Disquiet as Nigeria’s river ports remain idle

In Nigeria, none of the four river ports is functional despite government spending a whooping N13.65billion to resuscitate them.  ABIOLA Seun writes.

Unlike other developed countries that have a viable riverine ports, Nigeria river ports are the least developed and already in a sorry state despite huge government’s intervention.

For instance, in India, the Port of Kolkata is a riverine port in the city of Kolkata, India, located around 203 kilometres (126 mi) from the sea. It is the oldest operating port in India, and was constructed by the British East India Company.

At the turn of the century, the volume of throughput at the Indian River port increased steadily with the port  having capacity of processing annually 650,000 containers,  mostly from Nepal, Bhutan, and India’s north-eastern states.

According to findings, the port handles automobiles, motorcycles and general industrial cargo including iron ore, granite, coal, fertilizers, petroleum products, and containers with Iron ore, leather, and cotton textiles as its major export while wheat, raw cotton, machinery, iron & steel are the major import.

While, Nigerian river ports rot, the Kolkata river port generates $170million annually for the government.

Also, the riverine port in South Africa known as the port of East London. The port is South Africa’s only remaining river port and is situated at the mouth of the Buffalo River in the East Cape Province.

The river port has a dry dock capable of handling ships of up to 200m and a maximum beam of 24.8m. The dock is equipped with four electric and one mobile crane.

At the port, there are a total of 12 commercial berths plus a repair quay of 110m, a pilot jetty and fishing jetty next to the small Latimer’s Landing Waterfront. Six of the berths lie on the West Bank. The port has a total of 2,410m of quayside.

The multi-purpose terminal on the East Bank handles an increasing volume of containers and is geared for 90,000 TEUs a year – many for the motor industry. Ships own gear is required as the port lacks gantry cranes.

The port entrance is dredged up to 12m, the draught at the berths vary from -8.5m to -10.4m alongside. Passenger ships are accommodated at whichever berth is most suitable and available.

East London port has 11 commercial berths ranging up to 250 metres in length. Fresh water is available at all berths on request. Bunkering is available (fuel and gas oil) by road tankers.

The Grain Elevator, with a storage capacity of 76,000 tonnes is the largest in South Africa. In the 1970s the elevator handled 3.8 million tonnes of exports and in 1994 a total of 2.1mt, during a time when the Durban facility was out of commission.

East London port handled a total of 330 ships during the calendar year 2015, with a gross tonnage of 11,475,890.

Cargo handled in 2015 amounted to 2,945,922 tonnes, including containers.  Bulk cargo totalled 1,054,352t and breakbulk cargo 996,614t. Containers by weight amounted to 894,956t (66,293-TEU).

Imports amounted to 1,340,348t and exports were 710,618t, with nil recorded as transhipped (bulk and breakbulk excluding containers).

The port handled 53,819 TEUs during 2011/12, of which 26,217 were imports and 27,602 exports. A majority of containers were for the local motor industry.

But, the irony is the case in Nigeria as all the four river ports that are supposed to help decongest the nation’s seaports and help improve government revenues are abandoned and left in ruins.

The ports if put into proper use are expected to open up the economies of the various States they are situated.

The four river ports are located at Lokoja in Kogi State, Baro in Niger State, Onitsha in Anambra State and Oguta in Imo State.

For instance, the Baro river port in Niger state which is completed cannot function and receive cargo handling equipment because the road leading to the port is inaccessible for even a motorcycle.

Federal government had awarded the Baro river port in 2011/12 at a cost of N2, 563,499,248.00 to a Chinese company, Messrs CGGC Global Project but despite the huge amount expended on the project, it is yet to be put into proper use several years after completion.

The lack of completion Of the River Port has also deprived Nigerian youths job placement as over 2000 direct and indirect jobs are under threat.

Since completion, the contractor handling the installation of Cargo handling equipment said it had found it difficult to move cargo handling equipment to the port because of the bad road leading to the port.

The access road leading to the River Port from the Gegu express way in Kogi State is not motorable and needs urgent rehabilitation by the Federal Government if the project is to be of any economic value to the nation, the contractor handling said.

Speaking in an interview, the Managing Director of First Index Nigeria Limited, the Contractor handling the installation of the Cargo handling equipment at the River Port, Mr. Opeyemi Olabanji, explained that they were going through serious challenges because of the deplorable condition of the access road.

