Lack of effective regulation of Nigeria’s inland waterways transportation, especially the enforcement of rules guiding the safety of passengers, has resulted yet, into another fatal boat mishap.
The mishap occurred at the Buruku crossing point of River Katsina-Ala, Benue State, on Wednesday night.
Eyewitnesses said 20 persons died in the boat, which left Logo at 8 p.m and capsized on the Buruku side of the river.
The governor of the state, Mr Samuel Otorm, who was represented by the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Prof Anthony Ijohor (SAN), spoke to newsmen when he visited the scene of the accident.
He was accompanied by the Chairmen of Buruku and Logo local government areas, some commissioners and special advisers.
Ortom described the boat mishap as unfortunate and painful, adding that a similar incident, in which 17 persons died, occurred at the same point five years ago.
Another eyewitness, a 25-year-old boat operator, Tersoo Ape, told reporters how the boat capsized and his efforts to rescue the passengers as well as recover the bodies of victims.
He said: “My name is Tersoo Ape. I have been in the boat business for nine years at Buruku crossing point.
“On Wednesday evening, some people came to the other side of bank of the river. They were many: some had motorcycles; others wore mourning clothes. They told us that they were on their way to attend a wake and burial across the river.
“So, we provided a big boat. They loaded their motorcycles inside the boat with many passengers. Everyone was struggling to board the boat. We discovered that it wasn’t possible. So, we pleaded with others to wait for another boat, but our plea turned on deaf ears.
“Halfway across the river, the boat’s engine stopped and heavy waves attacked the boat. It immediately capsized.
“The passengers in the boat were men and women as well as youths. Some of them could not swim; so, they were submerged in the deep water.
“I dived into the river and rescued those I could. But the following day (yesterday) when we continued the search, I saw many bodies floating on top of the water. It was a horrible sight.”
Ape urged the state government to provide standard passenger boats and build a bridge across the river to link Benue with Taraba State.