In spite of the best efforts by the Lagos State Waterways Authority (LASWA) to make the waters safe for transport, frequent deaths occasioned by recurring boat mishaps have defied solutions. Vanessa Okwara and Chijioke Iruemeka report
• 10 killed in a boat mishap at Otto-Awori Local Council Development Area on October 29, 2012.
• Six teenagers declared missing after a boat capsized along the Ojo waterways on July 1, 2015.
• Seven killed when boat capsized in Ijede area of Ikorodu on January 27, 2016.
• Eight rescued when a commercial boat with 10 people on-board capsized in Badagry area on Saturday February 6, 2016.
• 10 killed in a boat mishap which occurred on Sunday August 20, 2017.
• 19 killed in a boat mishap which occurred at Oworonshoki end of Third Mainland Bridge area on Tuesday October 10, 2017.
• Five killed in a boat mishap at Ipakodo, Ebute area on July 25.
• Five dead after a boat capsized in Ikorodu area on July 26, 2018.
• Two killed on August 21, 2018 when a wooden passenger boat known as ‘Banana boat’ capsized at Ilashe area. Four people were also injured.
Just when residents of Lagos heaved a sigh of relief that it was safe to commute by water, the unexpected happened. Five people died in a boat accident on Wednesday, July 25, 2018.
The dead and 15 survivors were passengers of a 20 passenger-capacity boat owned by Blue Sea. It capsized mid-sea enroute Ikorodu from Lagos Island.
The General Manager of the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA), Adesina Tiamiyu, who confirmed the deaths, attributed it to overloading and non-adherence to safety measures.
And on July 29, another tragedy was averted when Marine Police rescued three persons on Pashi River, Badagry, Lagos State, when their boat capsized.
DSP Uchenna Itinyi, the Divisional Marine Officer, Badagry, said the men were coming from Cotonou, Benin Republic, and the boat was loaded with different goods when it capsized.
He said the police officers, who were on 24 hours water patrol when the incident occurred, immediately moved to the scene and rescued the passengers.
“We were able to save them before sinking, but unfortunately, we were unable to save their goods as everything went down,” he told the News Agency of Nigeria in Badagry.
The DMO subsequently implored boat travellers to always put on life jackets.
Although, no accurate records on the number of deaths occasioned by boat mishaps exists in the state; the latest tragedy has brought to 18, the number of deaths recorded in the last one year in the state of ‘Aquatic Splendour’.
Some of the accidents have been due to over loading, lack of adherence to the use of life jackets, as well as the operation of illegal rickety boats and jetties.
However, the incident with the highest number of casualties was that of August 20, 2017. Twelve passengers, mostly children, died when their boat in which they were travelling from Ikorodu to CMS capsized at Ileshe.
Some relations of victims of the boat accidents have been counting their loses following the tragedies. Mr. Ojurongbe Wole, a younger brother of Razak, who lost his life on a boat cruise in Kirikiri Canal, said: “I don’t want to talk about it anymore. It’s painful enough that I lost my elder brother in such circumstances. It’s not something I would like to be reminded of.
“The trauma alone is enough punishment to our family. I don’t ride in boats because I don’t know how to swim. Even for free, I will not enter. He died during a boat cruise at Kirikiri Canal two years ago. His body was recovered floating on the water.”
Elder Frank Onyegbu, recounted how he lost his first son in boat mishap four years ago, trying to sail to Cameroon. Though the remains of his son, John, were never recovered as it was believed that fish had eaten his body, yet funeral rites were accorded him according to the tradition of Ogidi people in Anambra State.He said: “There is nothing I would have done. God has done what seemed right to him. But if he were to be alive, I will not be where I am today. My only surviving son wants to be a reverend father. No parent prays to lose a child. Children are meant to bury their parents and not the other way round.”
Mr. Najim Oseni, a victim of 2012 boat mishap at Imude in Otto Awori Local Council Development Area of Lagos State, said the grief of losing a child is unbearable “but we have put the rest in the hands of God”.
“What are we waiting for before we have a Federal Water Safety Corps (FWSC) to help check boat mishaps?” he asked.
“Water transport is supposed to be the safest means of transport, but in Nigeria the reverse is the case. Because of negligence of the government, people are dying every day in Lagos waters but you might not know. Let’s come up with some rules and enforce them.
