From all indications, there is every reason to hope that at last the river port facility at Onitsha will soon be completed and put to use. The Minister of Transport, Senator Idris Umar, while inspecting the level of work at the site recently, disclosed to newsmen that President Goodluck Jonathan is likely to cut the tape to activate the port in October this year.
Work on this port was resumed in earnest on December 12, 2009 under the President Umaru Yar’ Adua regime with an award of contract valued at N4.182 billion to Inter-Bau Construction Ltd to ensure the installation of all facilities and equipment necessary for harbour operations. According to the minister, “with the speed with which the contractor is working on the project, it is expected that (it) will be completed in a few weeks. The completion of this project was one of the campaign promises made to Nigerians by Mr. President during his presidential campaign. We will invite him to come and see things for himself.”
This comes as cheering news given the sad history of this project. It was established over 30 years ago under the regime of President Shehu Shagari. But when the military intervened, the project was one of those abandoned nationwide. However, some commentators have voiced the view that ethnic and sectional politics was the major bedevilling factor behind the abandonment of the project. There seemed a conspiracy in some quarters to frustrate the development of new ports and rehabilitation of old ones, in spite of the fact that the Lagos ports had become perennially congested with attendant hardship to the economy and port users.
Several attempts made to dredge the River Niger became enmeshed in ethnic politics as some groups vowed to frustrate the dredging. However, the government of the late President Yar’ Adua rose above 30 years of ethnic and sectional bias and preceded full steam with the dredging of the Niger through to Onitsha, Lokoja and Baro. The government of President Goodluck Jonathan has kept faith with his predecessor’s determination by firmly taking this project to its logical conclusion. Hope has risen on the establishment of similar ports at Lokoja in Kogi State and Baro in Niger State.
With the completion of this waterway project, the years of waste to which the River Niger had been subjected would come to an end. A great natural resource would begin to play its role in the economic transformation of Nigeria, as boats and barges would be floating up and down the great river, bringing goods and people from the coast to the hinterland and back again.
New job opportunities would be created and a lot of pressure would be off the road network, thus contributing to their longer years. Most importantly, the heavy burden imposed on Lagos ports would be eased off and the commercial environment in the South-East, South-South and North-Central will be enhanced.
We commend the Federal Government, especially the regimes of the late President Yar’ Adua and the incumbent President Jonathan, for their patriotism and commitment to justice and even development of the country. We also commend the Minister of Transport, Senator Umar, for his obvious resourcefulness towards the expansion of the port network in Nigeria. We have since taken note of his doggedness to ensure the actualisation of the deep seaport project at Ibaka in Mbo Local Government Area in Akwa Ibom State.
We urge both the federal and state governments to continue to cooperate to ensure that all our sea and river ports in Lagos, Olokola, Koko, Warri, Port Harcourt, Onne, Calabar and along the River Niger are constructed and maintained in readiness for the envisaged economic boom which many have prognosticated for Nigeria within a few years.
The roads, waterways, airports, Export Processing Zones (EPZs) and railways are great instruments not only for economic prosperity of nations but strong means of national integratino. We are glad that the Federal Government has decided to invest heavily in this direction, and urge them not to relent.