At least 20 people were feared dead when a boat ferrying mourners capsized in River Katsina-Ala in Katsina-Ala Local Government Area of Benue State. The boat, it was learnt, was crossing River Katsina-Ala between 6p.m. and 7p.m. at Buruku crossing point when it capsized.
The victims from Gonduzua, Logo Local Government Area of the state were attending burial at Buruku, a neighbouring local government area. Also on board were market women, who closed from Ugba Market in Logo Local Government.
A source from the area told our correspondent that the boat which was overloaded, was also carrying motorcycles belonging to the victims. The source said the passengers were without lifejackets, adding that those paddling the boat were said to be drunk.
The source said the victims were mostly women and children who at press time were still missing. The Chairperson of Katsina Ala Local Government, Mrs. Virginia Kpindi, who spoke with journalists on the phone, blamed the accident on overloading. She, however, commiserated with families of the victims.
Also speaking, a former Vice Chairman of Logo Local Government Area, Mr. Kundushima Acka, described the incident as “unfortunate”. He said: “Until now (at press time), none of the passengers has been seen.”
Acka added that a young man, his girlfriend and three others survived the accident as “they were seen coming out of the water bringing the total number of survivors to five.
The state Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), DSP Moses Yamu, confirmed the incident. Yamu said 13 passengers, who were on board, died. He added that rescue workers were making frantic efforts to recover their bodies.
Meanwhile, Governor Samuel Ortom has sympathised with families of the victims. Ortom was represented by the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Prof Anthony Ijohor. In the government delegation were chairmen of Buruku and Logo local government areas, some commissioners and special adviser.
The governor described the boat accident as unfortunate and painful, stressing that a similar incident which claimed 17 lives occurred at the same point five years ago. Ortom called on the Federal Government to construct a bridge across the Buruku axis of River Katsina-Ala to prevent the loss of more lives.
“His Excellency, Governor Samuel Ortom and his Deputy Engineer Benson Abounu are deeply saddened by this unfortunate incident, and the government of Benue State will ensure that the victims are given the necessary support. Our appeal is that the Federal Government should construct a bridge here at the Buruku crossing point of River Katsina-Ala to put an end to the frequent loss of lives,” Ijohor stated.
He directed that the bodies which had so far been recovered be deposited at the morgue of the General Hospital, Buruku, while government would assist in the burial.
Chairman of Benue Motorcycle Association, Ugonduzua branch, which lost 17 members in the incident, Mr. Felix Ikyaajime, said the victims were heading for a burial in Buruku when the boat capsized. At the time of this report, three bodies and 18 motorcycles were recovered by the rescue team while the search for the missing was still in progress.