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‘She held on to the children’: Nigerian shipwreck survivors mourn | Shipping News

Ilorin, Nigeria — In Nigeria, wedding ceremonies from one day to another are very frequent and the parties are colorful; the one attended by Ibrahim Mohammed on Sunday 11 June in the Egboti community in Niger state was no exception.

So, after the party, he set off before dawn on Monday for his home: the village of Egbu in the Patji Local Government Area in Kwara state, near central Nigeria.

Because of the poor state of the road connecting the two communities, he boarded a large boat and joined more than 200 other wedding guests and a motorbike for a 40-minute ride across the Niger River, which gives Nigeria its name. The clouds were still dark as their boat sailed from the water’s edge.

Just minutes into the journey, passengers heard the sound of a ship’s side cracking. It hit something. Water rushed into the boat. The engine stopped.

Terrified, they started jumping into the Niger River and swimming back to the shore.

But as Kwara State Police spokesman Okasanmi Ajayi told Al Jazeera on Wednesday, 106 of them never made it. They were pulled out of the water lifeless. Many are women and children. It’s all about the groom.

Another 144 people were rescued, including Mohammad.

“I’m sad…. We’ve had boat accidents before, but this kind of thing has never happened in our lives before,” Patji, a 26-year-old undergraduate at Aman Patji University, told Al Jazeera. “Most people in our community have lost some family members.”

An unknown number of passengers are still missing and their families are still awaiting news.

Survivors said help was slow to come. Reports of the tragedy were barely in the media.

“The nearest police station to that place was about four to five hours’ drive away, and when the police arrived there on a rescue mission … it was very late,” Ajayi told Al Jazeera. “As I speak, police are still on the scene to see if there are any other survivors or bodies to be found.”

Boat accidents are common in Nigeria due to a combination of factors including flooding and lack of safety gear.

Thirty-three people were reported to have drowned after a similar incident in Niger state last September. In April, five people were killed in another boating disaster in the southern state of Bayelsa.

‘She clings to the children’

Once Mohamed swam to shore, he saw everyone else in the boat jump back into the water and helped pull the others to safety.

“I personally helped two adults and a child, but we got tired quickly and our efforts failed because there were so many people needing help and that part of the water was shallow and dangerous,” he told Al Jazeera TV station.

Some of those who did not survive were women with children who could not swim, or those who did not want to keep their children.

Muhammad’s sister and four of his cousins ​​were also among them.

“I saw one of them and she was a really good swimmer in the water, but she didn’t leave because she was holding onto the kids,” he said. “Another of them survived and had four children.”

In the villages of Kpada, Egbu and Gakpan in Kwara and Egboti in Niger, people mourned and counted their losses as the news continued. “I lost 10 members of my family, including my five brothers, my father, my mother and my stepmother … About 80 people died in my village one by one,” Mohammad Modu, a farmer in Eqb, told Al Jazeera.

According to traditional customs, the salvaged bodies are buried by the river in each village.

(Al Jazeera)

“None of us can sleep alone”

Modu was sleeping when a friend called at 4 a.m. to tell him the news of the capsized boat. He told Al Jazeera that he yelled: “Oh my God” before hurriedly getting up and running to the water’s edge in Egbu.

“I started running to the river … hoping I could find them or their bodies, but I didn’t see anyone there. I broke down and started crying,” he said.

By dawn, he had counted 10 of his dead relatives.

Survivors and other residents are now relocating to other villages and towns, hoping to find a new life after the tragedy. The devil city also plans to leave.

“If possible, I plan to move to Ilorin to be Okada [motorcycle taxi] Rider,” he cried.

Leaving the community is just part of a wider sense of devastation among survivors and families of victims, said Olasunkanmi Habeeb of the Institute for Land and Community Resilience at the Federal Institute of Technology in Minna, the capital of Niger state.

“The impact can be life-changing, and families can struggle to cope with the loss of a loved one or care for someone who has been injured,” he said. “It can also exacerbate existing social and economic inequalities.”

He said the accident exposed shortcomings in regulatory safety standards and highlighted the need for better infrastructure and emergency response capabilities.

Authorities in the state capitals Abuja and Ilorin have issued statements of condolence.

President Bola Tinubu said he was “deeply saddened” and urged the Kwara government to investigate the incident; Kwara state governor Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq led a government delegation to Pategi and pledged to donate 1,000 life jackets.

But as of Thursday afternoon, residents involved in organizing the search and rescue mission told Al Jazeera that no officials had yet arrived.

Back in Eqb, Mohammad said he also considered leaving the town but was unable to because his parents’ roots were there. Leaving would add to their grief, he said, and they are all now dependent on each other.

“None of us could sleep alone,” he said. “We’re gathering five people in the room now to get to sleep.”

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