The recent boat mishap in Anam River, Anambra State, which claimed the lives of Nollywood movie star, John Paul Odonwodo, popularly known as Junior Pope, and three others, has underscored the need for enhanced safety on Nigerian waterways. Unarguably, more lives would have been saved if the water transportation regulations were strictly adhered to by the passengers and the captain of the ill-fated boat. Also, early rescue response would have saved some lives. Therefore, there is an urgent need to review the operations of commercial and private boats on the Nigerian waterways. 

The 39-year-old Junior Pope and three others drowned in the river after their boat was involved in an accident while returning from a movie production. An eyewitness account said the captain of the boat wanted to appear on a video being recorded by Junior Pope, which made him unaware of an oncoming boat, leading to a collision. 

The tragic incident has raised some concerns about safety on our waterways. The boat operators, including the captains and crew, should be adequately trained. Moving forward, we advise that operators on the nation’s inland waterways should adhere to speed limits of boats. All passengers must wear life-jackets before travelling on our waterways. The wearing of life-jackets should be made compulsory for all passengers and crew members. Anyone who fails to observe this rule should not be allowed into the boat or ferry. However, the life-jackets must be clean. Dirty life-jackets can repel some passengers from wearing them. 

The recurring boat mishaps in the country have been traced to over-speeding and excessive loading. The National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) must ensure that boat operators comply with established safety rules on waterways transportation. It is sad that these rules are rather observed in the breach.

Let the government procure new life-jackets and provide other measures that will ensure the safety of passengers and crew. In case of any boat mishap, rescue operation should be handy. All the nation’s waterways should have rescue patrol teams that can timely respond should there be any accident. There is no doubt that late response to accidents on our waterways or lack had led to loss of lives. 

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Regrettably, the inefficiency of the response system by the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and other agencies policing the Nigerian waterways was evident in the Anam River boat tragedy. There ought to be patrol boats and surveillance satellites tracking the mobility of boats and ferries on our inland waterways. If rescuers had arrived early enough, perhaps the drowned artistes would have been saved. But rescuers reportedly arrived hours after the boat mishap, leaving little chance for the survival of the victims. Let there be a change of attitude in the rescue operation.

The Anam River boat mishap should be thoroughly investigated to unravel the real cause of the accident and how such incidents can be averted. In recent times, our waterways had witnessed frequent tragic boat mishaps. Tragic boat mishaps had occurred in Lagos, Niger Kwara, Taraba and other parts of the country, claiming many lives. In October, 2023, more than seventy people were missing after a boat capsized in Taraba State. The boat was carrying traders returning from a fish market in Ardo-Kola district of the state when it capsized on the River Benue. Fourteen passengers were rescued, while seven bodies were recovered and seventy-three missing.

In June, 2023, another tragic boat disaster occurred in Patigi in Kwara State. The boat was said to be conveying about 250 people from Gboti village via Patigi after a wedding ceremony to Ebu and Dzakan villages, all within Patigi’s local government area. The mishap claimed over 100 lives as the boat split into two. In all these cases, rescue operations were either late or did not come at all.

The government should see the recent Anam River boat mishap as a wake-up call to address the inadequacies of our water transportation system. The first major challenge is to ensure that operators on the nation’s waterways obey the stipulated rules. 

We commiserate with the families of Junior Pope and others who lost their lives in the Anam River boat mishap. We also urge the government to financially assist their families to cope with the grief. Above all, the NIWA must enforce regulations that will enhance safety on our waterways.