Like a dark cloud, pains and sorrow hung over MOPOL 13Barracks Adeke village in Makurdi last Sunday after news filtered into the area that 26 children and wards of Mobile Police personnel who resided in barracks had drowned in River Benue while on their way to a Church Retreat.
The victims who were between the ages of nine and 26 were members of the youth wing of Evangelical Church Winning All, ECWA, Adeke Makurdi, and were on their way to an annual church retreat for youths’ and children known as (New Life for All) ‘Sabo Rai’ in Hausa parlance when the boat which they were traveling in capsized midstream due to overloading.
They boarded the locally made boat from Agboughoul, Innyongu Area of Wadata to a village in an island opposite Kwaghter called Ole-Gabu, for the Annual Church Retreat when the disaster struck.
It was gathered that the mishap would have been averted if the victims had aborted the trip after they received information that they were already late for the retreat they were billed to attend.
According to a member of the church who claimed he was privy to the meeting but craved anonymity, when the victims informed the retreat that they were on their way, they were asked to cancel the trip because the retreat was almost rounding off.
“But because they were probably excited to attend a church programme they rushed to the jetty to board the boat.
“Even at that, the original large boat that was supposed to convey them across the River had left the jetty and the available boat operator decided to cram them in the boat that was too small to contain the 26 of them and the two operators.
“Strangely the boat conveying them sank midstream and it was those who were returning from the retreat in another boat that sighted their boat while it was sinking. They were the ones who raised the alarm,” he added.
In fact, the mishap is one disaster that would leave indelible pains in the lives of the bereaved families particularly the Bulus family who lost five of their children and the Idis whose 17 years old triplets, Peter, Paul, and Pauline all died in the fatal mishap.
Though most of the affected families had resigned themselves to their fate it was obvious that their mood, expressions, and tears show the level of grief the disaster had brought upon them.
For Mrs. Zainab Idi, mother of the deceased triplets, Peter, Paul, and Pauline, whose husband, an Inspector is on special duty in Maiduguri, it could not be true that her children were gone in one fell swoop. “It is like a bad dream that would come to an end soon.”
But when the news of the recovery of some of the corpses of the victims started filtering into the barrack it finally dawned on her that she had lost her 17 years old set of triplets after nurturing them through thick and thin to near adulthood.
“I cannot believe that this is true. How can the triplets that I suffered so much to nurture from childhood to the age of 17 just die like that in River Benue?
“What did I do wrong? “If they were sick and eventually died I wouldn’t have felt this terrible but for my children to die in this manner is very painful.
“As if I knew that this would happen, I just returned to Makurdi after about two months in my village, only to be welcomed back with the death of my children. Life is just unfair and this is too much for me,” she added as she wept uncontrollably.
For Mrs. Rhoda Bulus who lost five children including a grandchild in the disaster, the incident marked the death of a substantial part of her life.
“I allowed them to go for that retreat because it was a programme to propagate and promote the work of God. I wouldn’t have allowed them if I knew it would end like this.
“We heard that the person that conveyed them had a small canoe which ought to have carried them twice but he chose to convey all of them at once in order to make quick money and they all got buried in the river.
“What do they expect me to do? I have lost all my children except for my first child. At this age will I start having children again. How did this happen to me and my family?” she queried
A mother of seven, Mrs. Ruth Bulus also lost two children in the disaster said she was yet to come to terms with what happened.
“It is just unbelievable. I was at home when they left the house. All they told me was that they were going for combined choir practice at Sabongida Wadata. I didn’t know it would end up like this,” she said.
As for the family of 26-year-old Shedrack Sanni who led the children, and who a few months ago rounded up his youth service, his demise was a rude shock “but we cannot question God.
“As Christians, we know that we will leave the earth someday and if it pleases God to take him away at this time we cannot question it,” his sibling, Leo Sanni said.
Perhaps the unfortunate incident would have been averted if the local boat pilot had taken some safety and precautionary measures to ensure the prevention of such a disaster.
This was the position of a boat operator and Secretary, Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria, Benue State chapter, Mohammed Adakonye.
Narrating what happened Adakonye said “on that Sunday, the youths arrived after the big boat that was meant to carry them across the river had left with other Christian faithful to the event across the river. We learnt that the leader of the group who had gone ahead called the youths not to come again since they had missed the big boat.
“However, there was a fisherman’s boat birthed at the river bank. The engine was removed and fixed on another boat, also meant for fishermen work and after paying by taxing themselves fuel was bought to power the boat across the river. After that, they loaded themselves in the boat and were being ferried before the accident happened.”
Meanwhile, mourners and some parents of the victims were seen gathered at Ijaha community to receive the bodies of their loved ones as local fishermen and the Marine Police continue the search to recover bodies from the nearby river.
It was also gathered that the local boat pilot and his assist had earlier been rescued but were in critical condition at a public hospital.
Among the first callers to the homes of the bereaved families was the District Church Council (DCC) Secretary of ECWA Church, Rev. Benjamin Dooga who lead all Pastors of the District to commiserate with families of victims.
He told newsmen that as sad as the incident was, “the Church has surrendered to the will of God who knows and understands all things.
Meanwhile, the state Governor, Samuel Ortom in a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Terver Akase sympathized with families of the victims and also consoled the ECWA Church, Adeke.
The Governor urged members of Kwaghter community where the incident took place to cooperate with the police rescue team to enable them to find the missing persons. –