Steve Agbota, [email protected]
Over the years, all four river ports in Onitsha, Oguta, Baro and Lokoja have remained obsolete and in very poor conditions thus jeopardising their use.
But before the present administration, contracts were awarded and several billions of Naira released for the construction and rehabilitation of these river ports across the country.
Despite government intervention and promises, the river ports, which are supposed to complement the road in movement of passengers and haulage of cargoes across the country, have continued to be abandoned.
The river ports are bedeviled with several challenges ranging from bad roads, dilapidated infrastructure, and high level of vandalism and contractors are not committed to several projects awarded to them at these ports.
For instance, when George Moghalu was appointed as the Managing Director of the Nigerian Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) on October 3, 2019, he expressed worry over the state of work several years after the N5 bilion contract was awarded to Inter Bau Construction Limited to construct Lokoja port together with the Baro Port, even when the Baro Port had long been completed.
He, however, promised that the Federal Government would take steps to engage the contractors and relevant stakeholders to revive the project.
Interestingly, the port is very important to the socio-economic development of the country. The local community and Kogi, which is the host state, would equally benefit from the effective operation of the port.
Conversely, Baro River Port, which is considered the flagship port of the Northern part of the country, has its access road from the Gegu Express way in Kogi State unmotorable and needed urgent rehabilitation by the Federal Government for the project to be of any economic value.
To bring out the economic benefits of river ports, since Moghalu assumed office, he has promised to revive the abandoned river ports and complete all ongoing projects by visiting all the ports and begin moves to resuscitate and ensure work ability of the ports.
He, however, promised to complete all viable and justifiable projects embarked upon by the previous head of the Authority as long as they conform to due process and the Act establishing NIWA.
According to him, the overall policy objectives of NIWA was to transform the inland waterways to make them not just economically viable but also to provide a safe, reliable and alternate transport system to ease the problem of transportation and movement of goods across the country.
He added: “This places on us a huge responsibility from which so much is expected. Inland waterways system is a critical component of the national freight system, particularly for movement of bulk commodities.”
To make the ports economic viable, Moghalu visited all the projects embarked upon by the Authority. Speaking when he visited the Onitsha River Port, Moghalu pledged that NIWA would revive the abandoned Onitsha Port Terminal and make it viable for operators and users. He said the Authority planned to make more waterways navigable to facilitate marine transportation across the country.
“In view of the growing transportation needs particularly in moving bulk commodities, our country dearly needs diversification and development of its critical infrastructure in the area of waterways transportation,” he said.
The NIWA boss said reviving marine transportation would facilitate movement of people and goods across the country, adding that the pressure on roads and carnage associated with road transportation would be reduced if Inland Waterways were made navigable all year round.
He stated: “Nigeria has about 10, 000 kilometers of inland waterways which cut across 28 states, but only 3, 000 kilometers are navigable all year round. If we can activate more waterways, and water transport becomes more viable, government will earn more revenue, pressure on our roads will be reduced too.”
Moghalu, however, expressed concern over the poor state of the Onitsha Port Terminal, which was constructed in 1912 and inaugurated 1913. He expressed government’s commitment towards reviving the port terminal.
The NIWA boss further said that making the port functional would reduce pressure on other port terminals accross the country.
When he visited the Baro Port, commissioned about a year ago by the present goverment, he said he would engage the Federal Ministry of Works and the Niger State government on the rehabilitation and complete construction of its road. During his familiarisation tour, he identified the need to partner the private sector to ensure its viability, saying, “it was the importance I gave to the project that made me visit the port as my first choice.”
The MD further stated that he was ready to partner with all government agencies, local and state governments and the private sector to make sure that Baro Port becomes functional and create wealth for Baro community and Niger State people.
His words: “I promise to discuss the issue of the road with both Niger State and the Federal Government and I assure you that the locals will be given priority when the port becomes fully operational. The railway lines at Baro will be brought back to life as he promised to visit the port again because of the importance of the port to the country.
Since the waterways hold great potential, all hands must be on deck to develop and improve our waterways. We are going to encourage the private sector to key into the industry.”
On his visit to the Oguta River Port in Imo State, he also decried the level of abandonment and disrepair. On the project, he said that the Federal Government had spent huge sums of money on the project only for it to be abandoned.
He also expressed anger on the level of vandalisation of the project awarded in 2009 by late President Umar Yar’adua. He attributed the activities of the vandals to the insecurity nature of the premises of the port, which he said was not fenced.
Although he pointed out that resources to complete the project might be limited, he promised that the Federal Government would endeavour to see the project completed in a short time.
Said he: “The level of vandalisation is disturbing because it was left for a very long time; I am not happy it is not fenced; we are aware that resources might not be available to continue the project, but we promise to see what we can do to complete it.
“We are also not happy with the quality of work done by the contractor, money expended should be justified; we would make a case for fund even though we know a lot has been spent; we plead with the traditional rulers and members of the community to see the project as their own; they must help government to protect it.”