No fewer than 99 persons died in six boat mishaps that occurred in Kebbi, Niger and Lagos States between April and September, according to a survey by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).
The survey was conducted in Kebbi, Niger and Lagos States.
Two boat mishaps each were recorded on River Niger, Niger and Lagos State, within the period.
The survey also revealed that 47 people were rescued, while some unspecified number of persons got missing.
The worst of the mishaps was recorded in Kebbi on Sept. 14 when 53 persons , who were mostly traders ,lost their lives on River Niger.
It was gathered that the traders were among 100 persons going to Poll market in Bagudo Local Government Area when the incident occurred.
However, 47 of the victims were lucky as they were rescued alive by divers.
The Chairman of the Bagudo Local Government, Alhaji Muhammad Zagga, who confirmed the incident said that about 500 divers were deployed to rescue the victims.
Also in Kebbi, seven persons had on April 15 died when the overloaded boat in which they were traveling on River Niger hit a tree trunk , forcing it to capsize.
The passengers believed to be about 150 were returning from Malali market in Ngaski Local Government Area of the state.
In Niger, 30 persons died in two boat mishaps recorded in the state within the period.
The mishaps occurred on River Niger which passes through Borgu Local Government Area and River Kaduna which passes through Shiroro Local Government Area.
Alhaji Ibrahim Inga, the Director-General, Niger State Emergency Management Agency ( NSEMA) confirmed this to NAN.
In Lagos State, 9 persons died in two boat mishaps recorded on the lagoon between April and September.
The Lagos Area Manager of the National Inland Waterways Authority ( NIWA ), Mr Mua’zu Sambo, who confirmed this to NAN, said that one person got missing in one of the incidents.
Sambo described the figures so far, as an improvement when compared with 2016 when 26 deaths were recorded in five boat mishaps.
He also said the only way accidents could be reduced on Waterways was for users to comply strictly with safety guidelines from the organisation.
The Public Affairs Manager, Mr Tayo Fadile, said users should stop sailing on the Waterways at night, saying that the law only permitted sailing between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.
Fadile advised operators not to take in passengers beyond the capacity of the boat.
According to him, a boat used for more than five years should be overhauled, while operators should refrain from taking drug or alcohol during boat ride.
He also emphasised the need for passengers to always put on life jacket before entering boat, while urging operators to properly register their boats with NIWA.
Fadile said NIWA would continue to engage users of Waterways during safety awareness campaigns.
He called for the support of the states, local governments, law enforcement and security agencies in ensuring that boat operators adhered strictly to safety guidelines as stipulated by NIWA regulations.
Speaking in the same vein, Sambo, the NIWA Lagos Area Manager, blamed boat mishaps on speeding, overloading, wrecks, night journey and disregard for safety rules by operators.
He expressed the need for a greater collaboration among stakeholders in the sector, saying that current use of life jackets, adherence to safety rules and proper regulation of activities would help.
On its part, the Lagos State Government said it would continue to clamp down on illegal jetties and unregistered boats to stem the tide of mishaps on waterways in the state.
The Managing Director of the Lagos State Waterways Authority (LASWA), Mr Oluwadamilola Emmanuel, who stated this, said that strict enforcement of relevant laws would be enforced across the state.
“Government would stop at nothing to ensure that operators adhere to the safety standards.
“Being a developing sector, one of the things LASWA has to do is to be very strict on enforcement. Enforcement is going to be an ongoing thing because you would constantly have those who are going to default,” he said.
According to him, the state government has been working round-the-clock to improve the sector for optimal performance and will not relent.
“The core objective of LASWA is to ensure that safety, being a key feature of water transportation is not compromised,” Emmanuel said.
Also speaking on the development, Mr Tarzan Balogun, National President, Association of Tourist Boat Operators Water Transporters of Nigeria (ATBOWATON), observed that mishaps on Waterways had reduced drastically in the country.
He attributed the development to the concerted efforts of the regulators and operators whom he said, had been insisting on proper use of life jackets by passengers.
The Coordinator of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) in charge of Sokoto, Kebbi and Zamfara States, Alhaji Sulaiman Muhammad, said that the rescue of boat mishap victims in the zone had always been through combine efforts of stakeholders.
He identified the stakeholders to include fishermen, local divers, NIWA and state governments.
Muhammadu Audu, a local diver in Birnin Kebbi, called for enforcement of life jacket on boat passengers to make rescue easy.
“Most of the passengers do not know how to swim, and when an accident happens, even if you know how to swim you get exhausted before getting out of the river.
Inga, the Director-General of the NSEMA , told NAN that marine police, local divers and other volunteers had been assisting in the rescue of boat mishap victims in Niger.
He blamed the high casualty recorded within the period on private boat operators whom he said had not been encouraging passengers to put on life jackets.
“Government has concluded arrangements to purchase life jackets that will be sold to people in the riverine areas at subsidised rates as part of measures to avert such mishaps.
“No operator will be allowed to carry passengers without protective jackets,” he said.
Inga said that majority of the boats and canoes operating in the state were owned by individuals, while the State Government had only two boats.
He said that efforts would be intensified to regulate and monitor activities of operators to reduce avoidable accidents on waterways in the state.
A boat passenger, Mrs Joy Chimezie, told NAN that mishaps would not stop her and others from traveling by boat.
Chiemeze, a civil servant resident in Lagos, said that traveling by boat was stress-free and cheap, thereby making it attractive to passengers.
“I pray never to be a victim of any accident but l urge fellow passengers to use their life jackets properly by fastening them well in case of any eventuality,” She said.
Another passenger, Mr Cletus Abhareyi , said that the hectic traffic situation in Lagos would continue to make traveling by water inevitable for him and others.