In the last one decade, many people have lost their lives on Nigerian waterways due to recklessness, drunkenness, rickety boats and deficient regulations, BAYO AKOMOLAFE reports
No fewer than 10 million people are ferried by rickety boats and unlicensed sailors in a chaotic and disorderly manner to various destinations on the inland waterways monthly.
Twenty per cent of the voyagers live in Lagos State.
Apart from rickety crafts, the use of fake life jackets, inferior quality furniture, inadequate planning and coordination and malfunctioning of equipment have become the order of the day.
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 emphasised by the Federal Government despite the incessant accidents and death of passengers.
For instance, in 2020, the Nigeria Police Force, Marine Unit, said that in Lagos Sate alone, its officials recovered between 10 and 15 bodies along lagoon waterways and coastal shorelines every day. Just recently, the Lagos waterways recorded two accidents in a space of three days in July, 2022.
While one happened at Ikorodu area of the state, the second occurred at Mile 2, where 19 members of the same family were submerged and perished on the eve of Sallah celebrations.
Worried by these challenges, the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) said it would go ahead to enforce the Waterways Safety Code (WSC) that is newly gazetted by the Federal Ministry of Justice. The Authority warned that violators of the code, including boat riders and passengers, would be jailed for seven years.
On non-compliance and impunity at the Lagos riverine communities, the Baale Anthony Avime, Sagbo Koji; Baale Houeto Bernard, Whla Koji and Baale Sohome Bishop Koji had explained that their indigenes were very stubborn people and do not like to conform with safety rules on sailing.
According to them, “our people are stubborn, they don’t want to wear life jackets.
We, in our various villages, have put laws and regulations in place guiding sailing. The people would always flout the rules, including the visitors to our town. We want to implore NIWA to use force and to send uniformed men to these jetties so that they would comply.”
The villagers also advised that the NIWA taskforce officials stationed at various jetties should be rotated weekly in order to avoid them being compromised. They also requested regular patrols by NIWA.
However, women at Irede and Ikaare communities said that they refused to use life jackets because most of them were dirty and smelling.
At the palace of Ovori of Ibeshe land, Oba Gausu Alani Razak, he called on NIWA to improve the standard of boats plying the waterways.
According to him, if the boats can be changed to bigger and stronger ones, it would solve most of the accidents on the waterways. He said: “All these small fibre boats you see plying the waterways are not strong enough and that is why you see them capsising at any little mistake, even the engines fitted into them are bigger than the boats.
“We want NIWA to come up with a new specification of boats that can be used by operators as this would solve a lot of problems.”
The Lagos Area Manager of NIWA, Sarat Braimah, an engineer, gave the warning to boat riders, passengers, jetty owners and community leaders when she led a sensitisation visit to all riverine communities in Lagos State. Braimah, who handed over standard life jackets to community heads at Sagbo-Koji riverine area, explained that the safety code was to curb recurring boat accidents and loss of lives.
According to her, night sailing beyond 7pm, violating rules by boat drivers, driving boats without paddles, driving unregistered boats, dangerous driving and over-speeding, driving rickety and leaking boat and driving unnamed boats would attract jail term.
Others includes driving without standard life jackets, passengers manifest violation, fire extinguisher violation, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, fighting at jetty, obstructing task force on duty as well as overloading violation would lead to severe sanction. She added that any passenger caught not wearing life jackets on any boat would be prosecuted alongside the boat rider.
At Sagbo-Koji community, the Area Manager uncovered a tailoring shop where life jackets are being sewed in large quantity. Subsequently, she ordered seizure of all the jackets and promised stiffer actions on the perpetrators.
While distributing NIWA’s standard life jackets to the community leaders, the area manager displayed one of the seized fake life jackets being sewed in Sagbo-Koji village, saying that the Federal Government was not happy about the recurring boat accidents and its attendant loss of lives on the nation waterways.
She noted: “Before we start arresting and prosecuting violators, it is better we come first and sensitise your people; community heads should please partner with us by ensuring that any boat without name or registration is not allowed to operate at the jetty.
“We must ensure that boats are not overloaded. When a boat is arrested for overloading, the owners of the jetty and the community leaders would also be arrested, and it is seven years in prison. Please, by the time enforcement starts, nobody should come and beg me.
“The last accident was heart breaking, 17 people from one family lost their lives in one day, if the affected boat was carrying a paddle, the accident would have been averted because they would paddle themselves to safety.”
The area manager assured that NIWA would embark on a mission to rid the waterways of fake life jackets, noting that officials of the Authority would be at all jetties to impound fake life jackets and destroy them openly.
In order to reduce accident and loss of lives, government should provide necessary equipment and human resources for NIWA to discharge its responsibilities on the waterways.