January 24, 2024

Night journey, boat operator’s carelessness, cause of Anambra boat mishap — NIWA

Night journey, boat operator’s carelessness, cause of Anambra boat mishap — NIWA

By Chimaobi Nwaiwu, Nnewi

The National Inland Waterways Authority, NIWA, has finally uncovered the causes of the January 4–5, 2024, boat mishap that happened in Umumu Umuenwelum Anam, Anambra West Local Government Area, Anambra State.

NIWA revealed the accident that claimed the lives of eight passengers. while 38 were rescued, was caused by the night journey embarked by the boat operators and passengers, carelessness by boat operators, and the overload of the wooden passengers’ boat.

Not satisfied with the stories surrounding the possible cause of the boat mishap, NIWA, since the unfortunate incident occurred, has been investigating to know the real cause of the incident to forestall the future occurrence of similar incidents.

The agency uncovered the cause of the incident when it embarked on a journey with some newsmen to the scene of the incident at Umumu Umuewnelun Anam, Anambra West Local Government Area, Anambra State, and to the take-off point of the ill-fated wooden boat at Ojolofe Idah Water Front, Idah Local Government Area, Kogi State.

Addressing NIWA officials, newsmen, and Marine Police security men, who were also part of the visit at the scene of the incident at Umumu Umuenwelum Anam, Anambra West Local Area, Anambra State, Mr Joseph Emeka, who is from the community and one of the people who rescued the survivors and assisted in recovering the dead victims, disclosed that the boat is still being trapped in the river, but the engine has been recovered.

He said that the depth of where the boat was being trapped was more than 2.5 metres, adding that it was around 8 p.m. on the faithful day that they got information and rushed to the scene for the rescue mission.

Responding, the NIWA Area Manager in Onitsha, who led the fact-finding journey, Mr Suleiman Nicholas, said, “NIWA is not happy that lives are being lost on the waters, but people are holding them responsible, and we have not been told the truth about the boat mishap. That is the reason we are embarking on this journey to uncover the real causes so that we will forestall future occurrences.”

NIWA also made a stopover at Igbedion Lagbaja, a Hausa/Fulani settlement in Anambra East, where Isah Danlami Mohammed, who is the Chairman of Ilah, Delta State Boat Operators Association, dismissed claims that the boat mishap happened at 6 p.m. on the day.

“I was told that there was a boat mishap by 8 p.m. or some minutes after 8 p.m. So the boat must have left very late at Idah for it to get to Umumu Umuenwelum Anam by 8 p.m. when the accident happened.

“We discovered that none of the passengers rescued or dead wore safety jackets, which was wrong.”

At Ojolofe Idah Water Front, Kogi State, the take-off point of the ill-fated boat, over a four-hour journey from Onitsha, NIWA discovered that the number of people in the boat was not certain following the statements of the two members of the boat owners association, who spoke in Idah Water Front, an indication that it was overloaded. The agency also confirmed that the boat left Idah by 6 p.m., against NIWA navigational law and the campaign against nighttime travel on the waters.

According to Mohammed Usman, who spoke on behalf of the Chairman of the Idah Boat Owners Association and owner of R S, the ill-feted boat, whose name was simply given as Abubakar, described the boat mishap as a coincidence, disclosing that the boat left Idah by 6 p.m. and the incident was reported to them some minutes after 8 p.m.

He said the driver of the boat was trying to dodge sand and wood before the accident happened on a day he described as a ‘New Year market’, adding that the passengers were few that day; if not, there would have been more casualties in the accident. He disclosed that after the accident, four corpses, two little boys, and two ladies were brought back to Idah.

However, addressing the members of the boat owners association in Idah, Area Manager NIWA Onitsha, Mr Sulieman Nicholas, berated the members of the association for their carelessness in handling passengers, bringing out their boats for night journeys, allowing passengers without life jackets to board their boats, and not knowing the number of passengers that enter their boats for each journey because of the non-use of manifests provided by NIWA.

According to Sulieman, “I should be informed of any boat that left late for any reason. If you don’t put your boat on water, the passengers will not come, and it will not move. To reduce 40% of accidents on the water, night journeys should be avoided. The night journey is 40% risky on the waters.”

“Private operators should provide life jackets for passengers. NIWA has been providing life jackets for passengers during safety campaigns. We provide manifests, but they are not for nighttime journeys. We discourage night journeys, and that is why we direct that manifests should not be given for night journeys. Boats should not move at night. The law says 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. for the movement of boats and passengers.

“The boat owner is supposed to be arrested because he is going against navigational law. If the boat was travelling during the day, it could be able to avert any blockade. The boat owner and the union are trying to manage information about the mishap, but there is an extent to which they can do that, and the truth will prevail, as it has in this case.