By Demola Akinyemi
ILORIN-The weekend tragedy of December 1,2018 in Chewuru, Edu local government area of Kwara state when a canoe transporting twenty one passengers on a journey to the neighbouring Niger state suddenly capsized shortly after it took off, and thirteen of them including children died, immediately reminded the stakeholders of the ultimate danger of travelling by canoe in that part of the country.
A misfortune of higher magnitude had much earlier occurred in Patigi,in Patigi local government area of Kwara, where canoe also capsized and lives were lost.
Chewuru, the boundary between Niger state and Kwara is a village in Lafiagi, which houses the bank of river Niger,is like a big transportation garage where thousands of the residents converge on daily basis for an onward journey to the neighboring Niger state.
The residents of the neighboring communities in Niger state over years share the same affinity with the people of kwara north in the areas of family, trade,culture and tradition, among others.
Saturday Vanguard gathered that no fewer than one thousand passengers travel by canoe on daily basis,and its up to five thousand or more during dry season.
The locally made boats which transport the residents to and fro take and average of twenty five passengers per trip.
Saturday Vanguard further gathered reliably that cars also cross on ferries and each ferry crossing takes between 4 to 6 cars.
An average of 200 cars cross daily,so also were thousands of motorcycles, foods and other consumables that are transported across the river.
Crossing to River Niger during dry season takes about twenty minutes, while it takes about an hour during rainy season to cross over to Niger state.
Only God knows the number of deaths that have been recorded over the years across the families in the community through many boat mishaps.
The other means of transportation is by roads but it’s hellish and brutish because the forty one kilometres roads linking the area to Niger state had long been abandoned hence its impassable, and the distance is extremely long,about six hours.
Whereas the same journey by canoe is about 25 to 30 minutes during dry season and about one hour in rainy season, its about six hours by road.
Also calls by the federal government to construct bridge over the river had also for long been ignored.
So,to the residents of Lafiagi, travelling to meet their kit and kin by canoe is a matter of necessity, even though it carries along death risks.
The APC gubernatorial candidate in kwara state had in following week of the boat mishap in Chewuru gone to pay condolence visit to the families of the victims, and the entire community.
It was in the process of thinking about how to find a lasting solution to the age long problem that he came up with the genius idea of providing life-jackets for the communities.
Consequently the following week,he went back to the Lafiagi, where he donated 100 life-jackets to residents of Lafiagi and another one hundred life-jackets to the residents in Patigi.
With this new development, lives could be saved in any mishap.
The life jackets which were donated to the monarchs were eventually given to operators of the canoe, who train each passenger on how to use and put on the life-jacket in about two minutes, and later take if off them when they get to their destination .
Indeed this gesture of the gubernatorial candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC)in Kwara state, Alh Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq to save lives in Lafiagi and Patigi in the northern part of the state has started yielding bountiful results.
Today, residents of Lafiagi no longer travel with palpable fear courtesy of the life jacket because, there is now permanent joy in every home that there is a safety assurance such that when they travel by canoe, they would return in peace.
One of the passengers,with the life-jacket on, who simply identified himself as Abubakar told Saturday Vanguard that everybody is happy with the new development in Lafiagi.
According to him,”This person who has done this for us,might not know that he has done great thing for us in the community. Now,we are happy in our entire life that today we can travel in our canoe without any fear of death.
“Unlike before when we used to be afraid of travelling by canoe because we don’t have any choice, now we are free to travel as we like,and we thank Alh Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq, may Almighty Allah continue to bless him for us,and make his dream come true.”
Also Hajia Asabe Mohammed a passenger from Niger state who was also putting on the life-jacket was full of excitement and praises for Alhaji Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq.
She said,”In our community in Niger, this excitement is in everybody. We are so happy. I had never seen this(pointing at the life-jacket she was putting on)before,so when I was also told and now used it when coming here,I’m so happy that we will no longer die through boat mishap. Almighty Allah will continue to bless him for us “
The APC gubernatorial candidate, Alh Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq when he received the feedback was also excited, saying, “I’m happy that the life-jackets are serving the purpose they are meant to serve,and I’m also happy that the people appreciate the gesture”
“For me,nothing is too much to save the lives of the people because one life that is lost can never be recovered. So,I want to enjoin the NGOs,private and public organizations and government at all levels to always explore ways to save the lives of our people. This is because its only when we have the people that we can talk of government”he added.