Boat disasters are to people in riverine areas what road crashes are to those who commute in the hinterlands. At this time of the year, when most rivers and other large water bodies swell with excess stormwater, the ugly incidences of boat capsizing are frequently in the news.
Between June and September of this year alone, about 300 precious lives were lost in three boat accidents. The biggest tragedy struck on June 12 in the Pategi precinct of the River Niger, where 144 passengers were confirmed dead and dozens more were declared missing.
Also, 108 people died after another boat disaster in Gbajibo, near Mokwa, Niger State, also on the River Niger. The latest tragedy was in Adamawa State, where at least 28 lives were lost just last week. According to reports, the Mokwa accident was caused by a log in the river. While boat accidents happen all over the world, they are usually quite rare in developed countries where governance is total and regulation reaches every nook and cranny of society.
But in a country like Nigeria, which is mottled with large swathes of ungoverned spaces in its 10,000-kilometre waterways, avoidable river accidents are the sad experiences citizens are forced to put up with.
River transport regulation and security are largely neglected despite the existence of state agencies like the Nigerian Inland Waterways Agency, NIWA; the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA; and others.
All over the quaysides, jetties, and banks of our rivers and lakes, old, rickety, and overloaded boats are the norm, not the exception. Passengers crowd these watercrafts without life jackets or the minimum safety precautions, thus exposing innocent travellers to great danger.
Very little government presence is there to ensure that safety standards are enforced. Boat owners and operators who are only interested in maximising profit, especially with the current skyrocketing price of fuel, impose their greed on hapless citizens.
Unfortunately, even the passengers allow themselves to be crowded into these boats with very little thought for their personal safety.
The frequent and avoidable loss of lives on our rivers does not deter passengers and boat operators from applying the law of self-preservation since the government is not up to its job of guaranteeing the security of the citizenry.
We commend President Bola Tinubu for going beyond mere lamentation of these tragedies and pledging to hold negligent government regulators and enforcement bodies to account for failing to do their jobs. We do not need a probe panel to “unravel” the causes of these accidents. The jobs of government officials are well spelled out for them.
When officials and operators are made to answer for lapses in their work that lead to losses of lives and property, they will all sit up. Tinubu should walk his talk.