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The weekend assurance by the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo that the Federal Government will build more ports across the country, to decongest the gridlock in and out of the Apapa ports, has elicited divided reactions by maritime stakeholders.
Recall that Osinbajo had while addressing the media after inspecting the Lilipond transit truck park, Creek Road and other network of roads leading to the Apapa port, that “We need to understand that this is a port that was designed to take 34 million metric tonnes daily but it is currently taking over 80 million metric tones”.
Though he was quick to note that “With this, it is obvious that there is need to find alternative quickly and to expand, where that is possible,” that alternative according to him is to build more ports rather than fixing existing ones that are underperforming in the eastern part of the country.
Some importers who barred their minds on the comments of the Vice president decried his silence on the upgrade of infrastructure in Eastern ports including those at Warri, two in Port Harcourt, Onne and even the Onitsha River Port which had since 2013, been fixed waiting for the government to just appoint a concessionaire.
Only recently, business leaders in the South East region of Nigeria, who had hoped to drive their businesses using the long-rehabilitated Onitsha River Port, have rolled out facts and figures suggesting that the Federal Government deliberately sat on the concessioning of the port to kill their businesses in the last five to six years.
Key amongst their facts included the open assurance handed down by the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, who confided in South East business stakeholders’ during his visit to Anambra State in 2018 that government has concluded arrangements to name a concessionaire for the port to be put to use.
Besides, several pleas made by South East leaders to the government since the coming of President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015 to name a concessionaire have all landed on hard-hearing ears till date.
Business Hilights recalls that former President Goodluck Jonathan, had done every needed job in terms of rehabilitating the maritime infrastructure, dredged the Niger for seamless navigation of bigger vessels and was at the point of naming a concessionaire before he lost election in March 2015. Till date, the current administration under the re-elected President Buhari had maintained official mute on the fate of the multibillion naira taxpayers’ facility.
However, only recently, the Onitsha Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (OCCIMA), stepped up cries for the naming of a concessionaire for the River Port so as to reduce losses incurred while importing all the way from highly congested Lagos ports.
The Chamber, again called on the authorities not to use sentimental or regional politics of suppression to kill the original vision of a functional River Port in Onitsha, the commercial city of Anambra State.
President of the Chamber, Chief Don Ebubeogu, who spoke passionately on the theme: ‘Onitsha River Port Capacity and Possibilities’, at the 12th Edition of “The Perspective’’, an annual lecture series of the chamber in Onitsha, averred that “The project, which was initiated out of sound economic consideration for the benefit of the nation’s economy, has been left to waste away for no reason”.
“A port that boasts of transit sheds, warehouses of 100 x 55 meters with storage capacity of 10, 000 twenty-foot equivalent units, operations building and fuel tank farm, among others should not be left to waste.
Going down memory lane, Chief Ebubeogu decried that “The non-functionality of the port, several years after the project was initiated by former President Shehu Shagari in 1983, was hampering economic growth of the sector and businesses that rely on import and export in the South East region of Nigeria”.
While recalling that former President Jonathan had approved and released about N4.6 billion in 2012 for the rehabilitation of the facility which was done and delivered had continued to wait for only a concessionaries endlessly till now.
According to him, “The usual convention after commissioning a facility as important as a River Port would be an official declaration and gazetting of the facility to give it a legal status to operate.
“But the Onitsha River Port has no such proclamation made. What happened? Why should the port not be operational? Ebubeogu queried”
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