By Declan Emelumba
The airwaves have been agog with the cheering news that the Federal Government has given the approval for the dredging of the Orashi River to create access to the Atlantic Ocean through existing waterways. The cheery news was first revealed by Governor Hope Uzodimma on September 23, 2022, when he was accompanied by top naval officers on an inspection tour of the area through the Oguta Lake in Imo State.
Orashi River is part of the lower Niger Basin and a tributary of Oguta Lake in Imo State. The project entails that the waterways will be dredged at appropriate points and connected to the sea. This will open up the river for enhanced military operations and maritime trade activities. The project also has huge potential for the gas industrialization of Imo State because of its proximity to the huge gas deposits in the area. An analyst has already projected that the establishment of a free trade zone around the Orashi River for the purpose of exploiting the gas deposits could attract as much as $1.5 billion in investments.
This welcome development is coming soon after the Federal Government had approved the complete takeover of Alvan Ikoku College of Education, Owerri, as well as the conversion and upgrading of the Federal Medical Centre, Owerri, to a teaching hospital for training doctors by the Federal University of Technology, Owerri. These will add to the growing list of federal projects in Imo State, which includes a naval base located in Oguta. As significant as these projects may be, the dredging of Orashi River stands out as “the mother of all projects.”
It is, therefore, remarkable and commendable that these projects have all been attracted to Imo State by Uzodimma, who has been in office for barely three years. It is easy to imagine that Uzodimma could achieve these feats because he enjoys a cordial, harmonious and healthy relationship with the Federal Government. By so doing, he has so boldly demonstrated the wisdom and benefits inherent in the existence of a healthy relationship between the state government and the Federal Government.
Above all, Uzodimma must have the eyes for the kind of priority projects that will have the optimum impact on the socioeconomic development of the people of Imo State. Without doubt, the dredging of Orashi River represents a major milestone in the economic advancement of Imo State and, by extension, the entire southeastern Nigeria. This is, obviously, a significant boost to Uzodimma’s vision and determination to grow the economy of the state. As one commentator put it, the economic import of the dredging of Orashi River is immeasurable. And, although the economic significance of this project has been obvious for decades, it has taken the vision, tenacity and determination of the current governor of Imo State, His Excellency, Senator Hope Uzodimma, to push it across the line.
Already, preliminary work on the project, including topographic and hydrographic survey of the proposed route alignment, as well as environmental and social impact assessment studies, are ongoing.
In contrast to the largely positive response generated by the news of the dredging project, Uzodimma’s political opponents have typically gone to town to downplay the significance of the project. Some have gone as far as insinuating that the announcement is a campaign gimmick by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to attract votes from the South East. The main opposition party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), must be referring to their own gimmick, which they repeatedly tried with the second Niger Bridge and the Orashi River. But any discerning observer will agree that the presence of the Navy top brass at the briefing and the subsequent field inspection should serve as strong evidence that the dredging project is real. It is equally noteworthy that Uzodimma has pledged that the Federal Government will deliver on its promise. Uzodimma should be judged by his antecedents and track record of delivering on his promises, especially when it concerns federal projects in the state.
It is indeed remarkable that the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, which delivered the Second Niger Bridge, is on the threshold of delivering another landmark project in the heart of Igboland. For the avoidance of doubt, when this dredging is completed, businessmen and women in the South East would now have their goods delivered closer to them in the region without the need for them to go either to Port Harcourt or Lagos ports to pick them up. There is no doubt that the attendant economic growth in the five southeastern states will be unparalleled.
With direct access to the sea, an international airport in Enugu, a cargo airport in Owerri and a brand new Second Niger Bridge, the South East is set for an unprecedented economic boom that could position it as the local “Asian Tiger” of the nation.
Contrary to the fears of some people that the opening up the Orashi River will slow down economic activities in the existing ports, the dredging of the existing waterways from the South East to the sea would only enhance commercial activities at these ports. In actual fact, the colonial masters used Osemotor Ancient River Port at the bank of Oguta Lake to deliver and receive goods from the sea. The difference now is that those waterways that enabled trade to flourish along those trade roots have been blocked and need to be dredged. And for the sake of clarity, dredging the Orashi River as announced by Uzodimma, is not synonymous with building a seaport in Imo State.
Already, prominent Nigerians have applauded His Excellency, Senator Hope Uzodimma, for his doggedness in persuading the Federal Government to embark upon this all-important project.
There is no doubt that the governor leveraged on his excellent working relationship with the Federal Government to secure this approval, thus vindicating his stand that Ndigbo stand to gain more by being on the same page with the government at the centre. This also confirms the non-discriminatory distribution of federal projects by the administration of President Buhari.
Thus credit ultimately goes to President Buhari, who has demonstrated in words and deeds that he has nothing against Ndigbo and has continued to assist their state governments in the development of the South East. A case in point is the dredging of the Orashi River.
There is no doubt that history will remember Uzodimma as that leader with great visionary prowess whose tenure put Imo State and the South East on the solid road of economic growth and prosperity.
•Emelumba is commissioner for information and strategy, Imo State