By Obasi Igwe
Thanks greatly, Chief Ogbuagu Anikwe, for your rich and popular writings, such as the above-titled of 7 July 2022. By your grace, some of us, out of felt obligation, not of any magisterial wisdom, are occasionally compelled to react lest others are inadvertently misled. We must continue to arm the present and future generations with the requisite knowledge and competence for when Nigeria decides to transform from today’s orchestrated poverty into a powerhouse of peace and accelerated development for the good of all citizens.
There is too much dishonesty and deceit in government since mid-2015. The “Onitsha River Port” is one of such open deceits on display.
The Igbo and other Easterners appreciate using the Lagos ports. However, for many related reasons including distance, they prefer those in their homes and backyards. Eastern industrialists and businessmen – as well as those in the Middle Belt, parts of the Northcentral and Northwest – need Port Harcourt, Bonny and Opobo coastal ports modernized. They also need the Brass-Nembe, Ibaka deep sea, Calabar and Bakassi parallels rehabilitated, together with multi-modal road, rail, air, riparian, and cyber linkages. A spiritual/cultural re-linkage of these ports to the interior would re-trigger the industrialization of the Eastern half of the country right up to the Northeast via Benue state.
Modernizing the Eastern ports will create more poles of development in addition to the Western and Northwestern by curtailing Eastern out-migration, significantly reducing demographic and inter-ethnic pressures, and escalating overhead and other costs of development in the West. All of this in turn would further fast-forward the pace of progress of our Western and Northwestern compatriots. The Eastern ports, especially Port Harcourt would in addition massively commit our youths to peaceful employments and the optimal realization of their potentials, which would in effect promote security nation-wide, while significantly reducing tensions.
To a good extent, President Buhari cannot be blamed. Southerners, including the Igbo and Middle Belters had been in government at various levels, but either did not know what was good for the peoples or cared more about their selfish concerns. Diverting to “Onitsha River Port” when there are coastal and better Eastern ports to utilize makes little economic sense. This could be viewed as a needless exhibition of animosity towards a section of the country.
Since antiquity, when they were still in near natural states, the Onitsha, like the Asaba, Aboh, Azumini, Oguta, Afikpo and other river ports have always served the Igbo in a complimentary capacity, same as inland ports of other coastal nationalities. They never at any time equalled the tonnage and other capacities, or replaced the coastal ports of Port Harcourt, Bonny and Opobo. Under its present highly deteriorated conditions, any further talk of, or “investment” in a so-called Onitsha River Port is a planned obsolescence and organized failure. This is the reality, until after a much longer time when bigger resources and more advanced scientific ideas and engineering emerge.
It is also a monumental corruption to embark upon a project, knowing full well that it would fail. It is no more news that the government does everything except the right thing. Unfortunately, it is the Igbo subjects in particular, other Easterners next, followed by Middle Belters, who endure most of the needless vengeance of policy advisers. Since mid-2015, the instances are too numerous to recount. Right now, there is in the National Assembly a reintroduced Water Resources bill that had several times been priorly rejected.
With all the zigzagging along the route, Onitsha is almost 300 kilometers to the coast, ending in case of Brass-Nembe with scattered bits of small streams, swamps, marshes, and rivulets that creek-men even casually stroll across. In some respects, movement to Warri is even worse. Only a very minute fraction of the money needed to dredge these tortuous and terrible distances, would be required to dredge and modernize the Opobo-Azumini/Imo River, and the Bonny channel down to Igweocha (Port Harcourt). Each of these ports is about thirty kilometers to Igboland!
President Buhari can certainly invent the political will to make this singular move to return development to the Igbo and East instead of the hype around a “2nd Niger Bridge”, whose significant role is only to simplify the out-migration, depopulation and impoverishment of the Igbo and others. The federal government should put an end to the search for an Igbo man who would agree to be a concessionaire of an “Onitsha River Port” that cannot function, just to make it appear that the Igbo too have been concessioned a “port.”
All the way from its Senegal source, overpopulation, refuse-dumping and other misuse, ill-constructed dams, and global warming have contributed to drain the River Niger. Thus, if dredged, where shall the water be found to obtain the approximately fifteen meter draught needed to land a moderately-sized craft at Onitsha? Noticeably, since this government started to unfold its goals, some federal government officials hardly utter the word “Port Harcourt” again. It offends their sensibilities. They would call other ports by name but Eastwards, they invented a lexicon, “Rivers ports”, and then reluctantly, Calabar and others – no sign of even Brass-Nembe, and the others. This primitive psychology aids nothing and should not go on in a new Nigeria.
Traditionally, Bonny is the major gateway to the Igbo hinterland and a feeder port to Port Harcourt. The two are like Siamese twins. Now, however, the two seem surgically separated. The former is outsourced to continue providing wealth for Nigeria and the outside world while poverty reign in the Rivers State and beyond because Port Harcourt practically lies dormant. At the same time, everyone’s attentions are being diverted to a great “Port at Onitsha”, with barges regularly clumsily dragged to offload “containers”, to prove that shallow inland waterways are working, and that the Igbo also have a “port” concessioned them.
These activities are strange things taken too far!
Returning Port Harcourt and other Eastern ports to their former or greater glory, and “concessioning” them to the locals will benefit the country more, especially the Eastern half up to Lake Chad. There are a few other things that Mr. President can do for the Igbo and other Easterners as important as restoring these coastal ports. He certainly cannot afford to be seen to have anything against those he called “dot”, and certainly not the “chosen” ones outside it who would be the immediate beneficiaries of reopening and modernizing the Eastern ports, starting with Port Harcourt. This is where genuine Igbo/Eastern leaders should focus upon, not the lies, deceits, manipulations, and corruptions called “Onitsha River Port.”
Thanks greatly, Chief Ogbuagu Anikwe.
•Prof Obasi Igwe is of the Department of Political Science, University of Nigeria, Nsukka.