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Forget rail for now, face Baro Port access road first —Expert

Leading maritime business expert, Dr Simon Dugu, has called on the new Managing Director of the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA), Chief George Moghalu to focus on reconstructing the road leading to the moribund N6billion Baro River Port in Kogi State.

Speaking in an interview with Business Hilights Northern Bureau chief in Lokoja, Dr Dugu decried the haste by Federal Government in rushing to commission the refurbished River Port without any plan to build linking road to the infrastructure.

He said “It is very hard to explain the rush in sinking well over N6bn to a national asset that has no road access.

It would be recalled that President Muhammadu Buhari had in January this year commissioned the River Port and assured that the access road would be reconstructed, but almost 11 months after, there is nothing to show road reconstruction.

A recent visit to the Port showed total abandonment as only junior staff of NIWA were seen at the facility.

Checks showed that there are two major access roads to the ancient community: the 55 kilometres Baro/Katcha/Agaie and Baro/Muye linking Gegu on Abuja/Lokoja expressway, both of which are in deplorable condition.

It would be recalled that the federal government had awarded the contract for the Baro/Katcha/Agaie axis in 2009 but revoked it in 2012 due to alleged failure on the part of the contractor to deliver.

Even though the contract for the road was rewarded few months to the 2015 general elections to an Indian firm at the cost of N17.5 billion with a 12-month completion period, the some of the staff seen on site revealed that the contractor, who was on site after an initial release of fund by the Buhari administration, slowed down due to failure to advance additional fund for the project. So far only 10 kilometres of the road from the Agaie section has been asphalted but the entire section up to Katcha was graded.

However, the terrain between Katcha and Baro is a nightmare especially as now that is rainy season.

Currently, rain water forms ponds where deep gully exists, making it difficult for motorists to navigate, while the bridges constructed during the colonial era across streams are beginning to give way as a result of age.

Besides, the Baro/Muye/Gegu section of the road, which links the port to the southern part of the country, is equally in a deplorable condition.

Continuing, Dr Dugu said for the new man in charge of NIWA to come and tell Nigerians that both rail and road will be done when the road is still begging for completion under a government that is facing scarce resources is worrisome.

He therefore called on the Federal Government to first of all complete the road it awarded 10 years ago before thinking of rail.

“Yes, rail is important and in fact, the colonial masters did rail to the port which is now relics, what is important now is access road and the contractor need to be paid to do his work first,” Dugu, an indigene of the state averred.

It would be recalled that Chief Moghalu had during his recent visit to the port given indication that his leadership will work with all stakeholders in the quest to link the River Port with good roads and rail network.

He said “The waterways hold a great potential, and all hands must be on deck to develop and improve our waterways. We are going to encourage the private sector to key into the industry.”

Earlier in January during the commissioning, President Buhari had promised to rehabilitate the roads leading to the port and its environs, if given an opportunity of a second term in office.

However, now he has the second tenure, indications are rife that the road may be delivered sooner than later.

Baro River Port was built by Chinese firm, CGCC Global Project Nigeria Limited, at a total cost of N6 billion.

The refurbished River Port came 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, but vessels or real shipping activities are yet to take place, 11 months after commissioning just like Onitsha River Port in Anambra State.