THE lethargic approach of Nigeria Ports Authority(NPA) toward the eastern ports can be seen in the dredging of the ports’ access channels and some utterances emanating from the government agency. Apart from the Calabar Port channel which case is well known to all, the recent dredging of Warri Port channel presents a clear case of unseriousness toward the Eastern ports.
In mid 2018, NPA announced that it was commencing the dredging of Warri Port. It said the contract had been awarded at the cost of $44.861million (N16.150billion). In January this year, the agency said the dredging had been completed. In February, the port was handed over to a concessionaire in order to bring life and business to the port.
However, after the dredging was said to have been completed, stories started coming that the channel could not be dredged to required depth because of NNPC pipelines in the channel. The dredging could not go beyond 7.5 metres. What irks the average observer is that when NPA announced the award of the contract for the dredging, the issue of NNPC pipelines was not mentioned.
It was while the dredging was underway that one started hearing of NNPC pipelines being impediment to the dredging project. Instead of addressing the issue before the commencement of the dredging, the project was allowed to continue and to end with still shallow channel. Hadiza Bala-Usman, the NPA Managing Director at a point in a public forum in Lagos said the channel would be dredged to only 7.5metres and advised ship owners to consider the use of flat bottomed vessels.
To give the impression that the dredging of the port channel had started having effects on patronage of the port, the NPA General Manager, Corporate and Strategic Communications, Adams Jatto, while confirming the completion of the dredging said vessels had started calling at the port. But importers that do business at the port debunked the claim, saying that it was the same ships that had been coming to the port, mainly ships belonging to Julius Berger.
And talking about the NNPC pipelines, one would want to ask when these pipelines were laid in the channel. Warri Port is an old port. It was not built recently. So, when were the NNPC pipelines laid? Were they laid with the consent of NPA? If while the port was functioning and somebody laid pipelines in its channel, the simple message being passed across then is that the depth of the channel had been sealed. It means that the draft should not go beyond 7.5metres in order not to touch the pipelines.
Another pointer to NPA’s lethargy toward the Eastern ports can be seen in the utterances of the officials of the agency. The NPA Managing Director, Hadiza Bala-Usman while talking about the fate of Port Harcourt Port last year, said the port had reached its age limit and that rehabilitation would be a waste of money. “It’s very old and we are actually thinking of building a new port infrastructure in Port Harcourt as well as expanding the Onne Port,” she said.
Yet, the agency is talking about resuscitating the port. Recently, after a tour of the Eastern ports, the NPA Board said NPA was set to resuscitate the seaports in the eastern part of Nigeria for improved service delivery, by addressing the infrastructure challenges that have hampered their efficiency. While at the Rivers Port Complex, Port Harcourt which had been left to decay over the years, the Board Chairman, Emmanuel Adesoye, after a meeting with stakeholders, said “The issue of infrastructure is being addressed by the management of NPA.”
Thus, with one breath NPA says Port Harcourt Port has reached its limit, and rehabilitation will be a waste of time and resources and in another breath, it talks of rehabilitation.
It is pertinent to mention that the Port Harcourt Port has not received deserved attention since the end of the civil war. Its problem is not age but that it has been left to decay over time. There are many older ports across the globe that are still very efficient. These ports are constantly upgraded and modernised. But we neglect ours only to brand it old and reaching age limit.
On Calabar Port, the NPA Managing Director also said the port had a very wide and long channel, about 180km channels, which requires a N50 billion investment to dredge. She said: “We looked at the revenue generation and traffic and realised that it doesn’t justify us to spend that amount of money. So, we are exploring the use of flat vessels.” This statement should foreclose the dredging of the channel, yet we keep hearing of efforts to dredge the port channel and the factors stalling it.