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I was pressurized to make trip that claimed 55 lives, boat driver regrets

…Survivor: I struggled but failed to save my son
…Pastor narrates last moments with deceased parishioners

By Wole Mosadomi, Minna

Passengers in the boat that capsized in Niger State penultimate Saturday waited for over five hours studying the weather before they embarked on the journey of no return, according to eye witnesses.

They knew of the danger in embarking on a journey during a downpour or stormy weather.

As early as 6am on the day, the passengers, it was learnt, had been set for the journey from Fitir village as their goods had been loaded into the boat but the weather was cloudy. 

Around 11am, some of the passengers protested the delay, pitting them against those who wanted the trip to commence only when weather was no longer a threat.

In spite of the misgiving, however, the boat took off.

Halfway into the journey, confusion was said have set in as it was evident they could not go further due to heavy clouds.

The boat driver decided to return to the village.

But as he prepared to make the return trip, heavy winds blew, causing the boat to capsize.

After frantic rescue efforts by the crew from another boat nearby, five of the estimated 60 passengers on board the boat were said to have been rescued while others were declared missing.

The driver of the ill-fated boat, Mallam Saidu Sarki, who was one of those who survived the accident, told Sunday Vanguard that he had been in the business for about 15 years and had never experienced such a disaster.

“I can’t really say how it happened. All I know is that I yielded to pressure from the passengers that we should take off despite the cloudy weather and I also yielded to pressure to return to our village when the weather was becoming unfriendly and the only thing I saw while I was turning was that the boat was sinking and eventually capsized,” he explained.

And contrary to the claim that the boat was overloaded, Saidu said, “it is not true that the boat was overloaded. As far as I am concerned, the boat was not filled to capacity but let us all believe that it was an act of God”.

Pastor Gotar Sunny, who lost two members of his church to the tragic incident, could not hold back tears as he narrated the incident.

“I did not know that three of my members were in the ill-fated boat until late Saturday night”, Sunny told Sunday Vanguard.

“Mrs. Asibi Ayuba (50), Mrs. Lamin Adamu (36) and Ezra Yusuf (8) all members of Nasara Baptist Church in Fitir were travelling alongside others in the boat. Mrs Ayuba and Adamu died in the mishap while Ezra is in hospital badly injured.”

Asibi, who was the only person selling soft drinks and beer in the village, was said to be going to the market to replenish her stock when the accident occurred.

“I saw her two days to the mishap not knowing that it was my last moment with her.

“In the case of Mrs Lamin Adamu, I saw her on Friday, the eve of the mishap when she told me that she was going to the market to buy her church choir uniform. I can say that she died serving the Lord. Ezra Yusuf was going to the market with his mother, but, as luck would have it, he was rescued and is currently in hospital receiving medical attention”.

One of the survivors, simply called Mary, narrated that she made efforts to rescue her son.

“How I wish I was able to rescue my son. I can’t imagine where I got the strength to pursue him especially since I am not a swimmer but something continued to tell me to pursue him. I lost out rescuing him but God knows the best,” she said.

Another survivor, Danjuma Samuel, who claimed to have been residing in the village for over 20 years, said he had heard about boat mishaps involving people from the village in the past but never knew he would one day be a victim, adding that his survival was miraculous.

“How I came out of the river was a miracle because everybody was confused and l eventually found myself at the bank of the river. I was told that it was the people in another boat that rescued me”, he said.

“Two other boats were said to be following us and it was one of them that rescued those of us that survived. My younger sister, Ruth Nuhu, who was on her way to the market for her Akara business, was not lucky as she died in the mishap.

“Contrary to the belief that the boat was overloaded, it had the capacity to carry 70 people but it was carrying less than that. Even then, the boat was just three months old and it could carry as many as 100 bags of rice or maize. What happened was an act of God; it was not because the boat was over loaded or old”.

Mallam Ahmodu Buhari, who also lost three of his brothers in the boat accident, said the deceased persons did not tell him they were going to the market on that day.

“I left the house as early as 6:30 in the morning to go and see someone in a nearby village but when I returned two hours later, I met everybody in the house crying. When I asked about the cause of the crying, I was told that a boat had capsized and that my younger ones were involved and still missing,” he explained.

He disclosed that the villagers were predominantly farmers and fishermen, saying the only means of transportation was by sea as the area was not linked by road.

Meanwhile, the Sarkin Girgi (Chairman of boat riders) in Shiroro local government area of Niger State, Saleh Altini, who spoke to our correspondent, said that unless government comes to the aid of the villagers by providing them with safety jackets, lives will continue to be lost on the river.

He pointed out that since 1999 when the first major mishap occurred, boat riders in the area had continued to appeal to government to help them acquire safety jackets even if on loan so that passengers will wear them before boarding a boat to protect them from accidents but nothing was done.

Altini emphasized that no matter the number of mishaps, the villagers would not stop entering boat because that was only means of transport out of the community.

“The only thing that will reduce loss of lives in boat accidents is for government to assist   by acquiring safety jackets for us. Let the government buy and give us as loan, we will pay back”.

Last week’s mishap in the village was the fourth in recent times.

Niger State government described as unfortunate the boat mishap, saying that it will soon come up an agency that will regulate the activities of boat operators in the state.

The Chief of Staff to the Governor, Hon. Mikhail Bmitoshi, who stated this after paying a condolence visit to the people of the community on behalf of government, pointed out that it had become necessary to regulate boat operators’ activities in the state “because it has been discovered that some of the passengers’ boats are either substandard or too old to be used for commercial transportation.”

Bmitoshi said that the state government will set up what he called a water transport agency with a view to regulating the activities of boats operators in the state.

He pointed out that government had discovered that boat operators in Niger had no provision for protective jackets for their passengers, stressing, “Government will make sure that no boat operators carry passengers without protective jackets when the agency becomes operational. The state has witnessed too many boat mishaps. Government will soon come up with an agency that will regulate and monitor their activities so as to prevent these avoidable incidents on our water ways”.

The Chief of Staff disclosed that the state government will buy protective jackets and give to boat operators at subsidized rates, pointing out that “when that is done, no operator will be allowed to carry passengers without protective jackets”.


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