Nigeria looks like a one-port nation with the over-congesting of the Apapa Port Complex. The Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) is incharge of the Apapa port complex, Port Harcourt, and the Delta ports of Warri, Koko, Sapele, Alajda Steel Jetty and the crude oil terminals of Escravos, Forcados and Pennington, and the Calabar ports. As things stand now it would appear as if only the Apapa port is in use. The roads to the port complex are all congested, and there is the crying need to put all the other ports of the country to work.
The Onitsha port has been opened but the River Niger is fast drying up such that no big ship can ever be able to make it to the port. Unless there is total dredging of the river the port is well-nigh unworkable. Beyond the mere celebration of the erection of the port facility attention ought to be paid to making the river navigable. It is indeed a good thing that the port structure is there but the nagging question remains: How functional is it?
The Calabar port, for instance, is quite underutilized and the Onitsha port will definitely suffer the same fate due to the perennial problem of dredging. The shallow waters from Onitsha to Burutu and Forcados cannot in any way aid the functionality of access via the inland waterways. The revamping of the inland waterways would go a long way toward the earning of revenue, creating jobs, aiding commerce and sundry trade.
The issue of building structures without paying the requisite attention to other ancillaries that will make them function has been a major Nigerian malaise, as best exemplified by the mighty TINAPA edifice in Calabar which took eight years to build but is now more akin to a wasteland. If the Calabar port had been up to optimal use, project TINAPA would have been very successful.
The Onitsha port would have been a great development but for the militating factors against its feasibility and viability. A properly functional port in the market town of Onitsha is wellplaced to serve the teeming industries and importers in Nnewi, Awka-Etiti and farther afield to Aba. There ought to be the complement of the railway to make port activities holistic. The option of hurling barges from, say, Burutu, to Onitsha is not good enough.
It needs to be pointed out that the English Channel and the River Thames which bear heavy ships are not bigger than the Rivers Niger and Benue. The sad aspect is that our rivers have been left to the elements in this age of climate change.
The government should see to it that the ports cannot exist in isolation without the attendant facilities to make them workable. With the needed railways and link roads, the ports will boost the Nigerian economy richly. When put to good use in its optimum capacity the Onneh port is up to par aside from the Apapa port in Lagos, and to some extent the Port Harcourt port. There ought to be increased port activities across the length and breadth of Nigeria in the bid to decongest the Lagos Port. The enormous amount spent on demurrage is a major drawback to doing business in Nigeria.
The relevant laws as per inland waterways should be seen to address the cognate issues in relation to port usage. The Inland Waterways Act has not been put effectively to use in the greater need to lessen the burden on the much-burdened roads. Added to this, the Cabotage Act which is heavily tilted to local content has not been made to work in the interest of the country. The requisite attention should be geared to make the ports work for the Nigerian people in the drive to harness the economy holistically.
The construction of link roads, airports, and railways will go a long way towards melding all the ports together to easily move cargo and boost the nation’s economy. It is only by making all Nigerian ports to work effectively that the NPA’s mission statement can be realized, to wit, “to ensure the efficient management of port operations, optimal allocation and use of resources, diversification of sources of revenue and guaranteeing adequate returns on its investments in order to contribute effectively to the wellbeing of the Nigerian society.”