Residents and police were still searching for dozens of people who were on the overcrowded boat that capsized early Monday on the Niger River in the Pategi district of Kwara state, which is 160 kilometers (100 miles) from Ilorin, the state capital, according to police spokesman Okasanmi Ajayi. He said 100 people had been rescued so far.
Most of those who drowned were relatives from several villages who attended the wedding together and partied late into the night, according to Abdul Gana Lukpada, a local chief. They arrived at the ceremony on motorcycles but had to leave on the locally made boat after a downpour flooded the road, he said.
“The boat was overloaded and close to 300 persons were in it. While they were coming, the boat hit a big log inside the water and split into two,” said Lukpada.
The wedding was held in the village of Egboti in the neighboring Niger state, said Usman Ibrahim, a resident. Because the accident happened at 3 a.m., it was hours before many people knew what had happened, he said.
As the passengers drowned, villagers nearby rushed to the scene and managed to rescue about 50 at first, Lukpada said, describing early efforts to rescue the passengers as slow and “very difficult.”
As of Tuesday afternoon, officials and locals were still searching for more bodies in the river, which is one of Nigeria’s largest. Police spokesman Ajayi said the rescue operation would continue through the night until Wednesday.
Locals said it was the deadliest boat accident they have seen in many years.
By Tuesday evening, all of the bodies recovered so far had been buried, most near the river, in accordance with local customs, Lukpada said.
Kwara Gov. Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq’s office issued a statement expressing sadness for the families of those killed and saying that he “continues to monitor the rescue efforts already mounted since Monday night in search of possible survivors.”
Boat accidents are common in many remote communities across Nigeria where locally made vessels are commonly used for transport. Most accidents are attributed to overloading and the use of poorly maintained boats.