‘I lost 10 family members’: Grief after Nigeria boat tragedy

Locals say no government rescue workers have arrived, so they are searching the Niger River themselves after at least 106 people were killed.

Nigeria boat
The accident happened when part of the large wooden boat collapsed, taking in water before capsizing [Screengrab/Al Jazeera]

Recovery efforts are continuing for dozens of people believed to still be missing after an overcrowded boat capsized in central Nigeria three days ago, killing at least 106 people.

Police told Al Jazeera on Thursday that at least 144 people have been rescued after Monday night’s accident on the Niger River near the Pategi area of Kwara state.

The accident happened when part of the large wooden boat collapsed, taking in water before capsizing, Kwara state police spokesman Okasanmi Ajayi told Al Jazeera.

According to local officials, the passengers decided to take the boat after a heavy downpour made roads impassable, officials said. Most of the victims, who included children, were relatives returning from a wedding in the village of Egboti in neighbouring Niger state.

“I lost 10 members of my family, including my five brothers, father, mother and stepmother,” Mohammed Modu, a farmer, told Al Jazeera. “I did not travel with them because I was in Pada, a neighbouring village for another occasion when they were going.”

“About 80 people died from my village alone,” the 28-year-old told Al Jazeera. “I will never be balanced again. I also don’t want to return to my village again I do not think. If it is possible, I am going to move to Ilorin,” Modu said, breaking into tears.

Reporting from the scene of the tragedy, Al Jazeera’s Ahmed Idris said the mood in the village of Egboti was one of devastation.

“In one house close to where we stayed for the night, at least 18 members of that family perished in the boat accident. In the house that we stayed, three people died in the accident,” he said, as men dived into the brown waters of the river behind him in search of more bodies.

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On Wednesday, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu offered his condolences to the families of the victims and promised an investigation into the accident.

“I am deeply saddened by the news of the tragic boat accident that claimed the lives of our people in Kwara State. That the victims were guests at a wedding ceremony made the unfortunate accident more painful,” Tinubu said in a statement.

“The Kwara State Government and relevant federal agencies should work together to unravel the immediate and remote causes of this unfortunate accident,” he added.

Kwara Governor Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq said during a commiseration visit on Wednesday that his administration would set up a body to oversee water transportation in the state.

Locals said government rescue teams were yet to arrive on the scene as of noon on Thursday.

“More than 72 hours since the accident, locals here are telling us that no officials have arrived at the scene yet,” Al Jazeera’s Idris said. “The local people have deployed their own resources, what little resources they have, to try to pull out the sunken boat and see whether or not there are more bodies that are under the water. They want to take the bodies to the cemetery and give them a proper burial.”

Boat accidents are common in Africa’s most populous country, where river transport is a popular mode of interstate travel, due to a number of factors including poor boat maintenance, overloading and sometimes flooding.

At least 76 people drowned during December’s rainy season when their boat sunk in the southeastern state of Anambra. In May, at least 15 children were killed when their overcrowded boat capsized in the northwestern state of Sokoto state.

 Additional reporting by Pelumi Salako in Ilorin, Kwara state.

Source: Al Jazeera