BY YUSUF BABALOLA, Lagos
Seven months after the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) flagged off the evacuation of cargoes from Lagos Ports to Onne Port, Rivers State and Onitsha Inland port in Anambra State, the service is yet to become operational.
NIWA had said the initiative was to decongest the Lagos Port from the perennial traffic gridlock, reduce cost of haulage of containers as well as make the Onitsha River Port boom of economic activities.
The managing director of NIWA, Dr George Moghalu, had in October 2020, said the agency had met with the stakeholders, including the importers in the Eastern part of the country, the barge operators, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), the security agencies, the communities along the route from Lagos to the final destination, among others, on the commencement of the initiative.
Moghalu said the evacuation of cargoes from Onne Port to Onitsha River Port would commence fully in the first quarter of 2021.
But seven months after the flag-off of the exercise to decongest the port access road, the project which attracted a lot of enthusiasms is yet to begin, thereby raising concerns among maritime stakeholders.
A credible source in the industry attributed the lateness in the project’s take off to the MD’s engagement in the forthcoming governorship election in Anambra State.
Moghalu is seeking the governorship ticket of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the November election and had allegedly suspended activities in NIWA until after the party primaries.
When asked about the commencement of the cargo evacuation, the source said, “The MD has relocated to Anambra and until he is done with the APC primaries nothing can be done. Activities at the headquarters here have been on a standstill for the past few months and they will remain so until the primary election of the party is concluded.”
However, the non-commencement of the initiative has elicited anger from stakeholders in the maritime sector, especially shippers, who described the project as a “blind adventure” by NIWA
The president of Shippers’ Association of Lagos State (SALS), Rev. Jonathan Nicol, said insecurity on the waterways, shippers would not entrust their cargoes on any barge from Lagos to Onitsha.
He said, “NIWA should set their priorities right and stop going into a blind adventure. I will also advise them to be cautious because it will take one day (with a good road network) to get to Onitsha than entrusting cargoes on a barge that will take three days with insecurity to get to Onitsha from Lagos.
“Another reason is that during dry season, I don’t know the route they will want to use because some rivers have already dried up and the present security situation in the country doesn’t support the use of riverine areas that are not secured to move containers that cargoes on it are worth several millions of naira, so it is a blind adventure,” Nicole said.
Also, a member of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Philip Ikedim, said the non-dredging of River Niger is the reason why the project has failed.
He said it was a white elephant project that cannot be executed due to a series of challenges such as insecurity, unworthiness of some of the barges and lack of insurance on the cargo.
Giving an instance, Ikedim said why shippers may lose interest in the evacuation of cargoes through barges was the recent incidents where cargo estimated to be over N500 million dropped deep down inside the water.
He said about seven 40ft containers dropped deep down along the Mazamaza water channel. Some of the containers were said to contain LED television sets, a scenario that elicited bitter reaction from stakeholders.
“If that should happen to an Onitsha or Onne-bound cargo, who will bear the burden?” he asked. This is part of the challenges that we are yet to be told how to go about,” he said.
He continued, “if a barge is hijacked by sea robbers on the way to Onitsha or Onne Port, who will pay for the ransom demanded? This is a misplaced priority; the MD should first ensure sanity on the nation’s waterways before going into cargo evacuation by barges.”
Efforts to get Moghalu’s reasons for the non-commencement of the project failed as text messages sent to his mobile were not responded to.