The Association of Tourist Boat Operators and Water Transporters of Nigeria (ATBOWATON), has described the Malele boat accident in Niger state as a national tragedy and embarrassment as 76 persons have been confirmed dead.
ATBOWATON President, Mr. Ganiyu Tarzan Balogun made this remark in a press statement issued on Friday, lamenting poor response and attention to the national tragedy by both federal and state governments.
Noting that the recent mishap is not the first on that water route, Balogun queried the government for neglecting the water channel as no serious attention has been paid to dredge and remove wrecks from the Malele Kebbi waterway.
“The usual blame game is on water transporters and boat operators. The stereotype is to call boat operators names without due investigation to find out if overloading and sundry operational failings are behind the accident. Someone needs to come out to tell us what the government has done to make this water channel navigable?” ATBOWATON president stated.
Balogun reiterated that the association in furtherance of its mission to national spread and responsibilities, had in the past responded to accidents across the national waterways, including the Niger state branch, organized training and retraining of ATBOWATON members, donated life jackets and also sought the support of the traditional institutions to help drive home the need to adhere to extant safety regulations on the waterways by both the operators and waterway users.
“ATBOWATON cannot singlehandedly keep the waterways safe and also create an enabling operational environment. It is not all accidents on waterways that are attributable to overloading and not wearing life jackets. There are system failures on waterways such as mapping, dredging and wreck removals. These are the major issues across the waterways and until both the state and federal government appreciate the fact that the River Niger from Malele down to Kebbi and further ahead needs serious attention as a channel of huge economic activities, then more of what happened, may still reoccur.”
“I am so unhappy and disappointed with the way Nigerians kept low profile on this national tragedy, maybe because those who lost their lives are poor farmers and merchants, maybe it’s because the nation has not come to reality that waterways transportation is the safest means of moving people and goods, maybe because it’s not an aviation accident which resonates with the rich and the mighty,” Mr Balogun lamented.
He, however, noted that ATBOWATON has dispatched a special team of investigators to Malele to work with the Association’s leadership in that area, while the national leadership plans to visit the Emir of Borgu who is the national patron of ATBOWATON.
The association will also visit the Niger state governor, Alhaji Sani Bello, to not only register the association’s sympathy but also explore ways to mitigate accidents on Niger state waterways and drive home the urgent need to construct a world class jetty at Malele.