17th February, 2012
For four children of the Hassan family, they left home on that fateful day with their colleagues from the Ojota riverine community to their school, which takes about 15 minutes on water. The school is located at Igbede, another community on land. They were filled with joy and hoped to learn new things at school, St. Mary Anglican Primary School.
As usual, they bid their parents farewell and hoped to return in peace. But that is the last time they ever saw their parents. They never returned from that journey. They were among the 10 children and two women who perished in Monday’s boat mishap on the Lagoon, in Otto Awori Local Council Development Area, LCDA of Lagos State, southwest Nigeria. Their names are Mistura, Fuad, Ayisat and Haffiz Hassan plus the baale’s wife, Amisu Hassan.
A violent rain storm had seized the boat conveying 22 passengers mostly primary school children whose ages ranged between seven and 12, from Ojota riverine village to Igbede. They were about to reach the shore when the rainstorm began and the canoe capsized. Ten of the children and two women drowned.
That incident was the blackest in the history of Ojota village and it left behind tears and anguish. Agony was visibly written on the faces of the villagers; everyone was mourning. It seems as if God was angry with the villagers, which has a population of around 100 residents and about 18 houses.
When the gruesome incident occurred, some of the pupils who could swim swam to safety while two of the pupils rescued four other children. The remaining 10 passengers in the boat, mostly children, perished.
The roll call of those who died are Mistura Hassan, Fuad Hassan, Ayisat Hassan, Haffiz Hassan plus the baale’s wife, Amisu Hassan, Madam Ibijoke, Abigail Aminu, Nofisat Aminu, Michael Eniola, Tope Rufai, Muniru Muyibi and Aminat Tijani.
The survivors are Ope Muibi, Aliu Muibi, Rurai Yusuf, Serif Muyibi, Dada Muyibi, Falilat Idowu, Jamiu Hassan, Ganiyu Hassan, Ahmed Hassan, Quyum Hassan and Serif Muyibi.
But for the bravery exhibited by a female pupil and a boy, more casualties would have been recorded. Miss Falilat Idowu, a primary five pupil of St. Mary Anglican Primary School, Igbede, whose age is around 11, swam to the deep end of the water to rescue two pupils when the boat capsized.
While the man who paddled the canoe could do nothing to rescue the children as he narrowly escaped death and is now in hospital, Falilat was said to have exhibited bravery in saving the lives of two children.
Another boy, Ope Muibi, around 10 years of age also swam to the deep to rescue two other pupils who were about to drown and brought them to safety.
Lagos State Commissioner for Rural Development, Pastor Cornelius Ojelabi, who led government team to the riverine village could not help but praise the doggedness and bravery of the two heroes.
When Ope Muibi was asked to recount what happened, he could not speak as he broke down weeping profusely when he remembered others who died in the tragedy.
A woman, Mrs Aminu was seen weeping profusely as three of her children died in the boat mishap. The names of her deceased children are Abigail, Nofisat and Michael. The commissioner could not console her as she wept profusely.
Four members of the extended family of the Baale of Ojota riverine village, including his wife, died in the disaster.
One of the leaders of the boat operators in Agbede-Ojo who craved anonymity explained how the unfortunate incident occurred. He said the boat was almost at the shore before the storm began.
“It is very unfortunate; the boat was almost at this shore, but just a few metres away, the weather changed and the women asked the boat driver to move further so that they could stop at the nearby town to avoid the rain.
“In an attempt to do so, the storm started and one of the women panicked and attempted to stand up from the boat and immediately, the boat lost balance and with the heavy wind, it capsized and all the children fell into the water.
“Some of the children died not because they could not swim, but because of the raging storm and wind, some who could swim were able to save themselves and others. It is a very unfortunate incident as we have never witnessed such before,” he said.
A leader in Ojota village, Samsudeen Ola, said that the community does not have a primary school of its own and its children, had to go to Igbede for primary education.
“That is our plight, we have written letters to government with no success yet.”
He said the dugout canoe that transported the victims was meant to carry 10 people. “They were 22 in the boat because we are not many in this village, so when any boat comes we all load ourselves into it,” Ola said.
According to Ojelabi, “we were at the Executive Council meeting when we heard the news and the Governor mandated that we come here and check the authenticity of the story, we came and reported back to the governor and he was really bitter about the loss of innocent children who did not use life jackets.
“He asked us to come here again, first to commiserate with the families of the victims and then to see how we can avoid such a disaster in the future.”
The commissioner stated that Governor Babatunde Fashola had directed that an access road be created within two weeks from the Ojota Community to link the Agbede-Ojo area, while the Ministry of Rural Development should purchase three units tricycles as means of transportation to convey the children to and from school.
“For now, we will carry out the governor’s directive in the next 14 days, to ensure the safety of the pupils, until we are able to make a bridge to link the alternative schools in the area,” he said.
He warned boat operators to henceforth ensured passengers put on life jacket before boarding any boat or be prepared to face the music.
Following the deadly storm that wreaked havoc in Lagos State, Fashola commiserated with the victims of the disaster, saying the state government would provide relief materials for those affected by the unusual occurrence.
Fashola spoke after inspecting the state owned new Office of The Public Defender Building which commissioning, billed for yesterday, was postponed as a result of the damage done to it by the storm.
“Let me first express sympathy to all those who are victims of that storm. From the report that I have received, the damage came not so much from the water but from the high storm that blew off roofs and stalls.
“I will like to thank the various local government chairmen where this incidence occurred. I have been briefed regularly about the impact at various local government and the steps the various local government have taken in terms of resettlement, relocation and provision of relief materials.
“The LASEMA is also going round in evaluating and getting back to us. Whatever remains undone at the local level, we will respond on much more wholesome scale after collation. In fact, this building that we are now Office of the Public Defender was affected. It is a building that we would have been handed over today but a section of the roof came off so they had to fix it over night,” he stated.