For decades, water transportation has been a major business in Ibi, a town and administrative district in Taraba State. But the award of a contract for the construction of a bridge across River Benue, if actualised, is likely to render thousands of people in that locality jobless, Daily Trust Saturday reports.
Ibi, a town located on the southern bank of River Benue, is known for water transportation, which has existed for many decades. This business started with the use of canoes to ferry people across the river but gradually advance to engine boats.
Over 20,000 people earn their living through this business, but it was learnt that majority of them may soon become jobless following the award of a contract for the construction of a bridge by the Federal Government.
This figure includes boats and ferry operators, boat makers, repairers, food vendors and other services providers.
While some members of the community who have been yearning for a bridge over the years received the news of the contract with happiness, those who are engaged in ferrying people and goods across the river are expressing fear that 80 per cent of them would lose their means of livelihood if the bridge is constructed.
Musa Abubakar, who owns an engine boat, told Daily Trust Saturday that everyone in the community was happy that there would soon be a bridge over the river. He, however, added that everything in life has positive and negative sides; hence, those who are taking advantage of the absence of a bridge to earn a living would be affected.
Abubakar said his means of livelihood would also be affected if a bridge is constructed across the river as he had been in the business of ferrying people and goods, not only across the river but to other towns within and outside Taraba State.
According to him, he took over the business from his father, who died about 10 years ago. He has been in the business for the past 30 years. He said he started the business when he was very young.
Findings by Daily Trust Saturday revealed that there are more than 150 engine boats, 400 canoes and other vessels used in water transport in Ibi town.
Apart from owners of boats, other people of the town who earn a living through this business include loaders, food vendors, carpenters who engage in building the boats, mechanics who repair engines on the boats, among others.
Further findings revealed that over 3,000 people and more than 100 vehicles are ferried across the river on a daily basis. They move from Ibi to Makurdi, Yola, Dampar, Lau Jibu, Mala, Chinkai and other towns located along River Benue and other rivers within and outside Taraba State.
It was also learnt that annually, millions of naira are generated through water transportation.
The secretary of the Water Transporters Association in Ibi, Mallam Hassan Baba Maito, told our correspondent that apart from his community, people from southern Taraba, Plateau, Bauchi and Nasarawa states had been yearning for a bridge across the river.
He also said the local port in Ibi was one of the busiest in terms of passengers and goods because the area serves as a shortcut to Adamawa, Gombe, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and other states, as well as Cameroon.
He added that when constructed, the bridge would make the movement of people and goods from the area easy, but it would affect the business of water transporters.
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“Once a bridge is constructed, the business of ferrying people and goods across the river will stop and those earning a living through water transportation will have to look for other alternatives,” Maito said.
He appealed to the Federal Government and the Taraba State Government to assist members of his association by giving them employment or empowering them with funds to set up businesses.
An indigene of Ibi, Alhaji Dauda Yahaya, said the issue of those who would be affected by the project was not necessary because the bridge would make the movement of millions of people and goods easy and alleviate their suffering.
A traditional leader in Ibi, Alhaji Abubakar Danbawuro, told Daily Trust Saturday that the entire community was happy with the expected bridge project, adding that it would bring development in the state and its environs.