Stanley Uzoaru (Owerri) and David Onwuchekwa (Nnewi)
Not many knew that Osemoto in Oguta Local Government Area of Imo State was slave trade point courtesy of the Orashi River used as a shipping point during the era of slave trade.
Traditional ruler of Osemoto autonomous community, Eze Franklin Okafor, who disclosed this to Daily Sun, noted that when the obnoxious trade was abolished and replaced by palm produce business, the Oguta River Port became a beehive of activities. It had trading companies like the Lever Brothers and John Holts using vessels to export the produce to Europe.
Many years after the collapse of the palm trade, the Federal Government decided to build inland waterways, dredging and getting the port ready to transport goods to other parts of the world. The administration of former President Umar Musa Yar’adua awarded the contract to an indigene of the community, Chief Gogo Nwakuche, in 2009. However, the monarch said the project was abandoned two years later, when former President Goodluck Jonathan was sworn in.
A regent of the community and junior brother to Eze Okafor, Prince Henry Okafor attributed the abandonment of the port to the elevation and redeployment of most of the managing directors that served at the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA).
He said: “It is as if it’s a routine thing, everybody who becomes the MD of NIWA is either elevated or redeployed. See the case of Senator Mamora and Mustapha Boss who became a minister and Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) respectively. Before they could properly settle down to handle the project, they are removed.”
Although, he also attributed the situation to non-availability of funds but argued that if the MDs were given a longer period; they would have sourced for funds to complete the project.
A youth leader from the community, Kelvin Nwaka, disagreed with Okafor, albeit slightly. He blamed the abandonment on non-inclusion of the project in the budget: “It would have been completed if it was captured in the Appropriation Act.”
Nevertheless, the recent appointment of Chief George Moghalu as MD, NIWA, has rekindled hope for the completion of the river port. During his maiden visit, he promised to ensure its completion but frowned at the level of vandalism of the river port. He was particularly angered by the insecurity of the premises, which he said paved way for the vandalism.
The level of rot at the premises, which has the administrative block, warehouse, jetty and other buildings, was monumental. The place was completely covered by weeds, with fallen roof, and other fittings of the buildings.
“I was not excited at what I saw today because a lot of money has been spent on the project, this place has been completely vandalised and there is no fence to prevent encroachment and vandalism. I am aware, resources might not be that available but we promise to see how we can source for funds to complete the project.
“I know the importance of this project to this community and the country as a whole, if it is completed it would boost the economy of Imo and the country”, Moghalu said. He also disclosed that plans were underway to dredge the river to enable it carry larger vessels.
With the completion of the Baro Port in Niger State and Onitsha Port, carrying of vessels to the Oguta Port will enhance the economy of the region. The project contractor, Gogo Nwakuche, linked the level of dilapidation to the long years of abandonment. He lauded government for its foresight in constructing the river port at Oguta.
While inspecting facilities at the Onitsha Port, Moghalu said effort would be made to see what could be done to resuscitate the port to boost economic and commercial activities in the East and generate revenues for government. Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Nnaemeka Achebe, described River Niger as an economic potential deposited in Igbo land, which should be well exploited for the benefit of all.
The MD later told stakeholders: “NIWA has the potential to be a big player in the economy of this country. It will be of our general benefit that we open the waterways. Today, everybody knows that we have over 10,000 kilometers of waterways and 3,600 kilometers are navigable. We have the challenges of opening up the channels.
“The waterways hold the potential to reduce the pressure on our roads, on the road infrastructure. The private sector is playing a role. I’m sure that if this is fixed, the load we have today in our ports would have been decongested”.
Anambra State Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Chief Basil Ejidike, expressed optimism that this would be an opportunity to make Onitsha Port functional for the benefit of Igbo businessmen and women and other Nigerians.