In a bid to boost trade and commerce in the north and the country at large, President Muhammadu Buhari, in 2019, commissioned the Baro Inland Port in Niger State. We recall that the port was constructed at a cost of N5.8 billion. It is equipped with a quarry length of 150 meters, a cargo stacking yard of 7,000 square meters, a transit shed of 3, 600 square meters, and a capacity of 5,000 TEU at a time. The port also has a hydrant system, water treatment plant, tree forklift of various tonnages, and is powered by a 100KVA generating set.
As days rolled by, every hope that Baro Port will become operational is gradually fading. Following concerns about the port, the Managing Director of the National Inland Waterways Authority, NIWA, George Moghalu had disclosed last year that the non-completion of the major access roads to the multi-billion naira Port is stalling its take-off. He said the authority is making efforts to reach out to appropriate authorities in a bid to get the access roads to the facility fixed. Two years after that assurance, it is the same story of the access roads as nothing is seemingly being done to fix the roads to the port.
There are two major access roads to the ancient community – the 55 kilometers Baro/Katcha/Agaie and Baro/Muye linking Gegu on Abuja/Lokoja expressway both of which are in deplorable condition. The federal government had awarded the contract for the Baro/Katcha/Agaie axis three times and yet no visible progress on the road.
Instructively, the port is critical to the operation of Nigeria’s waterways, especially being a feeder to the inland dry port in Kaduna commissioned by President Buhari in 2018. The aim was to bring maritime activities closer to the hinterland. Nigeria has six seaports: Apapa and Tin Can in Lagos, the Onne and Port-Harcourt Ports in Rivers State, the Warri Port, and the Calabar Port. Only the Lagos ports are operating anywhere near full capacity. The inland river ports at Onitsha and Oguta are still not yet fully functional.
It is also pertinent to recall the Build, Operate and Transfer (BOT) agreement signed on May 16, 2006, between the Federal Government and the concessionaires to establish Inland dry ports, otherwise known as Inland Container Deports (ICD’s) or Containers Freight Stations (CFS). The locations for the Inland Container Depots include Isiala Ngwa in Abia state; Erunmu in Oyo state; Heipang in Plateau states; Zawachiki in Kano state; Zamfarawa in Funtua Katsina state; Jauri in Borno state and the one in Kaduna.
The ports were meant to bring services to the doorsteps of shippers across the nation, assist in decongesting the seaports as well as assist in reducing the overall costs of cargo to the hinterland and other locations.
There is no gainsaying it that the revival of the inland river and dry ports as well as the rails will revive trade and commerce across the country. Those infrastructure will also reduce the pressure on the roads. We have examples to rely on where such facilities have lifted the economy. For instance, in India, the port of Kolkata, is a riverine port in the city of Kolkata, India, located around 203 kilometers (126 mi) from the sea. It is the oldest operating port in India and was constructed by the British East India Company.
With the turn of the century, the volume of activities at the Indian Riverport increased steadily with the port having the capacity to handle annually, 650,000 containers, mostly from Nepal, Bhutan, and India’s northeastern states.
According to findings, the port handles automobiles, motorcycles, and general industrial cargo including iron ore, granite, coal, fertilizers, petroleum products, and containers with Iron ore, leather, cotton textiles as its major export while wheat, raw cotton, machinery, iron & steel are the major import. While Nigerian river ports are abandoned, the Kolkata River port generates $170 million annually for the Indian government.
The federal government’s efforts at making Baro Port in Niger State and other ports on the River Niger, such as the Onitsha, Lokoja and Oguta ports viable for shipment of cargoes within the country, particularly to the northern part, will save Nigeria a whopping N100 billion in freight costs for shippers. No government desirous of developing the economy, especially rural economy, will toy with such a project. And that consideration, we suppose, was the driving motive for the establishment of these ports that now seem to have been abandoned.
It is from this perspective that we call on the government to do everything possible to make Baro port and other ports operational. The projects will also help in reducing the insecurity currently ravaging Niger State and other parts of the North, aside from creating jobs for the teeming unemployed youths across the country.