Eromosele Abiodun writes that the Baro River Port project in Niger State will enhance intermodal transportation connectivity in the country
Inland waterways are made up of navigable rivers, lakes, coastal creeks, lagoons and canals. The movement of goods and services along inland waterways is one of the oldest means of transporting goods and services from point to point.
This is largely due to the fact that inland water transport offers the most economical, energy efficient and environmental friendly means of transporting all types of cargo from place to place. It also offers safer and cheaper rates in areas where water exist naturally.
This facilitates commerce, promotes wealth creation, poverty alleviation, and creates job opportunities for youths within such regions. The ancillary sector of boat building industry also generates employment through active engagement of the youths in welding and fabrication process.
Despite the immense benefit to the economy, inland water transport in Nigeria has had a long history of neglect by both government and the private sector.
Little efforts were made to develop inland water transport facilities prior to the 1980s. This stems largely from policy inconsistency, limited private sector involvement, and conflicts between and among agencies involved in the management of inland water transport in Nigeria.
Since the 1990s, however, the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) has taken a number of initiatives, including capital and infrastructure improvement, channels dredging and maintenance and installation of safety facilities to turn the sector around.
Industry watchers and analysts have argued that with efficient control systems, the Nigerian Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) could function appropriately to make economic fortunes.
Their arguments, no doubt, stem from the efficient operations of the Inland Waterways Transportation of the United States (US) with about 25,000 nautical miles, out of which 12,000 miles have been commercialised and maintained by the government.
The American inland, intra-coastal and coastal waterways and channels, available statistics reveal, accommodates about 3,008 businesses and 24,908 employees as well as makes a whopping N8 billion dollars annually.
More than 60 per cent of America’s grain exports, about 22 per cent of domestic petroleum products and 20 per cent of the coal used in electricity generation is ferried via America’s water transportation system.
The Nigerian Situation
This is, however, not the case in Nigeria. For years, the growth of water transport and other ancillary businesses have been impeded by numerous obstacles, chiefly the battle for control.
Virtually all the state governments with this geographical advantage are engaged in subtle regulatory or supremacy battle with the federal government.
The situation thereby flouts the dictates of the law, court rulings and as such cause distraction to major stakeholders in the industry.
Nigeria has 36 states plus the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) owing a land area of 924000skm with an estimated population of about 170 million. The country is blessed with a coastline of about 870km and about 3000kilometer of inland waterways. Nigeria currently has six major ports (Tincan Island, Apapa, Warri, Port Harcourt, Onne and Calabar) and 10 crude oil terminals (Escarvos, Bonny, Sapele, Forcados, Tuma, Okrika, FOT, etc).
Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) official statistics showed that traffic into the major ports excluding tankers was estimated at appropriately 35, 000 vessels per annum and overall cargo throughout (excluding crude) was 222.23 million tons. The total number of passengers who patronises the sea ports is estimated at 35000 per annum. Statistics from NPA indicates that 4070 vessels with 121,350,844GRT visited Nigeria in the year 2000 alone, having an overall cargo throughout at 28,859,274 million tons.
Sequentially, container traffic at major ports was 119,458 (outwards) and 204,299 (inwards); however, several other ports dotted along the 300km of inland waterways includes Onitsha, Oguta, Opobo, Lokoja, Baro, Jebba etc. Nigeria being major oil producing and exporting country records about 2,000 petroleum tanker vessels calling at her ports annually, with an average tanker size of about 95000.
Industry analysts therefore wonder why the federal and states government cannot take advantage of the huge opportunity in the sector to create jobs.
“Pause and reflect on the import and export statistics in terms of numerous trade opportunities and the never- ending operations on the Nigerian coastal ways nationwide. Such transport or activities over waterways is especially effective when the source and/or destination are a water front location, which is a main infrastructural advantage that regularly needed to be trained, maintained and upgraded, of which Nigeria is specially blessed with such infrastructure as waterways unlike the hinterland states. The Nigeria inland waterways operations and management has long since time immemorial been in service but are yet to meet with her states expectation seeing the various natural features on ground as tools to facilitate its operations. Nigeria aspires to be amongst the top 20 largest economies by the year 2020 according to the economics policy at vision 2020.
And successful operations and management of the inland waterways by the actual implementation at the enacted cabotage laws in Nigeria are critical to the success or otherwise of the plan because of the indispensible role shipping plays in not just the movement of goods and services around the country and the revenues collected as tax from the various actors in the sector,” said an industry watcher.
