By Femi Bolaji
JALINGO- Screaming headlines about Taraba by most media outlet last Monday was not about farmers/herders clash but an unpleasant report of 9 corps members who drowned at river Mayo-Selbe in Gashaka local government area of the state.
While officials of the scheme were at the orientation camp with the recently mobilized 2018 Batch B corps members, 23 Corps members on national assignment in Gashaka local government area embarked on a trip for pleasure, whose aftermath turned sour when their sight-seeing adventure became a black Saturday for families, friends and acquaintances of the deceased.
In one of the residence of two of the deceased, (Ifeanyi and Arinze) visited by Vanguard on Monday, neighbours were still mourning, just as one of them lamented, “he (Ifeanyi) was yet to pack the clothes he washed, when news came he was part of those that drowned.
“They said he had earlier escaped the heavy water but wanted to save a friend before he was eventually swept away.”
Locals explained that the best time to visit the riverside was during dry season when its water was relatively low without fear of being overran.
According to one of them who explained the river’s topography, over a decade ago, smaller rocks were in the river, but overtime the in-flow of water from communities on the plains and mountain tops swept bigger rocks into the river, thus making it a source of attraction to tourists and inhabitants.
This could be attributed to be the reason the corps members embarked on the journey to Mayo-Selbe, which was about 40 minutes drive from Serti, headquarters of the LGA.
Disaster however struck around 3.00pm when the corps members were preparing to return home.
Prior to the incident, a woman had told them to relocate from the river to another place, reason being that the heavy rainfall in communities on the mountain marks danger if they insist on staying back.
The corps members due to curiosity moved further to another location in the river which looked like a waterfall scenery when suddenly the sight of scary water with strong wave and speed surfaced and overran those inside the river.
On seeing this, the driver of the legislative council bus who conveyed them to the river drove down to the community to alert locals and to get help for the drowning corps members.
Returning to the scene of the incident, divers could only wait for the raging water to subside because of the danger it poses on them, and when it did, it was too late as the nine corps members inside the river had been swept away.
Help came for about four others who were on a high rock holding unto tree strands in the river while divers immediately commenced search for the missing whose corpse were only recovered.
Principal of Elly Demonstration Academy, Aliyu Abdullahi where 2 of the 9 drowned corps members did their primary assignment told Vanguard he was privilege to interact with the said woman at the police station where she wept bitterly.
“I met a Kaka woman crying at the police station and inquired to know why she was so bitter then she told me the story.
According to him the woman said, “my day is not fine because I told the corps members to vacate the location because there was water flowing from the mountain top into the river.
“ I told them to relocate because with the way I was seeing the water flow from the mountain top, it will be dangerous if they stayed there before I left.
“When I heard of the incident I could not help but come down to see for myself and discovered that some of the corps members were swept away by the wave of the heavy water flow..”
Vanguard gathered that ten corps members were initially caught up by the wave which succeeded in sweeping away nine persons while one was saved having sustained some injuries.
A friend of the survivor said he (Fidelis) narrowly escaped death by chance after been hooked in between a rock.
According to her, “he spent over an hour fighting for his life. His wallet and trouser was swept away by the water and eventually surfaced by divine intervention.
“Though he had some injuries but we are happy he is fine and he is still here with us.
However Abdullahi lamented he could have stopped the corps members from going to the river if he had prior knowledge of their plans.
“That Saturday morning, I saw the survivor (Fidelis) who sustained some injuries on his way from church where he had gone for cleaning, but never mentioned anything about the trip.
” If I had by chance heard of it, I would have prevented them from going because the river is actually a dangerous spot in the raining season.”
While eulogising the two corps members on national assignment in his school, he said “Arinze and Ifeanyi has been good to us in the school. They are friendly and have contributed to the development of my school. It is really painful we lost them this way.”
Friends Recount Memories With Victims
Ndidi who spoke to Vanguard with a trembling voice said “I was supposed to visit Mimi that Saturday but unfortunately I couldn’t because I had some other things to do.
” If I had visited her, probably I would have joined them for the picnic and only God knows what could have happened.
“When I heard of the incident, I called her number but it was not going through before I later heard from a friend that Mimi, Chike Melvin Ijeh and Ucheonye Nkadi Joshua were among the victims.”
While recounting her last encounter with Chike she said “I met him last at the ATM point where we talked on so many things.
” I can remember vividly that I was actually sick and queried him for not checking on me which he apologized.
“ Being a nice guy, he also volunteered to help me withdraw from the ATM but because of the crowd I opted to go withdraw from the counter, not knowing that would be the last time I will see him.
“I actually met Chike and Mimi in church when they were posted here. I gave a wonderful rendition that day which they both appreciated and that was how we became friends and exchanged number.”
A resident of the neighbourhood where two of the deceased lived, Bisong Alfred said “Ifeanyi will always hail me every morning while passing and I am yet to believe he is gone.”
Eight Corpse Recovered
Divers have succeeded in recovering eight bodies from the river as search continue for the last yet to be found corps member.
Two of the recovered corpse has however been moved from the morgue in Jalingo to their families in Kaduna and Anambra.
Authorities of National Youth Service Corps, NYSC are yet to make public data of the drowned corps members.
Vanguard however gathered that Chike Melvin Ijeh and Ucheonye Nkadi Joshua were among the victims while a source also revealed that the yet to be found corps member is Deborah Adams from Rivers.