•Ill-fated boat was overloaded — Survivor
By Demola Akinyemi, Ilorin
AS if Alhaji Idris Salihu saw the death coming for her wife, he warned her not to travel for a Wolimat ceremony in flying boat, but she refused, insisting that she was not the only one going. She went with their two-year-old son and both of died in a boat mishap.
Shortly after the boat took off from Chewuru river, news filtered into Lafiagi community that the boat, heading to Niger State from Kwara, had capsized.
Salihu fought back tears as he beheld the corpses of his wife and their son by the Chewuru river side after they had been recovered among other victims.
After the tragedy, deep mourning enveloped the community in Edu local government area of Kwara State last weekend.
Business and social activities were suspended as shops and offices were closed as a result of the incident when Sunday Vanguard visited the community on Wednesday.
Sources blamed the mishap on overloading as it was gathered that no fewer than 21 passengers boarded the boat which was designed for eight persons. This was besides heavy items loaded into the boat when it took off.
A survivor told Sunday Vanguard that hardly had the boat taken off on the journey when water started coming inside, apparently because of the overloading, making it to capsize subsequently.
A resident said another boat, bigger in size and meant for transporting passengers in Lafiagi, had been damaged for some time now and was left unrepaired by the authorities of Edu local government.
So, residents were left with no option than to patronise flying boats primarily procured for rescue operations and not for carrying passengers.
And for those who wish to travel out of the community by road, that is not a good choice either as the 46 km road linking them with Niger State is largely impassable after it was abandoned by the federal government in a bad state.
10 confirmed dead
By Wednesday morning, 10 victims had been confirmed dead out of the 21 passengers that reportedly boarded the ill-fated boat while efforts by the police and fire service to find those missing continued.
Bereaved Idris Salihu, in an interview with Sunday Vanguard, said, “I told my wife on that fateful day not to travel in the flying boat but she said they were going in group for the Wolimat Quran in Niger State and she could not withdraw from the trip.
“After her departure, I went inside my room but I couldn’t sleep .Shortly after, a friend came calling and asked for my wife and I told him she had travelled. He informed me that there was a mishap involving a flying boat carrying people to Niger State.
“Together we left for Chewuru river port where I found the corpses of my wife and son.
“I have taken the incident as an act of God. Because as a Muslim, I believe that it is wish of God and pray to Almighty Allah to grant her ,my son and other deceased persons Al-Janah Firdaos”.
One of the survivors of the tragedy, Hajia Aisetu Yusuf, told Sunday Vanguard that it was the grace of God that helped her to survive.
Yusuf narrated, “The incident happened around 8.30 pm on Saturday, December 1 on our way to Niger State to attend a Wolimat Quran programme.
“As we were going, I saw water entering into the boat from the back. I alerted the driver because the boat was carrying more passengers than it ordinarily should.
“Apart from the passengers that included nursing mothers and their wards, the boat was loaded with goods like rice and other items to be used at the ceremony. We were about 21 passengers inside the boat.
“Within a twinkle of an eye, the boat capsized but another boat that was coming back to Lafiagi from Niger saw us and moved to rescue us. Five persons were taken out of the river. That we survived is the grace of God as we were left with only our pants on as our wrappers were taken away by tidal waves”.
Hajia Yusuf called on government to construct a bridge to link Lafiagi with Niger State to ease the villagers’ resort to travel by river every time.
Broken down boat
The Director of Personnel Management of Edu local government council area, Mr. Tosho Balogun, corroborated the claim that about 21 people boarded the ill-fated flying boat.
According to him, the rescue team deployed to the Chewuru river rescued 10 people while the search for more victims in the river Niger was continuing. Balogun equally called on government to construct a bridge over the river to link Niger State. He also called on government to construct a 41km road to link Niger State and put an end to the ugly situation in the area.
The council official lamented that lack of funds had made it impossible for the local government to repair the big boat procured to transport large number of passengers and loads after it was damaged.
The Public Relations Officer of Kwara State Police Command, DSP Ajayi Okasanmi, confirmed the accident.
He said that officers of the force and other security agencies had joined the local government council officials on rescue efforts. Okasanmi, however, said that the number of passengers in the boat and the victims could not yet be ascertained as the rescue exercise was still ongoing.
Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed commiserated with the Emir of Lafiagi, Alhaji Saadu Kawu Haliru, over the tragedy.
The governor, in a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Alhaji Abdulwahab Oba, described the demise of the victims as unfortunate and a great loss to their immediate family, the emirate and the state at large.
“I deeply sympathise with the Emir, the good people of Lafiagi and the family of the victims”, the statement said.
It urged families of the victims to take solace in the fact that death is an inevitable end for all mortals.
Ahmed prayed God to grant the deceased eternal rest and give the families and the entire Lafiagi Emirate the fortitude to bear the irreparable loss. Also, the lawmaker representing Moro/Edu/Patigi federal constituency at the National Assembly, Hon.Ahman Aliyu Pategi, commiserated with the people of Lafiagi.
He described the tragedy as unfortunate and prayed God to grant the deceased Al-Janah Firdaos.