Investors and business owners in Rivers State seem to be excited and happy over the resurgence of the seaport in Port Harcourt in recent weeks. This is as the investors have also explained the fears of the fate of river port system in Nigeria at a time the world is moving to deep seaport system that cuts down cost of shipping.
For years, the PH port has been neglected and under utilized but recent upsurge has caused huge activities and many ships now berth in Port Harcourt port and Onne. The claim that draught was the problem of the Rivers State port had been used to suppress the port while those in Lagos prospered. Now, big vessels are calling in Port Harcourt, it has been revealed. The port is expanding in activity daily, they said.
In an exclusive interview in Port Harcourt, an investor and president of the Rivers Entrepreneurs and Investors Forum (REIF), Ibifiri Bobmanuel, said the business community is excited by the resurgence at the port. Giving a background, he said; “Rivers State hosted the first river port way back in 1912 before Lagos ports. Port Harcourt is the only city that was conceived with a sea port. As far back as 1912 to 1960, we had railway lines from far north to seaport in PH streaming with containers of agric products to the port. It was a major economic stay in this part of the country and Nigeria.
“As economic watchers and investors (REIF), we were pained knowing that the seaport that should have anchored the economy was shut down. We are a research-based organisation and conduct researches to find out how best to solve this problem. When we did one on seaports, we found that the seaport in PH has absolutely no issue. It had been touted that the draught was not deep enough.
“We tried to engage the government for many years ago but they were adamant. It is now that a situation arose in Lagos that PH port got noticed. So, vessels that ordinarily would have been calling Nigeria for about 28-40 days were now calling the port in 120 days and it became unbearable. The FG was losing huge resources and it got to the point when they now had to look for alternative. Thank God that the NPA today is receptive to ideas. “
He said the state government tried to repair the port road as was contained in a submission by REIF after the governorship debate in 2015.
He said the presidency at a time said the draught was too low but that REIF insisted that it was not so, based on valid research. “ But now, we have have different vessels calling the port in PH. This is the same issue with Onne Port. One of my companies took delivery of 20 units of containers from old PH port. I was overwhelmed with joy. We have two controllers there now. That will tell you the size of belief and trust the FG has in PH port now, a port that was almost lost. The port is running very well and fast. Going on information we have, in the next 12 months, if this trend continues without further sabotage, we believe that is going to change the face of the south-south and east. The GDP of Nigeria will change fast.’
He said the economy of the south-south and south-east would soon expand as goods now get to the region faster and cheaper.
On the warning by the director of operations in the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Rivers-born Sokonte Davies, that the port in PH may soon be suitable only as a fishing port due to low draught and unrepairable facilities, Bobmanuel said the director was not understood.
He explained: “Sokonte is an authority in the maritime today because of the office he holds and we commend him for some sincere efforts he has driven. What he must have meant is that in the country Nigeria, we have only river ports. There was no concept around deep seaports. Now, rivers ports carry certain limited vessels. There are very few deep seaports in Africa, but the trend has gone away from river ports.
“We in REIF have seen this and taken some actions. Davies may mean that, look, in the next 10 years, shipping companies would shift to very big vessels that carry 10 times what the small vessels now carry. Ship owners want to cut cost and this by shifting to very large vessels of about three km stretch. They use the same tech and engine and diesel but carry many times over. That is the dynamics. The disadvantage here is that such vessels can’t call in river ports like the ones in Apapa, PH, Onne, because of navigational constraints.
“So, what he was saying is that river ports will soon go. The FG has to get into deep seaports. Where 500 ships would go, only 50 very large vessels will do it with far less cost. We need to wake up and catch up with the trend. If not, smaller countries such as Benin Republic, Togo, Ghana, will take over the traffic. What is helping us is the huge market Nigeria still has and most goods heading to Africa are for Nigerian markets, up to 55 per cent. Futuristically, we need to have deep seaports. It will mean that we will be competitive.