By Oluyinka Onigbinde
In stark contrast to their intended purpose as bustling hubs of commerce and economic activity, findings by Shipping Position Daily have revealed that Nigeria’s river ports have idle with the facilities gathering dust and devoid vessels, despite multi-billion naira invested in them.
Our correspondent gathered that the river ports located in some parts of the country are worth over N150 billion, but are struggling to attract maritime traffic, and are largely deserted.
For instance, the Onitsha River Port in Anambra state, which was commissioned in 2013 after a whooping N30 billion had been invested remains largely inactive, with only a handful of barges occasionally gracing the facilities.
Similarly, our correspondent gathered that the Baro River Port in Niger state, with an investment exceeding N17 billion faces a similar fate, failing to live up to expectations as a bustling hub for shipping and trade.
Also, the Lokoja river port in Kogi state, despite gulping about N14 billion ($33 million) in investment, still remains idle and no vessel calls at the port.
These developments have made stakeholders to question why these investments have not translated into the anticipated economic benefits.
Lamenting the state of the river ports, a former Executive Secretary of Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC); Barr. Hassan Bello in an exclusive chat with our correspondent, blamed the shallow draft of the river ports for their underperformance, while also blaming lack of regulation as reasons for the failed state of the river ports.
He said, “One major reason the river ports are not functioning is that the rivers are not navigable. The rivers are shallow, uncharted and devoid of navigable aids. River transport as valuable as it is, is largely unregulated”.
Speaking further, he asked: “Do you know the contributions of The Mississippi River to the US economy? So much here, we are not serious, river ports must be integrated into the larger transport space with coordination and integration and flow”
Bello noted that all the three types of ports in the country which includes the Seaports, Inland Dry Ports, and the River ports have defied change, with the port reforms abandoned.
“There are three types of ports, seaport, river ports and inland (dry) ports. All are under- performing, the seaport economy which is the foremost has been plagued by lack of regulation and lack of competition (intra and international terminal). Our ports have defied change and the port reforms were paused, almost abandoned, and n ranking of terminals” he lamented.
Defending reasons the river ports in the country have remained dormant, the Nigeria Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) the supervising agency for these river ports blamed the state of roads leading to the port, while also informing that NIWA only has four river ports under its supervision, explaining that some of the river port have been concessioned on a Public Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement.
In a chat with our correspondent, the Head, Corporate Affairs, NIWA, Jibril Dar’dau, explained that: “As for Onitsha river port, it has been concessioned since last year to Universal Elysium Consortium. It is all over the news that we signed the agreement for 30 years for them to be in charge of the port. Until after 30 years before the port will come back to NIWA”.
He also affirmed that, “the Baro river port has been completed and commissioned by former President Buhari since 2019, but it has not been functioning due to the fact that there are road challenges leading to it. The road leading to the port is not there and NIWA has been making efforts to liaise with the Minister of Works to construct roads that will link up the port to the city, so that has been on the pipeline”.
“But the port is completed and it is of international standard, but if the private sector should carry their goods via water to that port, then they cannot evacuate such goods to the cities, because there are no roads, also right now the port is undergoing concessioning process, he added.
The third port is Lokoja river port which is under construction. And the fourth one, which is the last one, is Oguta river port which is also under construction” he said.