But that is understandable. The people are still in mourning. Families and friends continue to lament the loss of their loved ones who perished in a boat mishap on River Shiroro in Shiroro Local Government Area of Niger State on Saturday last week.
For the fourth time in 15 years, the people of Fitir are in mourning, following the accident that claimed the lives of 12 members of the community. Among the dead are 11 women and two male children.
It was a moment of indescribable agony as the community watched with pain when the bodies of their loved ones were recovered from the river and buried at the riverbank.
The community’s District Head, Dakechin Shaku Lapai, whose daughter-in-law, 35-year-old Ruth Nuhu, was also killed in the accident, said the Saturday mishap came to the entire community as a surprise. He said it was very much unlike previous mishaps, which could be attributed to either collusion with some tree in the river or overload.
“Up till now, nobody can say what caused the mishap. There was no rainstorm, and it didn’t collide with any tree because there was no tree where the accident happened.
“We have taken it as an act of God. This is the fourth major boat mishap in this community, and a lot of lives have been lost. Despite all these, we can’t say we will not travel by boat again because that is the only means of transportation available to us in this community. As you can see, the community is cut off by this river from both sides of Niger and Kaduna states.
“We are actually from Kaduna State, but we transact all our businesses in Zumba market in Niger State. Even during election, we vote in Niger State.”
Pastor Gotar Sunny Chinkoha, who lost three members of his church, said the entire church was thrown into , following the incident. He informed that the normal worship service did not hold in the church on Sunday due to the death of its members.
Mrs. Asibi Ayuba, 50, Mrs. Lamin Adamu, 36, and a little boy, Ezra Yusuf, 8, all members of the Nasara Baptist Church in Fitir, died in the unfortunate mishap.
According to the pastor, Asibi, the only person selling drinks in the village, was going to the market to get fresh supplies when the accident occurred.
He said his last moment with the other woman, Lamin, was in the evening before the mishap when she told him that she was going to the market to buy her uniform for the church choir.
Little Ezra Yusuf was going to the market with his mother, Mary Yusuf. The mother was rescued from the sinking boat and is currently in the hospital receiving medical attention.
According to a survivor, Mary tried frantically to rescue her son until she could not find him anymore before she was eventually rescued.
The elder brother of the three Muslims, who lost their lives in the mishap, Mallam Ahmodu Buhari, told this correspondent that his younger ones did not tell him that they were going to the market on that day.
He said he had left the house as early as 6:30am in the morning to see someone in a nearby village. He further informed that when he returned home two hours later, he met everybody in the house crying and was told that a boat had capsized and his younger ones were missing.
He said he was told that the deceased -Salaha Abubakar, 12, and Lafila Salihu, also 12, were accompanying his uncle’s wife, Asebe, to a naming ceremony in Zumba. Asebe was rescued, but her two-year-old son, Adamu Garba, died in the accident.
Daily Sun gathered that as early as 6:00am in the morning, the people had gathered their goods, along with some animals, by the riverbank, waiting to be ferried to the weekly market in Zumba, Shiriro Local Government Area of the state. The journey usually takes two and half hours by boat.
The last Saturday market was the first that the people would be attending this month after the Sallah break. The reporter gathered that majority of the passengers were from Kitir village in Kaduna State but undertook all their commercial, business and even political activities in Niger State, as Kitir is closer to Niger State.
Boats and canoes are the only means of transportation available to the community, which has an estimated population of 7, 000 people. The major occupations of the villagers are farming and fishing.
Daily Sun gathered that no fewer than 20 boats plied the area every Saturday, which is the market day, conveying the people and their goods to the Zumba market, the closest to the community.
Between 1999 and now, the community has lost about 54 people to various boat mishaps on the river. The first was in 1999 when 28 people were killed at about 8:00pm on their way from the same market. The boat conveying them had collided with a tree in the water.
In 2007, another mishap claimed eight lives. Three years later, in 2010, six people who were fishing in the river drowned. Last Saturday’s incident, which claimed 12 lives, was the fourth mishap.
It was learnt that although the people had converged on the riverbank very early in the morning on the fateful day, they could not embark on the journey until about 11:00am, as they were observing the weather. They wanted to be sure that there would be no rainstorm, which often caused boat mishaps.
It was gathered, however, that by 11:00am, the people, mostly women, had become impatient. They told the driver to proceed, noting that they had not been to the market in weeks due to the Sallah celebration.
The ill-fated boat, conveying 30 people, four cows, five sheep, eight bags of maize, five bags of rice and some other items was the first to take off, and it was immediately followed by two others, carrying mostly men.
But barely 30 minutes into the two-and- half-hour journey, the rainstorm that they were afraid of began and the boat driver, Saidu Sarki, 40, decided to turn back to Fitir. It was in the process of turning the boat that it capsized at Kuduru village, leaving the entire 30 passengers on board scrambling for their lives.
The boat driver, believed to have been doing that job for 15 years, also survived the accident. But he could not be reached to narrate his experience, as he was still being held in police custody as at Tuesday when the reporter visited the area.
One of the survivors, Danjuma Samuel, said he advised the driver to turn back since they had not gone far into the journey, noting that it could be more dangerous if the rain had met them deep into the journey.
Danjuma said all he could remember was that everybody was shouting for help and he suddenly saw himself in the river.
“How I came out of the river was a miracle because everybody was panicking. I eventually saw myself at the bank of the river. I was told that it was the people that were in the other boat that rescued me.
“Two other boats were following us at the back and they were the ones that came to rescue some people, including myself. If not, the number of casualties would have been higher,” he said.
While Danjuma managed to escape death, his younger sister, Ruth Nuhu, who was on her way to the market for her usual akara business, was not as lucky. She died in the mishap.
He dismissed the insinuations that the boat capsized because it was overloaded. “It was not overloaded. We were just 30 passengers in the boat and it had the capacity to ferry 70 people. Even the boat was just three months old and it could carry as much as100 bags of rice or maize. What happened is an act of God. It is not because of overload or old age,” he explained.
Saleh Altini, the Sarkin Girgi (chairman, boat riders in Shiroro Local Government), who spoke to our correspondent, said unless the government comes to the aid of the people by providing them with safety jackets, lives will continue to be lost on the river.
He pointed out that since 1999 when the first major mishap occurred, the boat riders in the area had been appealing to the government to help them acquire safety jackets so that every passenger would wear it before boarding a boat to protect lives. He regretted that nothing was done.
Altini emphasised that no matter the number of boat mishaps, the people would always board the boats since it is their only means of travelling out of their remote village.
“The only thing that will reduce this frequent loss of lives is for the government to assist us by acquiring safety jackets for us. Let the government buy and give us as loans. We will pay the money back,” he said.
Meanwhile the Niger State government has described the incident as unfortunate, saying that it would soon set up an agency to regulate the activities of boat operators in the state.
Chief of Staff to the Governor, Mikhail Bmitoshi, who stated this shortly after paying a condolence visit to the people of the community on Monday, said some of the passenger boats were either substandard or too old to be used for commercial purposes.
Bmitoshi said the state government would set up a water transport agency with a view to regulating the activities of boat operators in the state.
He pointed out that the government had discovered that all the boat operators in the state had no protective jackets for their passengers.
“The government will make sure that no boat operator carries passengers without protective jackets when the agency becomes operational,” he said.
He informed that the state government would buy protective jackets and give to the operators at subsidised rates. “When that is done, no operator will be allowed to carry passengers without protective jackets.”
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