More than 100 people have drowned and more are missing after a boat carrying them down the River Niger in south-western Nigeria capsized on Monday, authorities say. The vessel was carrying around 300 passengers travelling from Kwara state to Niger state after a wedding. Search and rescue efforts were continuing, officials said. The boat capsized after part of the vessel collapsed, causing water to flood the boat, police said.
There are differing reports of the exact number of people confirmed dead. Kwara state police said 106 had died, with around 144 rescued from the river. It added that more than half of the dead came from the village of Ebu, while another 38 were from nearby Dzakan village.
Earlier, the Emir of Patigi Ibrahim Umar Bologi II – the traditional ruler of the area where it happened – said more than 150 people were feared to have drowned. One survivor, Mohammed Alhassan, told the BBC many women died trying to save their children. He said his sister had survived but her 7-year-old son did not make it.
Another survivor, Aisha Mohammed, said she lost three adult daughters, who were soon to be married. “The incident was very sad, and it shocked the whole community,” Mohammed Sallihu, a relative of one of the victims, told AFP news agency. The cause of the incident is still being established.
Local police said part of the vessel collapsed, causing it to flood and then capsize. But the Emir of Patigi told journalists that river waves overtook the boat and forced it to crash into a tree that had washed into the river, causing the boat to capsize.
Kwara state Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq gave his “heartfelt condolences” to the victim’s loved ones – and said rescuers were continuing to search for survivors. He visited the affected villages on Wednesday and promised to provide them with one thousand life jackets to kickstart a safety education initiative.
He also said he had initiated discussions with the National Inland Waterways Authority on how to better enforce safety regulations. Nigerian President Bola Ahmed Tinubu said he was “deeply saddened by the news of the tragic boat accident that claimed the lives of our people in Kwara State”.
“That the victims were guests at a wedding ceremony made the unfortunate accident more painful,” he added. River accidents in this part of Nigeria are common.
People who live in the villages bordering the River Niger – which runs through the centre of the country – often use the river as it can be faster than roads, which are often poorly maintained and dangerous, due to the presence of kidnapping gangs. However, boat operators often overload their rickety vessels in a bid to earn more money.