“All my investment in them so that they will become respected members of the society was shattered by the captain of the speedboat. They were on their way back to Imude Community following the Eid-El-Kabir festival when the waves generated by a fast moving speedboat upturned their canoe,” he lamented. The frequent occurrence of boat mishaps in Lagos waterways have become a thing of concern as there have been loss of many lives.
Or are there perhaps some spiritual connotations why boats capsize in Lagos? Sunday Telegraph sought the response of Chief Fashola Savage, the Awise of Lagos.
“Yes there is. Most of these oceans and rivers you see, were human beings. We say they are sub-human. For example, the Atlantic Ocean here in Lagos, we worship it. We call it ‘Olokun’ and we have the ‘Olosa’ which is on the other side. Annually, there are rituals that we perform to appease them. If it’s not done, they will start seeking human lives; like what is happening now. So it’s better that we give to God what is God’s and to Caesar what belongs to Caesar,” he explained.
So what then can be done to appease the waters so that they stop taking human lives? Chief Fashola had this to say: “They should consult the ‘Araba’ of that particular town and ocean. They will do divination and ask the gods what to do so that the calamity will cease. They will use an Ifa priest for divination; they will now interpret what is needed. It might be a goat or cow, including wine. It might just be anything but not a human life. We don’t use human life to appease the ocean.” “But if Ifa priests do not use human beings to appease the ocean, why then are we seeing a lot of deaths occurring on our waterways,” Sunday Telegraph asked.
“If somebody is hungry, they can decide to do anything because a hungry man is an angry man,” he replied.
Chief Fashola also raised concerns that the quest for civilisation has made us to incur the wrath of the ocean and this might be the reason why we are now seeing a lot deaths occurring on Lagos waters.
“Take for instance, the constant excavation of the Lagos water front, has led to loss of some shrines used for divination, especially in Lagos which have been sand-filled. The ocean will need to look for an alternative and that can make it to get angry and cause havoc.”
He went further to reveal that people who die at sea are no longer buried correctly leading to more calamities.
“Traditionally, the norm was to always bury people who died in the ocean or river near the river or ocean. That is the normal thing before but now, they bury them in cemeteries which is not normal but because of so-called civilization we don’t do things the right way anymore and this causes a lot of things to go wrong spiritually. There are lots of repercussions because the spirit of that fellow haunts the people of that area.”
Chief Fashola said he will be happy to be consulted to do the necessary things needed to stop the boat mishaps.
“Yes of course I will be willing to do consultation but only in conjunction with others,” he stressed.
Beyond this, the Lagos State government is doing all it can to ensure safety on the inland waterways. Following the mishap on October 11 last year, involving 21 passengers in which two people died, the state government came down hard on illegal boat and jetty operators.
Managing Director of the Lagos State Waterways Authority (LASWA), Mr. Oluwadamilola Emmanuel, said that strict enforcement would be meticulously carried out across the state, adding that the government would stop at nothing to ensure that operators adhere to the safety standards.
“Being a developing sector, one of the things that LASWA has had to do is to be very strict on enforcement. Enforcement is going to be an on-going thing because you would constantly have those people who are going to default. In terms of clamping down on jetties that are substandard is something that LASWA has been looking to go round the state to clamp down on illegal jetties,” he said.
Emmanuel explained that while the state government was working round the clock to improve the sector for optimal performance, the core objective of LASWA is to ensure that safety, being a key feature of water transportation is not compromised.
He said the safety of passengers getting on a boat was far beyond wearing life jackets, stressing that it was important to also ensure that the jetty or boat operator had put in place other safety measures before embarking on any journey.
“For us in LASWA, safety is really our culture and one of the things we promote in the last few years is the wearing of life jackets. If you go across the inland waterways you will still find few people who would not comply, most people are generally aware that they should wear their life jackets.
“The very first thing one should note is the kind of jetty they are getting on; first of all is it a substandard jetty, is it a state approved jetty, does the jetty have any issue and then even if they are getting on a boat, which boat am I getting into? The life jacket; is it ripped, does it have any damage? Then who is the captain of the vessel?
“These are the things that any person intending to cross from one jetty to another needs to take into consideration before embarking on any vessel,” the LASWA boss said.
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