Boundless opportunities exist on Nigeria’s waterways, which if tapped into by both the federal government and private sector, would yield several economical benefits for the nation. SAM EGWU in this piece examines some of the available prospects
The National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) was formerly inaugurated by a decree under General Ibrahim Babangida, the then head of military government in Nigeria. By this decree, the waterway was transformed from Inland Waterways Department (IWD), which was hitherto, the nomenclature to National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA). The waterway potentials to economic diversification cannot be over emphasised. Aside the transportation that would be enhanced, investigation reveals that those living by the riverbanks could earn their living through all year round farming activities with the crops, which depend largely on constant water supply like rice and corn.
NIWA’s mission into business in the country was to provide regulatory, economical and operational leadership in the Nation’s Waterways system and develop infrastructure facilities for an efficient intermodal transportation system in line with global best practices that is safe, seamless and affordable. Some nations of the world, which have no natural endowment like Nigeria in terms of water facility, have grown to become world great economies. The nation’s diversification of economy, as projected by the federal government under President Muhammad Buhari, could, to a larger extent be achieved, effectively through the waterways.
The waterways has 10, 000 square kilometres and 3, 000 square kilometres navigable all the year round, safe and secure for business of water transportation, to make Nigeria the leader in inland water transportation, development and management in Africa, a feat that she has so far achieved, this was the vision before embarking on providing infrastructure; through dredging, building of jetties, ferry services, well regulated manpower base, secured and safe sea and river ports, regulated and managed by NIWA with headquarters in Lokoja, Kogi State. A cursory look at the importance of waterways transportation in Lokoja, given human history, has been on for quite sometime now. Through Lokoja to Shintaku, the eastern axis of Kogi State was the route used by the federal troops to prosecute the civil war between 1967-1970. It eased the movement, by ferry and flying boats to achieve the desired response. This area of transportation still remains effective till date. Till a link bridge is built across the rivers Niger and Benue, increase in security and adoption of ferry services across the river, remains sacrosanct.
The idea of making waterways an economically viable venture was conceived several years back, but several challenges affected its operational base, coupled with bureaucratic tendencies glaringly affecting the takeoff without considering the economic importance to the Nation. Frequent collapse of Nigeria’s major expressways would have reduced maximally, if the waterways were put into use, an estimated several billions wasted on fixing the highways would have reduced drastically. Example of the advantages envisaged, if the waterways are put to effective use is the shipping of cement in batches by Dangote conglomerate through the waterways to eastern end of the country.
Some experts who spoke to LEADERSHIP Weekend were of the opinion that, the businesses on the waterways were private driven, that the government can put the infrastructure in place and again go ahead to provide the transport means.
Citing example of government building the expressway, for instance from Lokoja to Abuja, it was no longer the duty of the government to provide vehicles on the road. The onus lies on the private businessmen to key into the facilities provided by the federal government on the waterways to tap into the opportunities. The industrial giants like Dangote, the tile merchants in Kogi have the capacities to bell the cat by taking the bull by the horns in ensuring that the advantages provided by Inland Waterways are fully tapped.
It is possible, if the big business moguls in the private sector are ready to acquire tug-boat marine barges to move goods from one point to another. The waterways, investigation has revealed, can link Ajaokuta to Baro, Idah/Aganebode, Onitsha, down to Warri and Lagos with goods, which about 30 trucks were supposed to carry with telling effect on the highways.
Nigeria is blessed with a large resource base with water, 28 out of the 36 states of the nation can be accessed through water. Nigeria can also link five of its neighbouring countries- Benin Republic (Port Novo), Equitorial Guinea, Cameroun, Chad and Niger Republic by water. The Rivers Niger and Benue constitute the major channels for inland navigation which include but not limited to Cross River, Port Novo-Badagary-Lagos waterways, Lekki and Lagos Lagoons, Ogun -Ondo waterways, Benin river, Escravos channel, Nun river, Imo river, Orashi river, Ethiope river, Ogwuta lake, Lake Chad and creeks in the Niger Delta.
In view of the current economic recession and need to diversify the economy from the mono-culture which dominated the economy during the oil boom, efforts are being geared towards making alternatives viable, and one of such is, the waterways transportation which is safer and less costlier.
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