The families of no fewer than 103 wedding guests including a father and his four children have been thrown into mourning after a boat accident claimed their lives at Egbu village, in the Patigi Local Government Area of Kwara State.
PUNCH Metro gathered that the victims were returning from the ceremony at Egboti village in Niger State when the boat conveying them to their destinations crashed in the Patigi LGA on Monday.
The Kwara State Police Command’s spokesperson, SP Ajayi Okesanmi, while reacting to the development, said the tragedy claimed 103 lives, adding that the names of the rescued victims would be made public.
“Update on the boat accident in Patigi, 103 dead, others survived. Names of survivors would be made public as soon as it is available,” Okesanmi said.
However, in an exclusive interview with one of our correspondents, the traditional ruler of Patigi, Ibrahim Bologi II, totalled the dead victims to 110.
He also noted that the boat was conveying about 217 passengers, adding that a search and rescue operation to locate the whereabouts of the remaining victims was ongoing.
The traditional ruler said, “The latest development now is that a total number of 110 people have died in the accident. It was a boat carrying about 217 people. The local people are joining the search for now and it will extend till tomorrow.”
Corroborating the monarch’s claim on the number of lives lost in the tragedy, the Chairman, Transition Implementation Committee, Patigi LGA, Mohammed Liman, said 110 passengers died in the crash that plunged residents in the local government area into untold anguish.
Liman, while quoting a statement on the tragic development by a community leader, Alhassan Mohammed, said, “About 110 people died in the boat accident in our area. We are telling you about the tragedy and unforgettable memory that happened to my people from our village, Ebu, and other neighbouring villages close to us.
“Our village people went to a wedding ceremony in another village called Gboti and the boat carried about 270 people and almost 110 people were lost.
“The record for each village includes Egbu, 61, Dzakan, 38, Kpada, four, Kuchalu, two, and Sampi, three. This is an unforgettable memory and tragedy in the history of our village.”
Also, sources in the community, who spoke to one of our correspondents, gave details of the deceased victims to include 69 persons from Egbu village, 36 from Gakpan village and four from Kpada village in the Patigi LGA.
As of the time of filing this report, no fewer than 50 corpses were said to have been recovered by emergency responders conducting the search and rescue operation.
However, commenting on the cause of the crash, the Area Manager of the National Inland Waterways Authority in charge of Niger-Kwara areas, Akapo Adeboye, in an exclusive interview with one of our correspondents, attributed the boat accident to overloading and turbulent winds.
He also said the agency had been educating boat operators to desist from overloading boats with passengers.
Adeboye said, “This is a very sad situation that is avoidable because what led to it was due to overloading of the boat by the operators. They want to make more money and they overload their boats.
“We have educated them through messages in English, Hausa and other languages that are spoken in this area but they won’t listen. We even set up a safety unit and when we apprehend any defaulter, we sanction them through payment of fines which is up to N100,000.
“Despite all our efforts at making sure that they comply with safety standards that they must have life jackets, lifebuoys and other safety equipment on board, many of them (operators) just choose to adopt the easier way out by travelling at night just because they want to avoid our monitoring and safety patrol from being arrested.”
Meanwhile, the Kwara State Governor, AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq, in a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Rafiu Ajakaye, commiserated with the people of Patigi on the devastating tragedy.
“The governor is sad to receive reports of the boat accident involving several people, particularly residents of Ebu, Dzakan, Kpada, Kuchalu, and Sampi — all in Patigi.
“The governor sends his heartfelt condolences to the people of these communities and those from other states. He prays to Almighty Allah to repose the souls of the victims,” the statement said.
Also reacting, the Governor of Niger State, Mohammed Bago, sympathised with the bereaved families and urged boat passengers to always wear their life jackets when travelling.
Speaking through his Chief Press Secretary, Ibrahim Bologi, he said, “We are looking at the accident as an act of God and we pray to God to grant them eternal rest and give the family the fortitude to bear the loss.
“We are appealing to the riverine communities to always wear their life jackets because they were provided with some life jackets. Each time that they are travelling, they should wear them.”
However, the Vice Chairman of the Red Cross Society, Lagos State, Segun Akande, in his reaction to the incident, said it was naturally and professionally risky to get on any sea transportation without any safety.
He said, “Even when you have a life jacket on, there can still be a little problem because when it happens, there can still be a phobia that people will just capsize and it is only when you know how to swim and safeguard yourself that you can be balanced on that water.
“There must also be a lifesaver or divers on a ferry. That is better than just leaving everybody with a life jacket. If you are using a life jacket, you should still have professional divers – those who can enter the water and save people.
“This is important because capsizing is the danger of travelling on water. There’s no means of transportation without risks. If you are travelling on water, there must be a life jacket to use and you must have lifeguards.”
On his part, the Disaster Coordinator of the Red Cross, Lagos State, Ige Oladimeji, observed that in remote communities, there had been zero awareness of the importance of safety.
He said, “They always believe that they can swim or that nothing will happen to them. There needs to be awareness and enforcement of the law that will make it compulsory for everyone to put on their safety jackets while on water.”