He said they could not move their cranes and other cargoes to the port, he further said that the cargo handling equipment are very heavy and the trucks carrying the equipment could not pass through the bad road.

He however hoped that the Federal Government will see the need to urgently fix the road for the interest of the nation and for evacuation of the handling equipment to the river port.

Olabanji however urged the federal government to commence permanent solution to the dilapidated access road if it wants the river port to be in proper use and contribute to the development of the country.

“I commended the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) for the palliative measures they are putting to make sure the equipment arrives at the River Port but emphasis must be made for a lasting solution to the deplorable condition of the road.”

“Baro River Port which is considered as the flagship port of the Northern part of the country cannot function as it is now.”

However, a top management staff  in NIWA had said that even though government had invested over N3.5bn in building and cargo handling equipment, the port still remained unused because of the bad state of the road.

The source said, “So much has been invested in the Baro River Port project running into over N3.5billion Naira. It is embarrassing that the port still remains unused, simply because the major road leading to the port is impassable,” the source lamented.

He however urged the federal government to urgently ensure that the road is captured in the 2019 budget of the country to allow the river port to be put in proper use and halt the deterioration.

But, the Onitsha river port has been completed and currently rotting away because government has failed to commission it six years after completion.

Though, Onitsha is incontrovertible the best place to site the river port due to its high commercial activities and being the biggest and most important trading city in the country, its non-viability six years after concessioning has been a source of concern

The port which was built at a cost of N4.6 billion was projected to offer a viable alternative to the nightmarish ports in Lagos to businessmen in the eastern part of the country. Indeed, the port had the basic complement of facilities for effective take-off.

There are transit sheds/warehouses of 100×55 metres with a storage capacity of 10,000 twenty feet equivalent units (TEUs), port operations building, nine senior staff quarters, 11 junior staff quarters, fuel tank farm, 150mm diameter borehole, etc.

However, the viability of such facility is contingent on certain factors for which there are no short cuts. The port relies on round-the-year navigation for lighter vessels to sail upstream to deliver goods as well as evacuate the ones for export.

Keeping the Niger river navigable required both capital and maintenance dredging to chart a channel with to a minimum draught of 2.5 metres. That is what is required for lighter vessels to sail the Niger without running aground.

Onitsha river port even though awaits concessioning, the Lower River Niger needed robberies dredged to accomplish or give the river port a realistic purpose and aim at least for the berthing of cargo bearing vessels without difficulties.

Meanwhile, the Lokoja and Oguta River ports projects are still at the 75 and 70 per cent completion respectively since they were awarded in 2012.

Oguta River Port was awarded to Scott Amede Engineering Limited for a fee of N2,743,625,787.15,  while the Lokoja River Port in Kogi State was awarded in 2011/2012 at a cost of N4,112,346,572.26 to Inter Bau Construction Limited.

But, the two ports have been left in ruins after they were awarded to Nigerian contractors who allegedly abandoned the ports after collecting mobilisation funds.

However, stakeholders have asked the federal government to use its political will to ensure that the river ports are functional.

A frontline maritime stakeholder and chairman of Nigerian Ports Consultative Council (NPPC), Otunba Kunle Folarin, called on the federal government to revisit all the river ports on the Niger and Benue trough and elsewhere, and make a deliberate policy to turn them around for the benefit of the government and its citizens.

 

He explained that with her massive coastal stretch and the benefit of harnessing its maritime potential, Nigeria could attain intermodal system of transportation easier than it can imagine.

“Governments, from time to time, are shying away from building intermodal system of transportation and this is not good at all.

“We are a maritime nation and what this means is that we can do so much with our marine environment. People should be able to move from any part of the country using water transport, rail, air or land depending on their choice, which should be economically informed,” he said.

Also,  the managing director, Kaduna Inland Container Dryport, Yusuf Ismail, advised that the ports should be given to private investors to turn them around and make them attractive for activities to commence.

“I have told you before, if government wants its river ports to be functional, it will invite investors to come and invest in them, and give them the guidelines.

“They should put policies in place and there should be a regulatory body that will make sure it works; that is how it is going to work. Everything lies with government.”

 

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