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Friday, March 9, 2012

Lagos Canoe Mishap: How 12 children lost their lives

•As 9-year-old boy swam towards the river bank
•I was saved by my school-bag--- Survivor

As the  people of Ojota community in Otto/Awori Local Council Development Area of Lagos State still grapple with the tragedy that befell the community couple of weeks ago after a rainstorm caused a canoe carrying several children to school including market women to the neighbouring community to capsize, killing eight of the children and the market women, more facts on how it happened have emerged. 
Societygist gathered that the canoe which was about 12ft long, had 21 children on board and two market women left the shores of Ojota community about 6:30am for Igbede community aboard the canoe without any safety measure in place. The paddler who resides in Igbede would be at Ojota community as early as 6:00am to carry children and market women to Igbede town.
At 6.30 am that fateful day, 21 children, two women including the wife of the Baale of Ojota boarded the canoe and they were paddled out of the precinct of their community bidding farewell to their parents and families. The children who were pupils of different primary schools were apparently used to the terrain since it was a daily routine to go by canoe to their various schools. Their village, a very small community is separated by a river which they had to cross to reach their various schools.   They were almost at the bank of the river after 30minutes paddling in the canoe when the tragedy occurred. The hitherto calm atmosphere changed, following an unprecedented dark cloud which hampered vision. The violent wind which lasted for few minutes wrecked  havoc and the canoe was thrown back into the middle of the river. All the children, the women and the paddler went down the river but a few of them are alive to tell the story.
Amazingly, Fawas Ayuba, a 6-year old boy of Caritas Biachi Nursery/Primary School, Igbede was saved by his school bag hanging on his back which prevented him from drowning.   This gives an indication that the pupils would have been saved if they had life-jackets on them.  However,  Yusuf Rufai, a 9-year old pupil on board swam through the river to the shores of his community.  Yusuf who broke the news of the incident to the people of his community said he was trained on the techniques of swimming by his father and  those were the things that came to his mind at the time of the mishap.  Sad enough, Tope Patience, a 17-year old girl and Primary 6 Pupil of St. Mary’s School, Igbede whose education was delayed as result of the fear of going through the river by canoe to school dived into the river apparently to save others.  But in spite of her   swimming dexterity which she was known for, she could not live to tell the story.  She was said to have  dived in, rescued two children but in an attempt to save her own younger brother, she dived in again but  died in the process. Saturday Vanguard gathered that her body was found with another child hanging on her chest  with  both hands clinging to Tope’s neck. Her brother’s body was also found .  The Bale’s wife, Madam R. Hassan, a 50-year old market woman and another fish seller and twelve children could not be rescued.  Their bodies were found few days later and buried at the shore of  the various points they were recovered. 
Saturday Vanguard went to Ijaniki en route Ojota Community to speak with eye witnesses, the school authorities, the parents of the deceased children and the survivors including the Baale of the Community community.  On going to Ojota Community, there was no speed boat available, neither was there any regular boat to that area was on hand.  Saturday Vanguard crew had to charter a canoe with an insistence on life-jackets to undertake the scary 30 minutes journey.
 At St. Mary’s Anglican Primary School, Igbede, the Head Mistress, Veronica Atoyebi, revealed that three pupils of the school lost their lives while others were from other private schools.  According to her;“ that day, the pupils decided to come early and so, they were coming together with other private school pupils alongside two market women.  As they were about to anchor, there was a heavy storm which blew away the canoe.”
The HM further revealed: “What we heard was that the woman who chattered the canoe used to go to the village everyday to buy fish and she was always in the village between 6 and 7am. So, the children used that opportunity to board the canoe with her.  At the shore, a woman was directing the sailor not to anchor where they were supposed to anchor; that he should move to the other side to create enough space. And according to an eye witness, there was an argument and all of a sudden, the wind blew the canoe to the middle of the river.”
Confirming the number and identity of those who were dead, she said: “out of the 23 passengers on board, 12 people died.  Among them were three pupils including an early child care pupil, primary 4 and 6 pupils in our school.  They are Tope Patience, Pry 6; Mistura Hassan, Pry 4; Aminat  Kareem, ECC Class.”  She hinted that survivors from the school were immediately taken to the Health Centre in the town and the bill was paid by the Chairman of the Ijanikin Development Council Area,  Hon. Robert Olukayode Bolaji.  Two of the pupils were seriously affected due to contraction of infection that went through their lungs but they were treated and discharged.
She said that since the incident, the other children have not attended school. “Right now, the children haven’t been coming to school. We were told that government is making efforts to get a link road through the neighbouring villages so that they will not be crossing the river again.
“There is a school called  (Ese-Ofin), where they don’t have to come through water but if they have to walk through that path,  it would take them 4 hours to get to the school. So, government wants to make a link road for  them and at the same time provide Keke Marwa  that will be conveying the children to their schools.”
Asked if there was no attempt by individuals around to rescue the pupils, she said: “it was cloudy and dark, it was between  6:30 and 7:00am and because of the heavy storm, it was very difficult. Although people tried to rescue them, it was too late. Even the survivors made effort to rescue others but to no avail. One of the survivors rescued three children. But the two adults (fish seller and Baale’s wife) died.”
On recovering all the bodies, she said, “Not all the bodies were recovered the same day. Three bodies were recovered on the third day of the incident. There was a particular girl, (Tope) who was  in primary six, her corpse was recovered the third day with a child clinging on her neck. She died while trying to rescue the younger brother. Tope could swim, she had rescued two other children but she couldn’t make her last attempt to rescue her brother. Unfortunately, the child she attempted to rescue was  dead and floating before Tope was found dead. The child clinged on her neck which led to her death.”
She stressed that the school had gone to pay a condolence visit to the families of those who lost their lives.  “We have gone to condole with the parents. What we were told was that the paddler has been helping the children for years without charging them any money anytime the woman chattered his canoe to the village to buy fish. The story we heard was that the sailor (Baba Ologoro) was almost dead but he was rescued,” she stressed.
Atoyebi disclosed that there is cordial relationship between the two communities.  “We have good relationship with the people in the community. It was a natural disaster and we thank God that the community  where the children belonged to do not hold it against us.”
Those who survived are Muyibi Aliyu Saliu, Primary 6; Hassan Jamiu Ojonla Primary 6; Idowu Falilat Titilayo  Primary 4; Rufai Yusuf   Primary 3 and Sherif Hassan Primary 5 among others from other schools. 

