators in Lagos because they are so many boat operatorsply different routes such as Aja, Ikorodu, BadoreEpe, Badagry, Apapa, Epe etc. Lagos is so big and wide to cover. Therefore, to control the operators and passengers would require massive personnel and huge resources.”
However, Fadile said that NIWA had been working on safety code to tackle the issue of frequent accident in all the waterways.
He noted that the draft of the safety code was with the Federal Ministry of Justice.
“The safety code contains penalties for those who disregard safety codes and regulations on the inland waters. Very soon, it will become a law and it will be in the gazette and would be circulated to the operators. We have conducted several workshops on the code in Uyo and some riverine areas,
“We have tried our best but we are so limited by fund. Our budget is too small and we have about 15 area offices in the federation. So, we depend on the available little resource to discharge our responsibilities,” the general manager said.
On safety awareness, the general manager noted that NIWA’s Lagos office had conducted many sensitisation and workshop with the ferry, canoe owners and captains.
According to him, the authority has done safety campaign in Lagos, Ondo in Igbokoda, Niger State, Riversand Bayelsa sates.
Fadile explained: “We ought to have continued but our finances are not so good. We have to suspend the campaign till when we have sufficient money. We will carry the safety campaign to other part of the country where we will show them how to wear life jacket to them and teach them in their local language how to use it.”
The former Inland Waterways Department of the Federal Ministry of Transport, NIWA, which was established through an act of the National Assembly, CAP 47, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria in 2004 was established primarily to develop Nigeria’s inland waterways for navigation, to design ferry routes, collect river lolls, provide regulation for inland water navigation, development of infrastructural facilities for a national inland waterways connectivity with economic centers using the river ports and nodal points for inter-nodal exchanges among others.
Also. the Managing Director of Lagos State Waterways Authority (LASWA), Abisola Kamson, attributed the many mishaps in the state’s waterways to overloading of passengers and the operation of an illegal jetty.
However, a ferry operator, Mike Eteyen told New Telegraph in Apapa that some of the boat operators should not be blamed for the accident on water ways.
He explained that a lot of people were using Lagos lagoon to do illegal business that hinder watercraft movement.
The boat operator alleged that NIWA officials were not visible in some jetties talk less of patrolling or monitoring the waterways to check over speed and rickety boats.
Besides, another operator who sail between Ikorodu and Marina jetty simply identified as Isaac Fiberesima said that the surface of the water was not even to sail because of sand dredger on lagoon. Also, he said that wood loggers from Ondo and Edo states, who were using water to transport their logs to Lagos, were causing a lot of havoc to boat operators due some loosed logs.
According to him, when a speed boat suddenly hit logs, the boat would tumble and cause disaster.
After all, he explained that it was not the responsibility of boat operators to clear wood, derelicts and water hyacinth.
Fiberesima stressed that if NIWA had been discharging its responsibility, accident would be minimal on the waterways.
He noted: “Not all of us travel in the night on water because of sea robbers.
Some of the accidents are also caused by robbers, especially around Epe ,Ikorodu, Badagry creeks, Badore and even Apapa. The thieves dislodged traders’ belongings. When you sight them, you have to speed up because no police will rescue you.
“So to blame everything on alcohol is not correct. Personally, I don’t consume alcohol. But whenever there is accident they blamed it on alcohol and speed.”
There is need to employ qualify personnel to implement government policies and safety codes on the nation’s inland waterways in order to reduce incessant boat mishaps.
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