FAILURE of the Federal Government and Nigeria Ports Authority to dredge the Calabar port channel is adversely affecting economic activities the port was meant to sustain. Previous efforts to dredge the port ended without improvements in the capacity of the port to take bigger vessels.
More than 30 years ago, the Calabar Port was envisaged to serve the South East, parts of central Nigeria and the North East, for which a train service was planned. Also, vital projects by the Cross River State Government designed to create wealth and jobs (such as Tinapa, and the Export Processing Zone, a federal project) are among the projects that the poor depth of the port has affected.
The Calabar port in its current poor state cannot attract investments. Businesses, like cocoa and palm produce exports that boomed through it have ground to a halt. The higher costs of importing through Lagos alone, and the congestions that imports meant for other parts of Nigeria that are forced to pass through Lagos have created, are among reasons why the port in Calabar needs immediate attention.
By extension, the congestions in Lagos in Lagos ports mostly accounts for the devastations that the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway faces. It is therefore disturbing that the federal authorities have continued to undermine the strategic importance of the port, which is closer to the big commercial centres and cities in the eastern flank of Nigeria.
Shippers finally abandoned the Calabar Ports after considering the extra costs of using smaller vessels to trans-load cargo to the port. A dredged Calabar port would admit bigger vessels, which would make shipping to the destination cheaper. It could, with its proximity to Equatorial Guinea and Sao Tome and Principe, compete as a hub in the Central African oil and gas industry.
The on-going construction of the two-lane bridge over the Cross River at the Cameroun – Nigeria border (Ekok/Mfun) coupled with the Bamenda-Mamfe-Ekok-Abakaliki-Enugu Road would create more users for the Calabar Port and spur the establishment of ancillary developments in those areas. A working Calabar Port would serve as a trans-shipment hub for Nigeria’s landlocked neighbours of Chad and Niger. Even the planned re-construction of the North East would benefit from a functional Calabar port.
Calabar’s challenges centre on absence of a channel management policy unlike ports in Lagos, Onne, and Port Harcourt, with channel management policy that ensured their dredging and maintenance even after concessioning of the port terminals.
We call on the Federal Government to dredge the Calabar Port and unlock the economic potentials of the agricultural, commercial and tourism businesses that thrive in that flank of Nigeria. Further delays in dredging the port would result in continued waste of government and private investments in those zones.