Ojota Community
It is a community of small enclave with about five thousand people with most of them having close family ties. It’s large expanse of land was filled with coconut plantation which defines their major source of income. The absence of basic amenities does not deter them from going about their daily activities.  In fact, they have to cross the stream to get any of their basic need including drinking water.
Saturday Vanguard  saw women in the area  weaving mats at every nook and cranny of the village. Some families have restricted their children and wards from going to school as a result of the distance and the impediment of crossing the river or walking for more than four hours if they chose to go through a narrow path to link a neighbouring town (which has another primary school) Ese-Ofin, before any child could go to school.
But according to their leader who will soon celebrate his centenary birthday, Amisu Hassan Olakesan, Baale of Ojota, “it was only recently we had to let them go to school through the water.”  The  children however had become used to it before the February 13 rainstorm that caused the mishap.
“The community lost twelve people including my wife,  we are still mourning,” he said.
According to him, “I was not at home when the incident happened. But I was called to come over to the village. I was curious to know what happened. Then, I was told that a canoe has just capsized and that my wife was there, then, I said, “she was dead” because I knew she could not swim.  My wife was in her late 50s. People living in this community live as families and can be regarded as large extended families.”
He stated that the state governor, Babatunde Raji Fashola had paid a condolence visit through the Commissioner for Rural Development.  
He said:  “government instructed that the children should not cross the river again to go to school, that the governor has given directives that there will be a link road to the next village (Ese Ofin) and that they will provide tricycle (Keke Marwa) that will be conveying the children to and from school. They equally said they have given a two week ultimatum to clear the road. but we are yet to see any development to that effect,” Baale said. 
 “Since the incidence, our children haven’t been going to school, our call is that government should speed up with their plans so that the children can go back to school,” he pleaded.
We have been suffering in this community for long. We don’t have water, we buy sachet water which used to be transported  through the river. We don’t have electricity power supply, no health centre, school, town hall, jetty spot for those who are plying through the water. We want them to come to our aid.”  adding that “it is a dangerous trend that there is no healthcare facility here.  It means that our pregnant women who are in labour cannot access good healthcare except they go to Igbede on water. We don’t have traditional maternity home too except for some of our aged fathers who have taken midwifery as a profession.”
“We have a solar energy powered by generator. It was donated by  Pastor Cornelius Ojelabi, the Hon Commissioner for Rural Development in 2001 when he was Chairman of the Council. It works only at night. The children are already frightened as a result of the incident, so they should do whatever they want to do fast so that these children can go back to school,” he said.
On the death of his wife, he  said she died because she could not swim. He disclosed that out of his five wives, only one is still alive and that he intends to marry another one regardless of his age. “I had five wives but four are dead.  I still want to marry another one, if I see a good woman who can take care of me. I want to marry an old woman like me who can take care of me, wash my clothes and cook for me.” Asked  the rationale behind his decision, he said: “I am still very strong and fertile. Before I became Baale, I used to be a fisherman and it is a profession I chose to do all my life. Even now, I still go fishing,” he said.
Funmilola Ayuba, 30-year-old mother of  Fawas Ayuba

