Shipping industry stakeholders while applauding the Federal Government for refloating Onitsha River Port after about 30 years of comatose, make strong case on how the River port, among others being rehabilitated can be sustained to boost commercial activities across the country, reports Francis Ugwoke
After about 30 years of inactivity, Onitsha River Port was two weeks ago refloated in what promises to boost commercial activities in the South East. For big time importers from the commercial towns of Onitsha, Nnewi, Aba and Ogbete-Enugu, the decision by the Federal Government was a welcome development . And this is for obvious reasons.The port could be a big relief for importers from the South East who have over the years moved their trade goods from Lagos, Port Harcourt and Calabar ports by road. The problem associated with transporting goods to long distances is usually nightmarish, one of the reasons why government is planning to introduce Inland Container Depots (ICDs) in the six-geo-political zones in the country. Poor road network and security concerns have been problematic for importers who have to transport their goods to far distances.
There have been cases of container or truck hijack as well as breakdowns that leave importers at the risk of highway robbers. Sometimes, the drivers connive with robbers to hijack such goods, leaving the owner to suffer huge economic loss. The importers are also at the mercy of Shylock transporters who charge exorbitant fares to take containers from far away Lagos to the East. Calabar port which would have helped was deserted because of the low cap of the Ikom Bridge and rampant robbery cases. Delta Seaport which is nearer to the East was also faced with piracy and other hostilities that have affected the fortunes of the seaport. The rail system would have addressed this problem, but totally absent where needed.
At the relaunching of the of the N4.6bn River port in Onitsha, President Goodluck Jonathan said the project was part of government’s efforts to improve on all forms of transport system in the country “The river or marine transport must be enhanced and to do it, we need inland port like the one in Onitsha. Our target is to link all the ports by roads and rail so that doing business in Nigeria becomes easy. The river ports must be linked up to other areas of resource. Today, the process is being started and others on the drawing board must be completed.”, the President said.
He expressed optimism that a well-developed inland water transportation system will be a big relief on the highways. Incidentally, most of the express roads from Lagos to Onitsha, down to Benue State are in a state of dilapidation. The worst area is in Ore, Ondo State and Enugu-Onitsha road which are in very bad shape, although under reconstruction, but in a snail speed.
With the River port, industry stakeholders, including the former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr Olisa Agbakoba (SAN) told THISDAY that government should be effective in its promise to ensure that the River Port does not go comatose the way it has been in the past 29 years.