No fewer than 936 people have died in several boat mishaps in the last three and half years as the nation continues to lose its citizens over unregulated waterways.
This is even as President Bola Ahmed Tinubu Tuesday directed immediate probe of recent boat mishaps that have become a recurring decimal in Nigeria.
However, beyond the directive by the president, experts who spoke to Daily Trust urged both the federal and state governments to go beyond rhetoric of ordering for probes and condolences and take concrete measures to address the menace.
They also called for the provision of modern boats to replace wooden barges and canoes being used for transportation in many communities.
Daily Trust reports that despite being blessed with abundant waterways crisscrossing 28 states and spanning 10,000 kilometres with about 3,800 kilometres navigable seasonally, Nigeria has continued to record deaths on the waterways due to a lack of effective regulation and enforcement of existing guidelines.
As a result, the water transportation system is populated by the locals without the requisite expertise while failing to adhere to standards and recommended practices.
Water accidents have claimed dozens of lives in the last eight days, sparking criticism about the management of water transport in the northeastern state that is blessed with rivers and lakes.
The most recent wave of accidents started on September 4 when a canoe travelling between Mayo-Ine and Mayo Belwa in Mayo Belwa Local Government Area capsized, killing two of its passengers. Four days later, another accident involving a canoe conveying 23 traders and farmers from Rugange village to Yola town in Yola South area occurred on Njuwa Lake at Dandu village causing the death of 15 people.
Three days ago, the nation again witnessed mishaps in Mokwa Local Government Area of Niger where over 30 farmers were reported killed.
On Monday, another boat conveying dozens of passengers was overturned by strong wind in Gurin, Fufore Local Area of Adamawa State. Local divers recovered 11 bodies and many more remained missing.
The incident in Patigi, Kwara State in June this year is the deadliest in recent times with over 100 people killed.
The boat capsized when the deceased were returning from a marriage ceremony in the neighbouring state of Niger.
Analysis of different boat mishaps carried out by Daily Trust revealed that 936 people have so far died in the last three years in states like Lagos, Niger, Kwara, Kebbi, Adamawa, Nasarawa and Akwa Ibom.
In 2020, no fewer than 131 deaths were recorded with several others unaccounted for in several incidents in Anambra, Cross River, Bauchi, Lagos, Benue Niger, and Sokoto, among others.
In 2021, no fewer than 281 people died in different mishaps recorded in Sokoto, Bayelsa, Lagos, Kano, Niger, Taraba, Ondo, and Kebbi, among others.
The Kebbi incident in 2021 in Warrah Village, Tsihuwan Labata, Ngaski LGA was the deadliest with 156 people dead.
The year 2022 was also the deadliest within the period under review with no fewer than 313 people killed while 216 people have so far lost their lives in 2023.
FG, states must regulate water sector - Experts
Amid the regular condemnations and condolences trailing the mishaps, experts say the government must go beyond that by entrenching an efficient safety system in the waterways.
The waterway transportation system as presently constituted is highly unregulated, they said, putting the lives of people at risk.
Professor of Transportation, Samuel Odewunmi said overloading was a major cause of boat mishap, adding that the operators are also responsible.
"There is the issue of overload. In most of those boats, the operators carry more than their normal capacity. We normally have many of them that are overloaded. So with the smallest turbulence, the boat just capsizes.
"The second reason is the condition of those boats. If you go into history, there were cases when the engine just stopped midstream. This happens when there is high tide. In most of our rivers, the current is so high and when this happens, the boat starts drifting and what you have is capsizing.
"I went to Igbokoda to use those boats when I was doing a particular research, I observed that all those boys were on something. They take all sorts of drugs and alcoholic drinks before going on trips."
Odewunmi, a former Dean of School of Transportation and Logistics, Lagos State University, however, decried the lack of regulation.
"Where there is regulation, especially in Lagos where we have LASWA (Lagos State Waterways Authority), enforcement is not as rigorous as it is expected to be. The operation of those boats should stop around 6pm or 7pm at most and you found out that most of them are operating at night. In our transportation system, enforcement is usually our weak side."
