• Thursday, July 25, 2024
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BusinessDay

Onitsha River Port: Three-time commissioned, yet mired in politics

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…A cash cow awaiting exploitation

…₦16bn needed to dredge channels

Politics is said to be holding down the takeoff of the Onitsha River Port after it has been commissioned three times since 1983; BusinessDay Sunday has gathered.

The port, described as a potential cash cow for Nigeria if it becomes operational, may be needing N16 billion to dredge the channels.

Since Nigeria’s independence in 1960, shipping activities have been dominant in Lagos, Port Harcourt, Calabar and Warri. And since then, the major stakeholders in the ports mentioned above are people from the South East Zone.

Due to astronomical increase in shipping demands from the South East, agitation for Onitsha River Port began. And in line with clear demonstration of democracy, their request was granted, through the commissioning of the port in 1983, by the late president Shehu Shagari.

Read also: Growing import volume and imperative of rejuvenating dormant Onitsha river port

Surprisingly, the port remained moribund for many years, creating room for further protests.

Then in 2012, the then President, Goodluck Jonathan visited the port and commissioned it the second time. By this second commissioning of the port, many stakeholders jubilated, but still it was not utilised

From ‪2012-2017‬, no cargo was exported or imported, through Onitsha River Port, leading to a third commissioning, by former President Muhammadu Buhari in 2018.

And since the last commissioning by Buhari, shippers in Anambra State have been working hard to see that the port becomes functional, Emma Akpaka, president, Anambra Shippers Association, claimed.

In a welcome address at one-day workshop titled ‘Optimising the potential of Onitsha River Port: Stakeholders’ perspective and prospects,’ organised by the South East directorate of the Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC) in Onitsha, Anambra State, Akpaka noted that the success story of the port will not be complete until shippers in the South East, South-South and the Northern regions start patronising it.

According to him, patronising Onitsha River Port will deepen commerce in the South East and South-South zones of Nigeria.

He appealed to the governors of the South East zone to visit the port, a move which according to him, would boost the confidence of shippers.

“We are no longer happy that no governor has visited Ontisha River Port in recent times. Such a visit will encourage stakeholders and inspire more commercial activities at the port,” he said.

While calling on all stakeholders in the shipping business to always adhere strictly to shipping guidelines, he equally reminded all relevant agencies at the port that what shippers need at the moment is encouragement, and not discouragement.

“In the old Eastern region, it was this port that made the United African Company (UAC), popular. Their warehouses are still seen around the neighbourhood.

For your information, if not for Onitsha River Port, many of us wouldn’t have heard about Yamaha, R. T Briscoe, John Holt, G.B. Olivant, SCOA Motors, among others,” he said.

Ifeoma Eloka, vice president, Clarion Shipping West Africa Limited, said that it would require about ₦16 billion to dredge Onitsha River Port channels to receive cargo vessels, a job that can be completed in 12 months.

Eloka, whose company operates a bonded terminal at the Onitsha River Port, challenged importers in the South-East zone to make Onitsha River Port operational, by routing their cargoes through the port.

To avoid demurrage in course of moving cargo to the port, she advised shippers to activate Through Bill of Lading (TBL) with shipping companies.

Patricia Igwebuike, commissioner for Transport, Anambra State, explained that the Nigerian Customs Service has carried out the final inspection of Onitsha River Port, and that the State Government was keying into the national transport policy to utilise all transportation channels to boost the economy of the state.

She also said that the state was currently carrying out a feasibility study on developing a rail transport system, which according to her, if achieved would link up the entire state.

Igwebuike further said that the state government was about to launch a 21st-century mass transport system, noting that good transport system will open up the South-East Zone.

According to her, “Onitsha is the gateway to the South-East and so when our River Port becomes operational, the port can be clearing 12 containers per hour and the concessionaires said that they would be working10 hours, daily.”

She further said that it requires collaboration between the Ministry of Transport and all stakeholders to make the Onitsha River Port viable, noting that available data have revealed that about 70 percent of containers that come into Nigeria end up in the South Eastern part of the country.

“So, the Onitsha River Port is going to be a great enabler to boost the economy of the South East, if well utilised.

“This is where the commerce is. All hands must be on deck to make the Onitsha River Port work. We can do it. If the Federal Government is not willing to dredge it, we can do it, by ourselves.

“The western world knows that the commerce is here in the South-East and if we get it right, our

maritime economy will be one that the entire country will reckon with,” she said.

A businessman, who is into clearing and forwarding told BusinessDay Sunday that he believed bad politics was the major reason the port has not been activated.

“I am not sure if anybody is surprised about what is happening to that port. It is the story of the South East replicated in all sectors. It is all about bad politics. The powers that be have consistently ensured that such huge projects do not see the light of day in the zone. But we believe that one day, the story of the South East will change,” he said on condition of anonymity.