WARRIâ€”PRESIDENT, Delta State Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture, Mr. David Iweta, yesterday accused the Federal Government of deliberately seeing to the collapse of Warri, Sapele, Koko and Burutu Ports with its refusal to dredge the 6.4 meters draft of the Escrvaos Bar in Delta State in the past 25 years.
Mr. Iweta, who is also the chairman of Madewel Products Limited in a statement made available to the media, noted that the Federal Government was promoting militancy in the Niger-Delta by its action.
HeÂ wondered why the same government which refused to dredge the Escravos Bar at a cost of N5 billion approved and released between N36 billion â€“ N46 billion for the dredging the River Niger along the Lokoja channel via Onitsha within a period of just five to eight years.
His words: â€œThe shallow state of 6.4 meters draft of Escravos Bar has led to theÂ Â near zero activities at Warri, Sapele, Koko and Burutu ports.
â€œThis is borne out of the over prolonged delays or refusal of the Federal Ministry of Transport to execute the endless promises to dredge the channel for the past 25 years, but within 5-8 years of proposing to dredge the River Niger, along the Lokoja Channel,Â they approved and released a whopping sum of N36billion-N46billion to dredge same via Onitsha â€“ Patani-Warri inland waterways,Â which was flagged of recently by President Umaru Yarâ€˜Adua without disclosing the economic gains to Nigerians and the Maritime world,Â such as the anticipatedÂ volume of cargo it will freight from point A to point B, as compared to the commercial gains of dredging the Escravos Channel that will lead to full operation of Warri, Sapele, Koko, Burutu ports that are International Sea Ports,Â that merely require a cost of less than N5 billion to enhance the channels up to 12 meters draft from its current draft of about 6.4 meters.
â€œThe Warri New Port section, which is about 5 meters draft cannot allow vessels of draft in the region of 6.4 meters to berth except only at the old Port of Warri. Sapele Port has long been occupied by the Nigerian Navy, yet there is no war at Sapele.
â€œBut the then military government converted the best and the only port complex in Nigeria of Sapele Port to Naval training base. This has led to total collapse of Sapele commercial and industrial activities. â€œThe closure of Sapele Port has led to high crime rate, unemployment and other social vises”.
It is no doubt that the high rate of robbery along the Benin/Warri highway and militant activities in the creeks is a result of the closure and inactive conditions of the Delta ports.
â€œIt is worth mentioning that the natural rubber factories at Sapele and Oghara alone number over 16, comprising of Okpe Trading Company, Oghene. Rubber Factory, D.C.C Rubber Factory, New Independent Rubber Factory now K.B Rubber Factory, Enthuat Rubber Factory .F.G Spiropolus Rubber Factory, Nagro Rubber Factory, (Formerly Lewis & Peat of U.K) Pamol Rubber Factory, Rodco Rubber Latex , JA-Thomas Rubber Factory, J.K RubberÂ Factory, etc.
â€œIt is surprising that all these factories have become skeletons of their former selves as a result of the huge cost of transporting by road of their finished products to Lagos Ports for export at high cost, thus making their products to be uncompetitive in the international market. The reverse would be the case should Sapele Port function as a commercial port.â€
According to Iweta, â€œit is very important to develop Inland Waterways of a nation which depends solely on Sea Ports. The River Niger that is now being dredged with draft not exceeding 6 meters along its channel, will depend on Warri, Sapele, Burutu and Koko Ports to forward and receive import and export cargo with the aid of barges and tug/push boats.
â€œThis is because the River Niger Lokoja channel along with the Onitsha mini port will be serviced by the Delta Ports and not Calabar, Port Harcourt or Lagos Ports. It is annoying that less than 5-10 years ago,Â the Calabar Channel was dredged but because of the method applied, the sand have reverted back, and, therefore, big vessels cannot call the Port at moment.
â€œ It is a known fact that in the months of July â€“ August 2009,Â Port Harcourt Port up to Onne was given a sweep dredging enhancing its draft but the Escravos Channel was again ignored. Madewell Portland Cement, being the company granted Cement Import License, among the six new entrants in the cement industry, one each from the six geographical zones, and representing the South â€“South withÂ a base in Sapele could not direct his vessels to either Warri, Sapele, Koko or Burutu Ports , which is their primary port of call, but first have to take the vessel to Onne to be handled by Private Terminal operators by Midstream discharge at lighting cost in the region of N100 million per every 10,000 metric tones of cement and further spend over N40 million to transport same by trucking on our bad roads to Ughelli, Patani, Warri, Sapele, Asaba.
â€œThe above cost and inconveniences would have been saved and the people of Delta State would have benefitted more by the advantage and opportunity of having a Delta-based company granted Cement Import License to buy the product at very low price.
â€œIt is after removing (lighting) mother vessel by 10,000 â€“ 13,000 tons that such vessels can now sail through the Escravos Channel of 6.4 metres to the Old Port of Warri as draft at New Port is about 5 meters.â€
Iweta queried:Â Â â€œOf what importance is it to Nigeria and her entrepreneurs to be paying demurrage in the region of US$10,000 per day at Lagos ports per vessel that are waiting to take their turn to be called in to berth either at Apapa or Tin-Can Island Ports for a period as long as 14 â€“ 21days at peak period where over 100 vessels floating at Lagos waters when there areÂ four modern ports lying fallow in Delta State?
â€œThe effect of demurrage on Lagos Cargo imports increases the cost of imported finished goods and imported raw materials for Nigeria industries thus creating unnecessary inflation to our economy with attendant high cost of production on our factories thus making so many industries to close shopâ€.
â€œWhile maritime activities should be encouraged to its maximum in the country, due consideration should be given to the agricultural produce and solid bulkÂ minerals as raw materialsÂ to stimulate export to reduce cost of freight on our imported and exported Cargo as Vessel owners charges higher freightÂ on our inward cargo as there are no outward bound Cargo for export out of Nigeria such as, maize, grand nut, cotton, coal, iron ore, rubber, etc if this is part of the reasons behind dredging the River Niger for onward delivery to the Delta Ports for export to the outside world thus making our export commodities from the Eastern and Northern Part of Nigeria to be more competitive when compared to high cost of land haulage to Warri Port, then it is justifiable. But such export cargo is not insightâ€, he said.
â€œI wish to state here that some of the reasons that led to the earlier closure and later give away price sale of Delta Steel Complex was as a result of the non-dredging of the Escravos Channel as the company depended heavily on imported iron ore and so much is paid as dead-weight on freight as the empty space on board 25,000tons vessel by loading 12,500 tons of cargo.
By this, half of the cost of chartering the vessel becomes wasted or loss to the company thus leading to high cost of production and their products cannot compete with imported steel products. Therefore they cannot dream of venturing into the export market. This is as a result of the shallow draft of the Escravos Channel of the 6.4 metres.
The Delta Steel Complex workers that were laid off – where are they now?Â Should the company be working and making profit, would there not have been expansion programmes to employ more of our youths that are now in the creeks?Â Should A.T. & P that was a major exporter of timber products from their Sapele Plant that employs over 20% of Sapele workforce when it was operating which is referred to as the biggest timber factory in Africa be functioning properly and absolving such workforce, the tempo of robbery or militancy and poverty would disappear from Sapele.
â€œThere is no doubt that the refusal of the Federal Government to dredge the Escavos Channel down to Warri Port is a major cause of unemployment that led to militancy activities in Delta State as the boys that are endowed with operation of marine equipments that would have been developed to become ship captains, masters, engineers on board big vessels and vibrant operations of small boats, boat repairs activities.