ABUJA (AFP): More than 100 people have drowned in north central Nigeria after a boat carrying families returning from a wedding sank in a river, police and local authorities said.
Details about the accident in Kwara State were still emerging, but it was the latest boat tragedy in Nigeria where river capsizes are common due to overloading, lax safety procedures and heavy flooding in the rainy season.
The boat was ferrying people in Kwara State from a wedding in neighbouring Niger State when it went down, local police and the Kwara governor’s office said Tuesday, without giving the cause.
“So far we have 103 people dead and over 100 rescued from the boat accident,” Kwara State police spokesman Okasanmi Ajayi told AFP by telephone.
“Search and rescue is still ongoing which means the toll is likely to rise.”
The Kwara State governor’s office said the victims had been returning from a wedding ceremony to Kwara’s Patigi district.
“The governor is sad to receive reports of the boat accident involving several people, particularly residents of Ebu, Dzakan, Kpada, Kuchalu, and Sampi, all in Patigi,” the statement said.
“The governor sends his heartfelt condolences to the people of these communities.”
The governor was monitoring the rescue efforts which had been underway since Monday night in search of possible survivors, it said.
“He commends the alertness of (traditional ruler) the Etsu Patigi His Royal Highness Alhaji Ibrahim Umar Bologi II and other local government authorities for the efforts to save as many people as possible who may have survived the mishap.”
Such river accidents are unfortunately common in Nigeria.
Last month, 15 children drowned and 25 others went missing after their overloaded boat capsized in northwest Sokoto State as they were on their way to collect firewood.
Almost exactly a year earlier, another 29 children from a nearby village also drowned in the same river as they were on a trip to collect firewood for their families.
During massive flooding in the rainy season last December, at least 76 people drowned when their boat went down in a swollen river in southeastern Anambra State.
With poor road infrastructure a frequent problem and kidnapping for ransom a major issue along some highways, river boat travel for transport and trade is common in Nigeria.
The Niger River is West Africa’s main waterway running in a crescent through Guinea to Nigeria’s Niger Delta and is a key trade route for some countries.
Nigeria’s National Inland Waterways Authority has tried to ban night-time sailing on rivers to stop accidents and says overloading ships is a criminal offence, but skippers and crews often ignore the regulations.