The over N84 billion Federal Government’s investments in river ports across the country have remained underutilised, deserted and struggling to attract maritime traffic, findings have revealed.
For instance, the Baro River port in Niger state, with an investment exceeding N40 billion, has remained dormant and inaccessible, failing to live up to expectations as a bustling hub for shipping and trade.
Also, the Onitsha River port in Anambra state with a N30 billion investment has remained inactive, with only a handful of barges occasionally gracing the facilities.
Lokoja river port in Kogi state, despite gulping about N14 billion in investment, remains idle with no vessel calling at the port. Other river ports have also remained inactive despite the huge investments made, such as the N2.7billon Oguta River port among others.
These developments have made stakeholders question why these investments have not translated into the anticipated economic benefits such as billions of Naira in revenue and massive employment opportunities.
Vice Chairman of the Business Action Against Corruption (BAAC) Integrity Alliance, Lagos, Jonathan Nicol, said river ports like Onitsha depend on the periodic tides and can function more during the rainy seasons.
He said other river ports are not functional due to low tides and navigational draught problems, like that of Lokoja and Baro, including Gelegele port in Benin City, which can only use flat bottom vessels which are scarce.
He added that the river ports can also utilise the services of barges and movement of lighter materials to construction sites and equipment.
Speaking on the ports’ viability, Nicol said politicians always get involved in white elephant projects and are very keen to squander funds.
“The politicians have commissioned ports that cannot function, it is now left with the managers of the white elephant projects to manage. The private investment will make a feasibility report spanning up to 10 years, with the pros and cons of events and probably not post profits within the five years range,” he said.
Nicol noted that the inland river ports are lucky to have export proceeds but not large enough to keep them afloat with overflowing turnover, especially now that cargo is depleting.
Former Executive Secretary Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC), Hassan Bello, blamed the lack of regulation for the failed state of the river ports, saying the river ports are not functioning because they are shallow, uncharted and devoid of navigable aids.
“Do you know the contributions of the Mississippi River to the United States economy? River ports must be integrated into the larger transport space with coordination, integration and flow,” he stated.
He noted that all three types of ports in the country, which include the seaports, inland dry ports, and the river ports have defied change and are underperforming, with port reforms abandoned.
Speaking on why the river ports have remained dormant, the Nigeria Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA), which is the supervising agency, blamed the state of roads leading to the ports.
Head of Corporate Affairs, NIWA, Jibril Dar’dau, said they only have four river ports under their supervision, explaining that some of them have been concessioned on a Public Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement.
Dar’dau further said that Onitsha River Port had been concessioned since last year to the Universal Elysium Consortium.
He said NIWA signed an agreement of 30 years for the concessionaire to oversee the port, after which it will come back to them.
Dar’dau also affirmed that the Baro Riverport has not been functioning due to the challenges of roads leading to it.
He said while the Baro port is of international standard, evacuation of goods to the cities is impossible due to the lack of access roads, adding that the port is currently undergoing concession too.
According to him, NIWA has been making efforts to liaise with the Minister of Works to construct good access roads that will link up the port to the city, also noting that the Lokoja and Oguta river ports are under construction.