• Thursday, June 13, 2024
businessday logo

BusinessDay

What FG’s approval of Ibom Deep Sea Port means for economy

maritimee

The report that the Federal Government has finally granted approval for a seaport to be located in Akwa Ibom has been well received not just in the state but also in the South-South/South-East region and beyond.

The approval for the implementation of the first phase of the $4.6 billion Ibom Deep Sea Port (IDSP), which would cost $2.016 billion, was granted by the Federal Executive Council (FEC) during its meeting on December 16.

Apart from the impact it is expected to have on the decongestion of the Lagos ports, experts say the coming of the Ibom Deep Sea Port signals a new dawn in port development and maritime business in Nigeria.

The perennial congestion at the ports in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital, has often been blamed on non-utilisation of ports in other parts of the country. For instance, while importers continue to incur demurrage on imported goods due to the congestion in Lagos ports, experts say the ports in Port Harcourt and the Calabar have been largely underutilised.

The coming of the Ibom Deep Sea Port holds a lot of promise not only for Akwa Ibom State but also for the region and the entire country.

“It will open the state by sea and air and it has the capacity to create jobs and also open up the state as a destination for tourism and Foreign Direct Investment,” Emmanuel Onwioduokit, a former senior economist at the Central Bank of Nigeria, said.

Strategically located and accessible through major existing and planned transport infrastructure such as airport, railway lines and federal and state road network, the deep seaport is designed to be the gateway to the Ibom Industrial City project, a rather ambitious infrastructure development scheme intended to transform into a maritime highway for the South-South, South-East and other regions of the country.

The project is carved out of two local government councils of Mbo and Ibeno in Akwa Ibom State. The project site is designated as Free Trade Zone within the South East region of the country and occupies 2,565 hectares of the Ibom Industrial City land area with 20km channel approval with 450m design to provide for a two-way vessel traffic.

The two projects, the seaport and the industrial city, are estimated to have the potential of generating over 300,000 direct and indirect jobs between 2021 and 2050.

But the impact goes beyond the region and Nigeria.

“I believe it is a project that is good for the country and Africa because it is not just a Nigerian thing, the port would cover the West and Central African subregions,” said Akan Okon, Akwa Ibom State commissioner for economic development and Ibom Deep Sea Port.

It’s been long in coming

The Ibom Deep Sea Port has been one project that has attracted the attention and interest of successive administrations. It has been on the drawing board since 1999, but its realisation had remained a dream as the political will appeared to have been lacking.

The immediate past administration in the state organised a road show in London for the project and even performed a groundbreaking, yet there was nothing tangible to show for it. The seaport, which is said to have a natural harbour making it easily accessible to ships of various sizes, never got the attention of the Federal Government until now.

A few years ago, however, the state government raised a technical committee for the realisation of the port project and also created a full-fledged ministry to see to the realisation of the project.

“It started with the outline business case which was approved some years ago giving the Ministry of Transportation the legal muscle to raise a ministerial project steering committee. Representation on the committee came from the Ministry of Transportation, Nigeria Ports Authority and the technical committee for the realisation of the project set up by the Akwa Ibom State government,” Okon said.

“The ministerial project steering committee approved the procurement process which gave room for request for qualification by interested investors leading to the emergence of Bollore-China as the preferred bidder. This led to the preparation of the Full Business Case for the project which has now been approved for construction to commence,” he said.

Explaining the significance of the approval of the Full Business Case of Ibom Deep Sea Port by the Federal Government, Ini Ememobong, Akwa Ibom State commissioner for information and strategy, said it “signals the approval for the full commencement of the port project” and is “coming on the heels of the vigorous push by the Udom Emmanuel administration for the actualisation of the long-awaited vision”.

Governor Udom Emmanuel, in his manifesto during his second term bid in 2019, had promised to ensure that the Ibom Deep Seaport and the Ibom Industrial City (IIC) which he said he inherited at almost zero level would “yield an impressive fruit”.

The approval by the Federal Government, seen as a major milestone in the quest for the development of the seaport in Akwa Ibom State, has no doubt raised expectations that the port project has at least got off the drawing board after a long wait.

“This approval now gives power for the construction and all the processes to commence. It has opened up opportunity for everything needed for the construction to begin,” he said.

However, observers are still sceptical about the willingness of the federal authorities to allow other parts of the country to develop their ports infrastructure which has the potential of boosting economic development across many regions of the country. They want to see the project go beyond the approval to full realisation within a reasonable timeframe.