By Ojo Maduekwe
Dredging is the removal of sediments and debris from the bottom of the sea, lakes, rivers, harbors, and other water bodies. It is a routine necessity in waterways around the world because sedimentation-the natural process of sand and silt washing downstream – gradually fills channels and harbors. Dredging often is focused on maintaining or increasing the depth of navigation channels, anchorages, or berthing areas to ensure the safe passage of boats and ships. Vessels require a certain amount of water in order to float and not touch bottom. This water depth continues to increase over time as larger and larger ships are deployed and thus deeper dredging is required. Since massive ships carry the bulk of the goods imported into Nigeria, dredging plays a vital role in the nation’s economy.
Rivers, canals and creeks in excess of 10,000 kilometres make up what are collectively the waterways in Nigeria, out of which some 3,800 kilometers are navigable seasonally. This is aside the 850 kilometers of coastal waters of the Atlantic that runs through the southwest/south-south belt. Twenty eight of Nigeria’s 36 states are accessible through water.
The Rivers Niger and Benue constitute the major channels for inland navigation which include but not limited to the Cross River, Port Novo/Badagry-Lagos waterways, Lekki and Lagos Lagoons, Ogun-Ondo waterways, Benin River, Escravos Channel, Nun River, Imo River, Orashi River, Ethiope River, Ugwuta Lake, Lake Chad and the numerous creeks in the Niger Delta. Although the Niger and its largest tributary, the Benue are the two longest rivers respectively, the most used waterways, especially by larger powered boats and for commerce, are found in the Niger Delta and all along the coast from the Lagos Lagoon to Cross River.
The need for dredging Nigeria’s principal waterways for economic benefits has never been lost on government and has long been a part of the government’s development agenda, dating back to the 1960s development plans. Although no action was taken on dredging for over four decades, government’s award in 2009 of a 36 billion naira dredging contract of the lower Niger River from Baro in Niger State to Warri, Delta State, marked a significant milestone in Nigeria’s waterways management. With removal of silt covering a distance of 572 km, which was completed in late 2016, the Niger dredging set the pace for government to begin planning for dredging of the Benue and other important rivers in tow.
As river silting is a natural phenomenon, maintenance and capital dredging of the type of the Niger is not an end in itself, but only a means to an end. This is because rivers require continuous maintenance dredging to remain navigable and productive. Besides navigation, other advantages accruing from continuous dredging of Nigeria’s waterways include curtailment of seasonal flooding which has so far ravaged 27 out of the 36 states of the country this year 2018 alone, leaving displacement of households, destruction and death of scores of citizens in its trail. With continuous dredging of the waterways, these seasonal heavy floodings will be minimized.
Secondly, continuous dredging of the waterways for navigability will cause goods to be transported to island settlements located deep away from the Atlantic in ever larger quantities, thereby stimulating trade and engendering inclusive growth and economic development of riverine settlements. With the current revolution in the oil and gas downstream sector, where lots of private modular refineries are being proposed for siting in the Niger Delta creeks, accessing the refineries by tanker vessels can only be effective with continuous dredging of the waterways.
Towards this end, the Nigerian Government recently awarded the Dredging of the Escravos Channel to Dredging International Services Nigeria Ltd (DISN),an experienced dredging company that has been a global provider of marine and water way solutions since 1991. The company has successfully delivered turn-key port, marine, land reclamation and waterways dredging projects for various clients in Nigeria.
This continuous Dredging works will by all means aid the growth and development of cabotage trade vessels which Nigerians have been clamoring for to stimulate internal maritime traffic and generate needed employment for youths through thousands of seafarers’ employment and the creation of new commercial activities.
Also, dredging helps to contain more waters in river channels which become useful for irrigation during the dry season. This is a great aid to farming.
furthermore, continuous maintenance dredging provides added tool for Maritime security.
Last but not least, continuous dredging of the waterways has the potential for boosting water tourism because the waterways tend to be safer for passenger ferries when they have depth. So there is indeed an urgent need for Government and the Private sector to invest more in opening up the water ways across the country, as this will definitely lead to the opening up of new opportunities for millions of citizens all over Nigeria.