After huge spending, the Federal Government has said that river ports in the country are waste of public funds because they are not feasible for business, BAYO AKOMOLAFE reports
Despite the economic benefits taunted by the government, the river ports being constructed in some parts of the country by the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) have remained dormant after huge cost. The ports are major positions of interface between the riverine communities, voyagers, shipping companies and the general public to boost the economy in view of the abundant mineral and agricultural resources available in some parts of the country.
For instance, there are such ports in Onitsha, Baro, Lokoja and Oguta. Onitsha River Port in Anambra State was constructed at the cost of N4billion, while Baro Port in Niger State was put in place with N6billion. The port is equipped with mobile harbour cranes, transit sheds, administrative blocks, fire hydrant systems, water treatment plants, reach stackers, 100KVA power generating sets and forklifts of various tonnages. Built in 2013, Onitsha River Port was handed over to the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC) for concession by NIWA in order to save shippers about N100 billion annually from the costs incurred on cargo clearance at the Lagos seaports. However, till date, no concessionaire was appointed to manage it as some of its facilities are rusting daily. Similarly, ever since the Baro Port was commissioned by the Federal Government, no activity has taken place due to bad road leading to the port. The rport was constructed to boost commerce in the northern part of the country but the access road leading to it from the Gegu express way in Kogi State is not motorable because of neglect by the government. It was learnt that Baro Port contract was first awarded in 2011 at a cost of N2.56billion by the Federal Executive Council to a Chinese company, CGGC Global Project; but it was inflated to N6 billion because of delay. The port was expected to create at least 2,000 direct jobs and hundreds of thousands indirect jobs when its contract was awarded.
The Chairman, Committee on Ports, Harbours and Waterways , Dr. Pat Asadu, had said that NIWA was misleading the public about the proposed concession of Onitsha River Port. He alleged that the authority never wanted the port to work, especially when there was nothing to show for the huge sums of money claimed to have been spent on the port.
For instance, before Rotimi Amaechi was appointed the Minister of Transport, a former Managing Director of NIWA, Senator Olorunnibe Mamora, had said that Baro port would be put into use. He said: “We would not allow what happened to Onitsha river port to happen to Baro.” Mamora said that government would soon repair the roads, adding that the contract for the rehabilitation of the road had been awarded. He noted that cargoes could be evacuated with badges at the port to other states but up till now no activities at the various ports. Worried by the challenges of viable river ports in the country, Amaechi said that the construction of ports across the country’s rivers was a waste of public funds as they were not viable projects.
For instance, eight years after its commissioning, Onitsha Port has not served the purpose it was meant to serve. Similarly, the minister explained that the multi-billion naira Baro River Port was yet to commence operation two years after its commissioning by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Amaechi said that if the lower River Niger was not dredged, no vessel would be able to sail to Baro port. According top him:m, “I had this conversation with my friend, Senator Goje about the viability of the river ports that we have including Onitsha, Baro, Lokoja and Oguta river ports and I felt that it was a waste of funds. The reason is that for you to have those river ports functional, you must have to dredge River Niger. “For now, even if you dredge, it is still 2.5 to 3 metres draft, which determines the vessel that can go there and the minimum you can have is a six-metre vessel. There is absolutely no vessel that will come in there at 2.5 to 3 metres draft.” Ameachi wondered how many times the barge would be able to move those cargoes to Baro either from Warri or Port Harcourt port since Lagos is too far He noted:“For the man who imports through Lagos or Port Harcourt, if he puts it on a train, he arrives the same day, and there is no issue of insecurity unlike the man who has taken the cargo from Port Harcourt seaport to Baro by barge. “They wanted the port constructed, so we completed it. My responsibility is to construct a Baro port and I have constructed it. As Minister, I did engage the public that these are the problems we will face when we finish this Baro port.”
Government should encourage water transportation in the country in order to ease the roads of gridlock.