The accident happened near the village of Dundeji in Sokoto state
The accident happened near the village of Dundeji in Sokoto state AFP

Fifteen children drowned and 25 others were missing after their overloaded boat capsized on a river in northwest Nigeria, a local official said Wednesday.

The children were on their way from Dundeji village in Sokoto State to collect firewood in the bush on Tuesday on the other side of Shagari river when the boat sank, Aliyu Abubakar, local administrator of Shagari district, said.

"We woke up to a tragedy yesterday morning, where a boat carrying children capsized mid-river," Abubakar told AFP.

"Fifteen bodies, 13 girls and two boys, were recovered by local rescue teams and buried in the village," said the official, who supervised the rescue operation.

River accidents are frequent in Nigeria, often caused by overloading, poor maintenance, heavy flooding in rainy season and disregard of safety regulations.

Divers had been working the Shagari river since late on Tuesday searching for more of the children.

"I'll only pray for the repose of those who lost their lives and may Allah give their parents the fortitude to bear the loss because whoever loses his loved one has no other choice," Mohammed Yello Abubakar, a relative of a missing child and boatman on the Shagari river.

In April last year, 29 children from nearby Gidan Magana village in Sokoto drowned in the same river when their vessel capsized while they were also on their way to fetch firewood for their families.

During massive flooding in the rainy season last December, at least 76 people drowned when their boat went down in a swollen river in southeast Anambra State.

In one of the country's worst river disasters in May 2021, only 20 people were rescued and more than 150 went missing when a boat transporting people to market broke apart while travelling between Kebbi and Niger states.

River transport and market trade are common in Nigeria, where roads are often poor. The Niger, West Africa's main river flowing through Guinea to Nigeria's Niger Delta, is a key local trade route.