My boy’s  school bag helped him to stay afloat on the water. My  son attends Caritas Biachi Nursery/Primary School, Igbede.
Every morning, he goes to school through the water. He was two years when he started school and since then, he has been going through the water. I don’t have any option than taking him to the school beyond the sea. We want our children to go to school.
“On that fateful day, he was reluctant to go to school. He said he didn’t want to go but we perceived their examination period was near and so we persuaded him to go. He cried and was reluctant. So, when I heard of the incident, the first thing that came to my mind was that my son doesn’t know how to swim and that he must have died. But when I knew that he was alive, I was happy. I condoled with other women who lost their children. There was just one exercise book inside the bag.
“There is no school around this community except  a government school (Ese-Ofin) in another community. And any child who would go to such school from here must be ready to trek for four hours.
“Right now, we are still waiting for government’s promise. We have called on the government to help us, we don’t want our children to cross the water again even though they gave us life-jackets to wear whenever we want to cross the water. They have also promised to create a link road that will be taking them to Ese-Ofin.We have been persuading the children to go to school but they are all afraid. Since, the incident, I have not been to the school and I don’t want my son to go to the school again. I don’t want him to cross the water again.
Odunola Rufai, 42 
That day, there was no sign that it was going to rain but when the storm was waging, our belief was that nothing would happen to them because there were older people with them. One of them, Jamiu came to inform us of the incident. Then, I rushed to the place. On my way, my son met me and said, “Arewa” meaning (Beauty). Then, I asked how he managed to survive. He told that, at first all of them were drowned in the water. And that he floated and started swimming. As a small child, he was tired but he tried to swim out of the water. When he got to the shore, (Egba) he was tired but some people rescued him. Before the incident, his father used to teach him how to swim, how he shouldn’t allow anyone to cling on him and how he should take off his cloth if anyone tries to cling on his clothes.
He said that when the canoe capsized , someone tried to hold his clothe and he took it off and threw his bag away. It was the third day that he was able to narrate how the incident happened. Yusuf is nine years old. He was born on February 4. He is in primary three. He is supposed to be in primary four but I advised that he should be allowed to repeat the class because of his poor performance.
When he was asked to explain how he escaped, he was speechless. Before the incident, Yusuf has been swimming and even paddling canoe for his father. Even Tope knows how to swim but she didn’t know that it is not good to allow anyone cling in front of one’s neck. She was supposed to carry such person at the back.

Kemi Musibau
All my children were in the boat with their father. I would have lost all my children if my husband (Aminu Musibau) wasn’t in the canoe. He rescued seven children out of all the children. I lost my younger sister. It was God that helped the man. If not, he would have been dead. The children that survived were Zainab, Fathia, Yusuf, Bilikis, Iya Abigel, Afisu, Quahum, Fawas, Ganiu. My husband is a cameraman.He works at Igbede.

Nike Muyibi, 42

Tope was seventeen years old. She was going to St. Mary’s School, Igbede. She was in primary six. She knows how to swim but on that day, she had already come out of the water when she discovered that her brother was still there. She then went to rescue her brother Muniru Muyibi but unfortunately, someone else held her on the neck and she was drowned. The boy also died. Since then, I have been passing through hell, I don’t know if I can live without Tope. She was a good child. She was industrious. She has been living with me since she was six years old. I adopted her because her father divorced her mother. So, I adopted her and she has been living with me until her death. She didn’t start school on time. We were afraid of them crossing  the water to school but because schooling is compulsory, we had no choice than to allow them. But since the incident, all the children are now afraid of  going to school. This is the third week since that incident happened and the children are yet to go back to school. The only school that the children can go to without crossing the water is Ese-Ofin. And it will take four hours for a child to get to the school. We want government to come to our aid because our children are no longer going to school.

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