By GODFREY BIVBERE
After years of politicking and paying of lip service to the issue of the dredging of the Lower River Niger, the Federal Government commencementÂ ofÂ the dredging of the river is generatingÂ mixed reactions from operators and other inland water ways users.
The N34.8 billion project, kick started by President Umaru Musa Yarâ€™Adua in September last year,Â covers about 572 kilometres andÂ stretches from Warri in Delta State to Baro in Niger State.
A break down of the projectÂ showsÂ that 154-kilometre section of the dredging from Warri to Bifurcation of Farcados and River Nun was awarded to Fung Tai (Nig) Limited at the cost of N4, 836,943,125 while the 116-kilometre Bifurcation of Farcados and River Nun to Onitsha, Anambra State was awarded to Dredging International Limited at the contract sum of N 3, 889,174,896.
Similarly, the dredging of the 118- kilometre Onitsha to Ida in Kogi State was awarded to Van Oord (Nig) Ltd at the cost of N 9, 869,504,700, 108 -Â kilometre Ida to JamataÂ contracted to Van Oord at N12, 545,469,550 while the 76 – kilometre Jamata to Baro was awarded to Williams Llyods Tech. Company at the cost of N3, 665,261,250.
The consultants who got the design contracts include, Royal Haskoning, N156, 274, 609, 06, Jayuda Int. Ltd, N126, 846, 395.76, Dredging & Marine Consultants Ltd., N312, 535,645.95, Enplan Group, N395, 626,292,59 and Aims Consultants Ltd, N119, 939,886,87. When completed, the dredging of the River Niger will provide the needed access in the Lower Niger to take heavy tonnage off the roads.
This, experts say, will on the long run have a positive effect on the economy. Former Minister of Transportation, Mrs. Deziani Allison-Madueke, had said then that the dredging â€œwould open up a completely new realm of possibilities, in terms of inland waterways and in terms of navigability and transportation and commerce and industry in the areas that it will affect along the Lower River Niger.â€
â€œAs we all know, this is an area of over 500 kilometers that affect many, many communities that live and work along that waterwayâ€, she added.
A dredging professional, who has been working in the country for about a decade now, Captain Robert Brenner, said the dredging of the River Niger is an expressway for ferrying the huge raw material deposit in the north to the southern area of the country. Brenner said the dredging would not only benefit the nation in terms of transportation, the sand to be dredged could also be used for construction of concrete walls, reclamation of land as well as reconstruction and expansion of existing towns in the surrounding area.
Fondly calledÂ Captain Bob, he said the dredging of the river would lead to availability of new land and concrete to build on. According to him, whileÂ the sand would be used for moulding of blocks, it would also create other employment opportunity for the youths in the country.
He stated that, withÂ increased traffic on the river, people would want to buy food, fuel, glossaries. Similarly, former managing director of National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA), Engr. Zubairu Yakubu said that the dredging of the River Niger would kick start the development of water transportation in the country. Yakubu explained that though there are skeletal ferry transport services around the country, the shallow channel of the River Niger makes it difficult for bigger barges and crafts to ply the route.
That project, long envisaged to improve upon river navigation and the water transportation system in the country, he said, had been on the drawing board since the time Nigeria became independent in 1960.
According to the Minister of Transport, Alhaji Ibrahim Isa Bio, the capital dredging of the river was scheduled to be completed last year, while maintenance dredging will continue for two years. It is perhaps the urgency which government attaches to this project that informed the decision to phase it into five slots of between 76 to 154 kilometres each.
TheÂ project will certainly help to decongest the ports in Lagos and Port Harcourt andÂ reduce pressure on our roads most of which are already in various states of disrepair.
The dredging spans eight states of Niger, Kogi, Anambra, Imo, Edo, Delta, Rivers and Bayelsa. River ports will be built in various locations at Lokoja, Oguta lake, Degema, Onitsha, Owerrinta jetty, Ndoni Jetty, Idah, Baro, Ondo waterways and Idogo.
In addition to the construction of the river ports, some navigation channels including those of Lokoja in Kogi to Makurdi in Benue to Ibbi in Taraba, and Yola in Adamawa States are to be opened up. A navigation channel is also to be opened from Baro to Jebba in Niger State to Yelwa in Kebbi State; and another from Wuya in Niger State to Kaduna. Other water channels in the country shall also undergo maintenance dredging for navigability of bigger vessels. The commencement of the 36 billion naira dredging project of River Niger, though overdue, is a commendable step by the Federal Government. Rivers over time have been a key source of development, civilization, movement of goods, expeditions and discoveries. The dredging project, when completed, will boost economic activities in the communities where the ports are located, and a source of huge revenue for the country.
On the effect of the dredging on communities along the river side, the communities have been complaining aboutÂ threat to their homes and their farm lands.
AccordingÂ to C. P. Wolf, E. A. Emerhi, and Patrick H. Okosi, in their paper entitled, â€œCommunity Impact Assessment of Lower Niger River Dredging, â€œat the October workshop, King Patrick Okosi of Trofani came forward to deliver an eloquent appeal on behalf of some 30 concerned communitiesÂ in regard to the proposed dredging. They complained that their communities had not been consulted or even contacted and were misrepresented in the federal EIA report which, contrary to federal law, had not been made available for public review and comment.
â€œAt the March workshop King Okosi restated this position and issued an invitation to attend a meeting of the communities at Asaba_ase, at which it was decided to continue legal action against the dredging. King Okosi stated however that the communities were willing to accept the proposed action if project consultantsâ€™ recommendations for mitigating its negative impacts were implemented. He and others expressed the wish to avoid bloodshed, a frequent outcome of confrontations between local communities and oil companies.
â€œAmong the mitigation measures demanded were the usual litany of basic physical and social infrastructure needs, roads, potable pipe borne water, health care and educational facilities, electricity, and job creation,Â Â as well as those relating more specifically to the proposed project, such as shore protection and land reclamation, the sitting of dredge material, cash compensation for damages to farming and fishing, and relocation of endangered communities.â€