By BALA B. BITRUS
Though there are no statistical data available to say just how many persons may have died in waterways carnages in parts of Niger State in the last three years, even in conservative estimates, no fewer than three hundred lives may have perished in the period under reference.
Almost all the navigable waters in coastal communities in parts of the state are straddled with submerged tree trunks and logs which are death traps for all means of water transportation.
Year-after-year, carnages are recorded on waterways in the state as a result of canoes and boats colliding with such logs and trees midstream.
From the south to the Eastern parts of the state, citizens across communities have tales of woes from such mishaps, yet there appears to be no end to such perennial loss of human lives, and properties via waterways carnage.
Deaths from canoes/boat mishaps in parts of Niger state have become a sad recurring referendum of the state’s avoidable human calamities.
Responses from the state’s authorities over time have largely been trivial and superficial after each incident and rather inconsequential to any future occurrence.
In almost all of the mishaps, a recurring decimal in all cases is the issue of overloading the local water vehicles by those who are operating them.
Also, and regrettably too, across the state, none of those who use such means of water transportation ever kit themselves with safety gears, such as life jackets, inflated body wears, or any personal flotation device as may be necessary and compulsive.
In a situation where a locally carved wooden canoe carries over a hundred passengers beside their luggage on a waterway strewn with submerged tree trunks and wood studs, it is only a matter of disaster waiting to happen.
Therefore, each time disaster strikes while on transit, midstream, the casualties are usually many, more so that no safety protocols are often observed by all onboard.
Another sad commentary associated with waterways transportation in Niger state is the prevalence of rickety, dilapidated locally carved boats and canoes almost all of which are leaky and with multiple cracks.
Many of the boats can pass for opened coffins on water used to carry human cargoes, livestock, and foodstuffs in sacks beyond their normal weight capacities.
Recent findings by a regular commuter on inland waterways between Shiroro, Munya, and Zungeru coastline areas, attested that only a few of the canoe and boats used for water freight are fitted with a functional motorized engine.
The canoes/boats are most, oftentimes, manually paddled despite the associated risk therein.
Close watchers and concerned observers of the state’s waterway sector are of the strong conviction that government must ensure that the various inland navigable waterways routes are cleared of impediments such as the tree trunks and studs submerged mainstream along all routes used by the local water vehicles for commuter services as a first step.
The state government should forcefully eliminate all such dilapidated and rickety, wooden carved canoes and procure water badges, small ferries, and motorized flying boats, and to operate them on a commercial basis so as to end the perennial carnage on its inland waterways across the state.
The refusal to use life jackets and other personnel flotation devices by boat and canoe operators and their passengers must be criminalized as a stop-gap measure.
The recent incidents where 32 persons perished along Zumba, Sarkin Pawa – Shiroro waterways, and the one at Galadiman Kogo are sad reminders of the recurring referendum on the missing safety checks in the state’s inland waterways sector.
With the expected onsets of the rains and the likely swelling up of all water bodies including rivers and streams, the state government has an onerous responsibility to ensure that all persons communing on waterways are properly kitted just as the water vehicles being used on water routes are worthy.
By and large, the vexed phenomenon of overloaded boats and canoes with human freights and goods must be stopped by local authorities.
Government should explore ways to tap additional revenues from waterway transportation by it’s involvement there and to ensure the safety of all waterway users.