Jeff Amechi Agbodo, Onitsha
The Federal Government’s recent promise to revamp the abandoned Onitsha River Port was greeted with wild jubilations as traders, importers, and indigenes of the commercial city look up to them to work the talk.
The Onitsha River Port was built in 1983 by the administration of Nigeria’s first Executive President, Alhaji Shehu Shagari; after which it remained fallow or practically underutilized until the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan in 2012 renovated and commissioned it, yet it was not made fully operational.
But there appears to be some glimmer of hope as Managing Director/CEO of the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA); Senator Olorunnimbe Mamora when he visited the port November last year, promised to make it work.
Three months after the visit; Mamora has also announced that the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi has approved the commencement of processes to declare and gazette the Onitsha River Port as port of origin and final destination that will give comfort to shippers.
He said that the move was part of Federal Government’s efforts to decongest Lagos Ports, extend shipping services to the hinterland, revitalize inland water transport and promote intermodal transportation connectivity in the country.
Mamora said that it would boost the image of NIWA, stimulate economic activities and encourage patronage of the Eastern Ports apart from enhancing the productivity and revenue drive of government.
Daily Sun gathered that skeletal activities were already taking place at the about 1.2 million TEU capacity port. The Port Manager; Mr. Baba Spencer who spoke on the viability of the port said that the facility was currently clearing containers that came by road through the Port Harcourt port.
He revealed that about 20 containers were cleared between January and this month by the customs service at the port, which according to him; is currently undergoing concession process that will see to its handover to a terminal operator once it is completed.
Spencer said that as a port of destination, containers or goods can leave any part of the world and be cleared in Onitsha once the destination is Onitsha River port, stressing that the river would be dredged to enable smaller vessels come into Onitsha from Lagos and Port Harcourt ports.
As cheering as the news might be; stakeholders said they would not celebrate until the project is realised because the promise could at best be mere political statement.
While commending the Federal Government for the move; President General of Bridgehead Market Traders Association, Onitsha; Chief Sunday Obinze urged them to expedite action to bring the port to fruition in no distant time.
“I was opportune to be among those who represented traders when former President Jonathan came to commission the place after which nothing was done, then few days to the election, they are telling us that they are doing this or that at the river port. So, am just seeing it as political game.
“Actually, an average trader wants that port to be functional; it will alleviate our problem going to Lagos and Port Harcourt to clear our goods. You know that about 75 per cent of goods that come into the country come to Anambra state and that is why they should make the River port viable so that the goods will be coming direct to Onitsha from where it will be cleared.
“We want the president to help us through the support of governor Willie Obiano is given to him to dredge the river Niger and make it working. Let them be real and not playing political game maybe after the election you won’t see them again, if they have good intention, it will alleviate the problem of the traders from clearing their goods from Lagos or Port Harcourt sea ports, the risk involved and the money involved”, Obinze said.
However, a native of Onitsha, Mr. Onochie Ozoma was optimistic that President Buhari will fulfil his promise to make the river port work just as he did to Zik’s mausoleum and the ongoing construction of second Niger Bridge.
He said the port when functional will boost the infrastructural development of Onitsha with the attendant spiral effect.
“There are the possibilities of securing job because the operation of Onitsha River port can give direct and indirect jobs to the people to the tune of seven to ten thousand people.
“The business activities would be thriving, commercial activities, buying and selling, trading and importation. It could develop into the possibility of evolving a free trade zone where people can bring in their products and then they get sort of assistance from banks and organizations that will help them to fine-tune product and export them”, Ozoma said.