There are four river ports in Nigeria, they are at different stages of abandonment or completion. They are in Lokoja in Kogi State; Baro in Niger State; Onitsha in Anambra State and Oguta in Imo State.
While two of the river ports, that is Onitsha and Baro have reportedly been completed, the Oguta and Lokoja have largely been abandoned by the contractors. This is despite government intervention of about N13.65 billion. From investigations, works on Lokoja and Oguta river ports have virtually been abandoned.
The now-sad story of river ports in Nigeria started when ex-President Shehu Shagari was told about the viability of building one in Anambra state, the Onitsha River port was conceived and funds were allocated. Shortly after, the second Republic was truncated and the Ontsah dream died. Then, came former President Goodluck Jonathan who attempted to revive it, when in 2012 he approved N4.6billon for the ports rehabilitation. Rehabilitation was done and for more than seven years, its concession remains inconclusive.
The Lokoja river port was awarded in 2011/2012 at a cost of N4, 112,346,572.26 to Inter Bau Construction Ltd, and was expected to be completed in 57 weeks.
The Oguta river port in Imo State was also awarded at the same time to Scott Amede Engineering Ltd for a fee of N2, 743,625,787.15. Also the Baro River port in Niger State was awarded at a cost of N2, 563,499,248.00 by the Federal Executive Council to a Chinese company, Messrs CGGC Global Project.
Sadly, while government is prevaricating on concessioning of the Onitsha ports, the multi-Billion Naira equipment that had been procured are decaying away. Similarly, the Baro river port had been completed, but there is no access road. No government official is talking about Oguta and Lokoja ports.
Contractors were mobilised to the tune of about N800Miilio, yet another was mobilised, yet nothing has come out of it.
By its enabling Act, all river ports are under the purview of the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA), with headquarters in Lokoja.
It smirks of nonchalance for NIWA to have failed to put the ports in Onitsha and Baro to use. How can anyone exonerate NIWA from the complicity, if about seven years after its completion, the very strategic Onitsha port has not been concessioned and put to use? Equally if all that is required of Baro is access roads, didn’t NIWA know that the river port needs to have road and even rail links to be useful?
Even now that Government has suddenly woken up to the need to concession Onitsha river port, there have been stories of double standard. There are conflicts of interests among officials of both NIWA and the supervisory Ministry of Transportation.
It is becoming quite glaring that the concession of Onitsha River Port is being highly politicised. In the emerging story, three parties are locked in battle for the deal. On one side is a company that is backed by the host state Government (Anambra), there is a company in which business mogul (Alhaji Aliko Dangote) reportedly has interest. And finally, there is a company that has already been shortlisted as the preferred bidder.
By its attitude towards actualising the dreams of these river ports, it appears that the Government is not serious about them. The river ports were meant to open up the hinterland to commerce while reducing the pressure of the conventional ports.
Among all the river ports, it is the one in Onitsha that is most strategic and viable; no wonder the bigwigs in business are interested, and they have compromised officials of government at both the Ministry of Transportation and at NIWA.
At least three of the river ports are all located along the Niger and Benue trough. With her massive coastal stretch and for the purpose of harnessing her maritime potential, the Federal Government should take advantage of these ports to boost the nation’s intermodal system of transportation.
The quantum of businesses that would have been ignited if these river ports are functioning is phenomenal.