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Continued rot as NIWA fails to name Onitsha River port concessionaire in Q1

Contrary to the promise of the Federal Government during the commissioning of Baro refurbished River port in Kogi State that the new concessionaires of Onitsha River Port will take over operations on or before the end of first quarter this year, nothing, again has happened.
The Federal Government promises for the concessioning of Onitsha River Port dates back to the takeoff of this administration when the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, in 2015, said the port will be activated and operational before the end of 2015. That is yet to happen as the administration wraps up first term.
The Managing Director of National Inland Waterway Authority (NIWA), had in his address at Baro Port commissioning, noted that the concessioning of Onitsha Port is almost concluded and the bid winners will be named before the end of first quarter, but nothing to back up his assurance as second goes deeper.
Recall that Onitsha Port had long been refurbished by former administration of Goodluck Jonathan at a whooping cost of over N6bn shortly after completing the dredging of the water channel from Warri to Baro, but lost the 2015 presidential election at the point of announcing a concessionaire.
However, since the incoming of the present administration, it had been promises upon promises and postponement upon postponements in the naming of the concessionaire even as the entire stretch of the waterway is due again for dredging even without any meaningful use for one day in nearly six year.
Business Hilights recalls that the consortium of South East business leaders, who spoke at the reception organized by the region’s business community for the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, used the occasion to beg the Federal Government for putting the facility to use before it becomes terminally abandoned.
In his response, Osinbajo assured that on his return to Abuja, he will see to the immediate concessioning. But that never saw the light of the day till today, almost more than one year after the promises at the stakeholders’ meeting in Anambra.
Speaking to Business Hilights South East Bureau chief in Onitsha, an aggrieved indigene of the commercial city, Chief Okey Azubike decried what he termed as traces of official suppression and frustration of Igbo businesses in unnecessarily delaying the activation of the River Port since assuming office in May 29, 2015 by the present administration.
He said many Onitsha based importers and exporters waste a lot of their wares along the Lagos-Onitsha highway due to accidents and bad roads due to none use of Onitsha port more than five years of completion.
He said “We the business leaders in South East have done everything possible for the Federal Government to activate the Onitsha port but there is nothing to show for it”.
“While Inland Waterway Transport (IWT) provides important transport capacity, its growth is increasingly limited by navigability challenges.
“Scheduled capital and maintenance dredging programmes will ensure all year round use of our inland ports and as it is now, all the billions of naira spent by Jonathan’s administration to dredge the River Niger are wasted because the river is no more navigable as it naturally full of rapids and therefore in need of routine dredging which has not happened in the last five years.
In his submission, Azubike decried that “The Onitsha River Port like every other inland port, is an untapped gold mine”.
“Construction of new inland ports, revitalising old ones and ensuring all year navigability of the waterways remain a key way to building a modern integrated transport system and promoting a low carbon economy.
“The durability of our road infrastructure is dependent on the extent the inland ports are put to use,” Azubike averred.
Whereas efforts to get information on the true state of Onitsha River port failed at NIWA, inland water transport experts said as the endless wait for the Federal Government to activate the port continues, time has come to decongest all the Lagos ports so that eastern ports can become lively again.
Though efforts to reach the Managing Director of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) could not materialize, a credible source in the Authority noted that “It is not in the purview of NPA to concession River Ports but the NIWA.”
“NPA will come in as soon as a substantial concessionaire has been named by NIWA and ratified by the Minister of Transportation.
Still on the endless traffic crisis which started within Apapa but now engulfing a substantial part of Lagos, maritime pundits say NPA knows that the reason, cause and effect of the Apapa/Oshodi gridlock (which now assumes Lagos gridlock) is of multidimensional and multifaceted, which include but not limited to (1) the place of powerful Association of Truck/Trailers Owners In Nigeria (2) unwritten but deliberate policy of putting rail services in oblivion (3) refusal of the Federal Government to construct solid and durable roads within the Apapa axis and from Tin Can Island Port into Mile Two (a total road network that is less than 30 kilometers) (4) refusal of the Nigerian Ports’ management in utilization of the existing interconnectivity of the waterways within Lagos zone for shipping operations (5) wicked conspiracy of a few in ensuring that all the viable ports in the South/South geopolitical zone are made operationally prostrate to the advantage of Lagos ports over-utilization strictly and host of other reasons.
For example, the Nigerian Ports Authority has in management; for and on behalf of Nigerians, Koko Port in Delta State, Warri old and New Ports in Delta State, the Sapele Port (which has been ceded to the Nigerian Navy) in Delta State, the abandoned Burutu Port in the Forcados deep waters (the irony of this abandonment is that shipping operations in Nigeria started in Forcados in the year 1472 when the Portuguese cane to berth in their air-propelled crafts.
There is the only West African Ocean Port, in Onne, another seaport – all in Port Harcourt, before the mighty Port of Calabar; which is originally designed to service Northern Nigeria, because of Calabar city’s proximity to the North through the Katsina-Ala route.
Ironically, all these ports mentioned are today abandoned deliberately in favour of Lagos Ports only, thus causing gridlocks that have grown to cripple Lagos.