In the face of water transportation challenges, the stalled river ports projects in the country would be completed before the end of this year to enable investors explore untapped opportunities in the Nigerian inland waterways. BAYO AKOMOLAFE reports
Despite its great potential and opportunities for economic development, the Nigerian waterways resources have been grossly underdeveloped.
In fact, only 30 per cent of the 10,000 kilometres of inland waters in the country is navigable due to some challenges.
Such problems include high concentration of sand bar in the river bed, wrecks on the creek, inadequate policing, thieves, illegal dredging, pollution to marine life, environmental degradation, harbour accessibility, illegal fishing, undulated water surface and security problems.
Also, some of the private jetty owners on the creeks have converted their jetties to wreck dump on their waterfront and ashore.
Regardless of these problems, maritime stakeholders have identified about 31 investment opportunities on the Nigerian rivers, creeks, lagoons, lakes and intra-coastal waters in the country, which can bring revenue to government.
However, both private investors and government have failed to exploit the opportunities for decades.
Some of the investment opportunities, according to Otunba Kunle Folarin, Chairman, Port Consultative Forum (PCF), include fish trawling, ship building and repairs, cabotage, port and harbour, hydro power generation, offshore and off dock stevedoring, jetty operation, ferry and boat services, tourism, platforms, pilot and towage boats, mooring and supply crew vessel.
He listed others to include coastal shipping, container freight stations, shipping and forwarding agencies, medium and small scale industries, reefer carriers, truck holding bays, refineries, petro-chemical industries, dredging and marine materials excavation. Also included are supply of bunkers of petroleum and water, cargo consolidation, logistics and distribution.
To encourage investors to tap into the business opportunities, the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, said in Lagos, last week, that budgetary appropriations had been made to ensure the completion of the Baro, Lokoja and Oguta River ports.
He urged the private sector to maximally utilise the network of rivers, creeks, lagoons and lakes in the country.
The minister, while speaking in Lagos at the 2017 NIWA International Conference and Exhibition, said that government had recorded tremendous progress on the concessioning of Onitsha River Port, adding: “We are very hopeful that the process of concessioning of the port will be completed before the end on the year.”
Amaechi, who spoke on the topic “Improving Navigability and Inland Port Development For Sustainable Investment On Nigeria Waterways,” said that NIWA would complete the Baro, Lokoja and Oguta River ports before the end of the current administration.
Already, NIWA has unveiled Aquatic Weed Harvester (FX-IIB) and the Vegetative Cutter (AVC)-Swamp Devils I, II, and III, which would go a long way in clearing water hyacinth on the waterways in order to enhance smooth navigation, especially in the southern part of the country.
However, he urged NIWA to procure bigger dredgers in order for the agency to perform better in its operational activities.
Managing Director of NIWA, Boss Mustapha, stated that the agency was focused on developing inland ports for cargo handling and passenger operations in order to create connectivity for multimodal transport linkages (road-rail-waterways-sea).
He explained that the focus of the authority was to encourage the government and stakeholders to strengthen the desired machinery towards deriving the benefits of investments in coastal and inland shipping operations on the Nigerian waterways.
He said: “NIWA has commissioned an in-house project team to embark on a continuous dredging of the entire waterways in Nigeria, which was flagged off by the minister of transportation with an overwhelming support of the Governor of Kogi State on the 28th of April, 2017 at the Ajaokuta jetty.
“This is aimed at sweeping silts and deepening the waterways for smooth navigation.”
Mustapha stressed that Onitsha port had been fully equipped and was commissioned in January 2013.
It would be recalled that before the completion and overhaul of the river port by Inter-Bau Construction Limited, Onitsha River Port had experienced years of neglect and disrepair and its major facilities had suffered massive vandalisation.
The managing director added that the river port had received ministerial approval for the advert for Expression of Interest (EoI) to be published.
Mustapha said: “We are also scheduled to complete the construction and installation of cargo handling equipment at the Baro, Lokoja, Oguta ports and a number of jetties and landing platforms in many communities along the waterways this year.”
There is need for the National Assembly to enact a law that will enhance the capacity of NIWA to enforce its rules and regulations in order to boost the country’s revenue profile.