As we mourn Junior Pope and his co travellers

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By Grace Anderson

It was one hell of a day. Junior Pope and some members of their crew had a boat mishap. Five persons were snatched away by the cold hands of death. Then netizens began to do the work of the Police. They dragged Adanma Luke and would not let go. Why did they even accuse her? What did she really do? Her accusers ought to have come out and tell us point blank what her crime was. Did they say it is now a crime to be a movie producer?

After going through various analyses on the boat mishap that occurred penultimate Wednesday (April 10, 2024) at Anam River in Anambra State, I have not particularly sighted any offence committed by Adanma Luke. How and why should Adanma be blamed when adults decided to board a speedboat to such a movie location without a life jacket? Did the movie producer drag them into the speedboat? To blame the movie producer for the carelessness of the concerned adults would mean something similar to a transferred aggression. If we adopt such analogy, then, it means when somebody is not able to impregnate his wife, he will say Adanma is the cause. That is wrong and everyone should learn to take responsibility for his or her actions.

In 2022, I embarked on a journey by boat to two villages in Andoni. I was supposed to visit four villages though. There is a story I was following up and I could not rest. I needed to see for myself if there was any substance of truth in the story. For months, I started making plans to embark on that journey. The area in question is a coastal area under tidal influence from the Bight of Bonny. I was told that the water had a time it was always turbulent. So, after my findings about where I wanted to visit, I travelled from Uyo to Okorette and made arrangements with the boat driver to take us to the four locations. We were to first visit Isutoyo. The four villages were all in Eastern Obolo in Akwa Ibom State. It was then I found that there was no life jacket. When I asked the boat driver about a life jacket, it sounded strange to him. They were used to travelling by boat without life jackets probably because they knew how to swim.

“So what of your passengers who do not know how to swim?” My tour guide who was also formerly a boat driver notified me that no boat in that area had a life jacket. Later, we embarked on the journey without life jackets because they were not available. If we wanted to wait for the boat driver to get life jackets, it meant we were never going to embark on that journey or, we would have to come with ours. Then the boat driver paddled the boat from the shore and then a little distance from the shore, the boat engine was powered by the driver. It began to buzz. Off we went. I was so silent inside the boat. It was 50:50 chances of survival like the doctors would say. I was so inquisitive and kept asking questions. We journeyed far into the ocean. We came face to face with real water. The engine of the boat kept rattling away. Then suddenly, the boat ceased. We were in the middle of nowhere. We didn’t see any boat anywhere around. Inside the boat, I was sweating. Then my tour guide asked the boat driver what the problem was and he replied that something was hanging on the engine. So he went closer to the engine and removed shrubs that had inserted themselves inside the engine after which he dragged the engine rope like “I better pass my neighbour”, then the boat jacked back to life.

We arrived Isutuyo, I felt like weeping. Isutuyo people are Nigerians but there are so many things we take for granted that the inhabitants of Isutuyo have never experienced. They don’t have electricity neither do they have a health centre. Their source of water is nothing to write home about. Then the only primary school in the area is an apology. They don’t have a bank there. Even POS which is almost everywhere in the city centre is not found there. No access road to that place except by water. The people are predominantly fishermen and in order to make ends meet, they have to sell their fishes at the Ukam Market and they still have to travel by boat. During high tides, they don’t venture outside the area to avoid being washed away. These people are worlds apart from the rest of us.

Then from Isutuyo, we moved to Aganza, those people faced a similar predicament only that they were a little bit more advanced. Their source of water supply was from a well. Sometimes, when they enclosed large catches, they exchanged them with other goods at the beach market (trade by barter). By the time we were done at Aganza fishing settlement, I didn’t bother to visit the other two villages. I was looking at the weather (it was in June, the middle of rainy season); we had to take our leave.

“At least I have seen for myself”, I reasoned. Fortunately for us, there was no other challenge as we arrived safely. Nothing can take me back to such a place if I don’t use a life jacket. So, what is the difference between that risk I took in 2022 and the one the late Junior Pope and co took last week? Someone amongst them was even ringing a bell inside the river and pouring Fanta to the gods. Was it Adanma that sent him to do that one too? They were catching cruise inside the River Niger of all places. They did not even mind if they were distracting the boat driver’s view or not. The next thing, they collided with another boat then they started blaming the film producer.

Some people in that same boat were on life jacket and they did not get drowned when the mishap happened. Why didn’t the rest of the crew wait until the boat dropped the first set with life jackets so that they could use same? Then, as if the vulgar adjectives used on Adanma by netizens were not enough, the Actors’ Guild of Nigeria (AGN) asked their members not to be involved with Adanma’s movies. Let Adanma’s accusers give me just one reason why they should be blaming her for the carelessness of others. The last I checked, Adanma is a producer and not a boat driver. What if she was not aware that the boat did not have life jackets? Should she still be blamed? They were shooting a movie titled “The other side of life” and practically crossed over to the other side of life, death. As we mourn the painful exit of the five, let’s be more intentional about the living. The Ministry of Transport in all the states of the federation and agencies concerned with Nigerian water ways should ensure that life jackets are made available to boat travellers especially in the areas where the road option isn’t available.

Many people get drowned but it does not go viral because those involved aren’t notable. That Anam River incident is an eye opener. Government should also be intentional about developing the riverine areas. Those areas have contributed immensely to our common wealth but they have been so neglected. Apart from River Niger, areas like Isutuyo and Aganza are very good locations for shooting movies? Unfortunately, you guys will have to wait until a road gets to that area, and who knows when such infrastructure will get to such a place? Truly, this life is not balanced.