A Transportation expert, Dr Kayode Opeifa, in a chat with our correspondent, highlighted five major steps to be taken to stop the recurrent deaths on the waterways.
He said it is high time states and the federal government got serious about implementing safety procedures for the operators in the waterways.
He specifically suggested that there is the need for states to create their own waterway authorities backed by legislation to address the challenges.
According to him, without standardising the water transportation system, accidents would continue to occur on the waterways.
"Water transport is not just putting people on any kind of canoes, the equipment, the boat should be safe. The rules guiding the water structure - when it can move depending on the tides, when it cannot move depending on the tides and all other safety measures must be made available by the government. What we have now is unregulated, uncontrolled, unmonitored water movement.
Tinubu orders probe
Meanwhile, President Tinubu has called for a thorough and comprehensive investigation into the recurring tragedy of fatal boat incidents across the nation.
This is contained in a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Ajuri Ngelale, on Tuesday in Abuja.
Tinubu said government agencies would be held accountable for any regulatory or safety lapses, urging that comprehensive safety measures and enforcement must be carried out on boating activities in the country.
The president directed various government agencies, including law enforcement, maritime safety and transportation safety authorities to collaborate in identifying the causes of these unfortunate and preventable disasters.
Tinubu extended his heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims who lost their lives in the recent boat mishaps in Mokwa Local Government Area of Niger and Gurin village, in Fufore LGA of Adamawa.
'Why Adamawa recorded 3 boat mishaps in 1 week'
Authorities in Adamawa State have identified factors that led to three boat accidents within a week, announcing safety measures to curtail the menace.
The Executive Secretary, Adamawa State Emergency Management Agency, Muhammad Amin Sulaiman, identified overloading, disregard for bad weather and non-usage of life jackets as factors responsible for the high rate of accidents.
He said the government was working to enforce safety measures to prevent future occurrences.
A retired fisherman and river transporter, Danlami Adahnu, told one of our reporters that greed on the part of transporters was responsible for the frequent rate of mishaps, saying during storms, a wise canoe man would reduce the number of passengers below the capacity of his canoe to avoid capsizing.
"Most of the peddlers are not experts nowadays. The best way to prevent accidents is to avoid overloading. Because during the rainy season, water waves are strong and very fast, so a wise canoe man reduces the number of passengers even below the capacity of his canoe to avoid capsizing," Adahnu said.
Meanwhile, the governor of Adamawa State, Ahmadu Umaru Fintiri, has issued a directive for the enforcement of regulations on inland waterways commercial transportation in response to recent canoe accidents.
The governor made the announcement during a condolence visit to the palace of the District Head of Gurin in Fufore Local Government Area.
He directed the activation of all relevant government agencies to ensure the enforcement of regulations across all waterways in the state to prevent further loss of life and promote the safety of passengers and operators.
To support this effort, the governor announced plans to provide life jackets to passengers at crossing points in Adamawa to reduce the loss of lives in the event of accidents.
The District Head of Gurin, Alhaji Abubakar Baba Gurin, thanked the governor for his visit and pledged the support of the traditional institution to government policies aimed at improving the lives of citizens in Adamawa.
Reports indicate that the investigation so far has revealed that 12 victims were rescued alive, while 13 others were still missing.
Residents prevented us from removing trees - NIWA
Speaking to Daily Trust, the Area Manager of NIWA in charge of Niger and Kwara states, Mr Akapo Adeboye, said despite the regular sensitisation of riverside communities to adhere to safety measures on waterways, boat operators had remained adamant.
"As an Area Manager for Niger and Kwara states, I want to let you know that where this particular boat mishap at the community of Gbajibo occurred, if you can ask them about NIWA, they will confirm our presence. We went to that place and we removed all the trees within the rivers down to Kainji Dam. But in that particular place where this recent mishap happened, the people didn't allow us to remove those trees; they said we should leave them. So, it was that exact place that this mishap happened."
The Chairman, Mokwa LGA, Jibrin Abdullahi Muregi said there was a need to begin immediate removal of the stumps to avert future reoccurrence.