Cabotage Act Impact
Experts also believe the effective implementation of the Cabotage Act will catalyse the growth and development of the transportation sector and reduce the over dependence of the nation on road transportation operations and its consequent damage of the roads since the collapse of the railway system in Nigeria.
Others believe the growth of the sector is expected when the dredging activities on in the nation’s inland waterways are concluded.
“However, the initiatives and strategies forecasted for the future still does not move a foot if the problem of enforcement geometrically progresses due to the infallible and unchangeable management governing the corridors of power in this sector, seeing actually that most of them still lack the rudimentary understanding of its existence and likewise its operationality,” said the industry analyst.
Baro Port Inauguration
Meanwhile, all hope is not lost if the effort made by the new management of NIWA to develop the sector is anything to go by. After months of talking, a major step was talking towards the revolution of inland waterways transport in the country with the inauguration of Baro Port in Niger State. The inauguration of the Baro River Port came coming after the NIWA successfully concessioned Onitsha, Oguta and Lokoja river ports. Speaking at the event, President Muhammadu Buhari expressed personal and sentimental attachment to the Baro River Port project, indicating his satisfaction that a port complex he assisted in its design when he was the Petroleum Special Task Force (PTF) chairman was finally actualised and inaugurated under his charge.
The project is popularly recognised in Niger State as the people’s ‘gate-way’ towards economic liberation and massive employment, generally designed, to enhance intermodal transportation connectivity in the country.
Specifically, Buhari promised that his administration would do far much more, if re-elected into office during the forthcoming elections, for the overall success of the port, beyond the rehabilitation of roads leading to Baro River Port and its environs.
He was particularly glad that the port would reduce pressure of big trucks off the nation’s roads, create huge employment opportunities for Nigerians, and help decongest other similar ports in the country.
Also speaking, the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi commended President Buhari for directing all his ministers to focus and complete all abandoned projects of the past, of which Baro River Port happened to be one of them.
In his welcome remarks, the Managing Director, NIWA, Senator Olorunnimbe Mamora thanked Buhari for personally inaugurating the Baro River Port Complex, noting that the port was indeed, the first colonial port in the country.
Emphasising his joy that the new port was completed under this present administration, he described the port as a veritable outlet to ensure transportation of goods, services and passengers in the country, pointing out that the Port will also help in the creation of intermodal transportation system across the country.
He was essentially happy that the port would facilitate socio-cultural relationships, commerce, trade and Agricultural development.
“The Baro River Port was built by Chinese firm (CGCC Global Project Nigeria Limited) at total cost of N6 billion and fully equipped with a Mobile Harbour Crane, Transit shed, Administrative block, fire hydrant system, water treatment plant, Reach stacker, 100KVA power generating set, and three numbers forklifts of various tonnages. Presently, the Onitsha River Port has already been rehabilitated while Oguta and Lokoja River Ports were in their final stages of completion,” he said.
Marina, Ido River Ports
Meanwhile, aside the four river ports across the country currently at the stage of inauguration, the federal government has concluded arrangements to convert two major jetties in Lagos, Ido and Marina to river ports to facilitate the movement of cargo from Apapa ports to other part of the country.
The former Acting Managing Director of National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA), Mr Danladi Ibrahim had in a chat with newsmen in Lagos late 2018 disclosed that the river ports which will be developed in collaboration with Chinese consortium and the federal government will be able to receive ocean going vessels.
Ibrahim said NIWA is working a plan to drive water transportation from Nigeria to Ghana and other West African countries.
Ibrahim listed the three other river ports as Lokoja in Kogi State, Makurdi in Benue State and Uguta in Imo State which are between 75 and 85 per cent completed.
He also said the concession of Onitsha Port had been completed and the concessionaires would soon start operation.
He said there was need for NIWA to continue to engage in continuous maintenance of all the channels under its jurisdiction.
According to him, the authority has been calling on international organisations to partner with it. Ibrahim said NIWA’s Bill which had been before the National Assembly for the past 10 years had passed second reading.
“This would help the organisation to be independent like other sister government agencies. The bill would increase the capacity of the authority and also create room for Public Private Partnership (PPP) and provide numerous jobs for unemployed Nigerians,”he said.
The NIWA boss said the agency had included the dredging of River Benue to complement the River Niger in its 2019 master plan.
He said the authority would start the dredging of Baro River soon adding that the dredging of Ajaokuta – Onitsha waterways is ongoing.
Specifically, he added, “NIWA will purchase barges for transshipment of bulk cargoes from Lagos ports to Onitsha and Baro ports.”
Ibrahim said NIWA was employing public private partnership (PPP) approach for its channel management with some foreign partners.