The realities of Onitsha River Port – Myth and Facts By Don Ebubeogu

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I have seen a lot of posts regarding the flag-off of Barge Services from Onne to the Onitsha River Port, which I have been tagged or received through other social media handles. Most of the write ups were laced with emotions without the benefit of facts and realities.
Without joining issues with any of the divide on this subject, permit me to state that what happened at the River Port last week was a flag off by NIWA, a logistics services by a private firm to ferry containers from Onne, River State to the River Port Onitsha. This services simply use the flexibility of the inland waterways to deliver containers from Onne to Onitsha instead of transporting the containers with vehicles through the roads. This is a welcome development. It will reduce the number of containers using the roads and make use of the river as a means of transport.
Before now, there is Clarion Shipping Line that has been using the River Port as bonded warehouse. Containers shipped under their company are discharged at Onne and taken by the road to the River Port for custom clearance and delivery to the owners. The barge services can also pick the containers on behalf of Clarion Shipping Line from Onne to Onitsha by using the inland waterways.
For Onitsha River Port to operate fully as a designated port of destination, there has to be a legal framework gazetted for the same, and that was what this government tried to do by opening it up for concessionning. Incidentally that exercise was mirred with controversy and left the port in uncertain status.
To understand more about the issues affecting the Onitsha River Port, below was the address I delivered at the Annual Lecture Series of Onitsha Chamber of Commerce on the Onitsha River Port, last year (2019).
May I, on behalf of the Council and members of the Onitsha Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture, welcome you to the 12th Edition of the Perspective; an annual lecture series of ONICCIMA which provides the platform where we discuss issues affecting the socioeconomic development of the Onitsha Business Community, the State and to a larger extent the South East region.
The event offers us the opportunity to address issues with a view to providing workable solutions that are not only implementable but in the long term; sustainable.
Permit me at this juncture to express our appreciation to Anambra State Government under the leadership of His Excellency, Chief Dr. Willie Obiano whose presence here as the Special Guest of Honor has further strengthened our belief that this government supports the growth of the organized private sector in the state.
We thank the Honorable Commissioners of various Ministries present here today especially the Honorable Commissioner for Trade, Commerce and Wealth Creation, the Honorable Commissioner for Transport, the Secretary to the State Government, Heads of Federal and State agencies present here today.
We also seize this opportunity to thank our royal fathers of the day His Majesty, Igwe (Dr.) Alfred Nnaemeka Achebe and His HRH Igwe Sir Leonard Nwankwo Ezeh Ksc, Jp (Eze Abba) for honoring us with their presence.
Today, we are taking another look at the Onitsha River Port – Capabilities and Possibilities and its strategic gateway for trade and commerce, in South East, and Nigeria in general.
Onitsha has played a central role in the trade and distribution of goods all over Nigeria and across the West African region, because of its strategic position between Eastern and Western Nigeria, and between the densely populated Igbo hinterland and the oil-rich creeks of the Niger Delta. For more than 50 years it has remained the regional hub for trade and logistics in Southern Nigeria.
There are over 15 key highly capitalized, independent open markets spread in this metropolis, majority of which are classified for particular distinct goods like textiles, electronics, households, foods, beverages, automobiles, building materials, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and machinery. It also hosts the famous Onitsha Main Market; the largest single market in Africa in terms of geographical size, capitalization and volume of trade. Onitsha has an estimated transaction value in excess of US$120,000,000.00, daily.
It is therefore, pertinent to note that the Onitsha River Port built by President Shehu Shagari in 1983 and rehabilitated by the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan at a cost of N4.6 billion in 2012, was done out of sound economic considerations, for the benefit of the Nigerian economy. Unfortunately, political consideration seems to be the only reason why this port is lying comatose seven years after rehabilitation that boost of transit sheds/warehouses of 100×55 metres with a storage capacity of 10,000 twenty feet equivalent units (TEUs), port operations building, nine senior staff quarters, 11 junior staff quarters, fuel tank farm, 150mm diameter borehole, etc.
In what I will personally term “the politics of the Onitsha River Port”, let me inform this audience that unlike the usual convention after commissioning a facility as important as a river port, there is an official designation and gazette of the facility, which will officially give it a legal status to operate, no such official proclamation was made on each of the occasions it was commissioned.
Nevertheless, we must not fail to appreciated the role National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) has been playing in recent times, under the leadership of Senator Olurunimbe Mamora, which prompted the Honorable Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi to grant the approval for the commencement of the declaration and gazetting process, which if completed is expected to give some measure of comfort to shippers..
In spite the directive given by the Honourable Minister, we are still concerned about the concession exercise of Onitsha River Port, which is mired with controversies. NIWA, which is the implementing government agency, informed Nigeria, through the then acting Managing Director, Barrister Danladi Ibrahim, that it has concluded the concession of the River Port as at July 2018, and yet, it has not been able to communicate to the winner of the bid officially till date. The Port concession process which was scheduled for conclusion by the end of March 2018 has been bedeviled by series of irregularities leading to numerous complaints from bidders which led to pending litigations. While the country loses sufficient revenue from the congestion at the Lagos Ports, it short-changes itself by not exploring the options provided by the Onitsha River Port.
It will take both economic and political will to fully concession the Onitsha River Port in order to tap from its huge economic benefits to businesses located in the commercial cities of Onitsha, Nnewi and Aba, and save the economy the burdened cost of transporting goods from Lagos to Eastern Nigeria. This will not also save businesses as much as N750,000.00 put into cargo clearance as haulage cost of transporting cleared consignment from Lagos ports to the states in the East, but will also help to decongest the already stretched Lagos ports.
With a colossal turnaround time for ships at Lagos ports, which is estimated in excess of 30 days, against 3 days that is obtainable at efficiently operated ports globally, resulting in port detention penalty of about $1,200.00 per container coming to Nigeria, the Federal Government should hasten the concession of the Onitsha River Port in order to put into effect the gospel of Ease of Doing Business championed by the current administration.
Today’s event seeks to x-ray the capacities and possibilities of the Onitsha River Port and the multiplier effect that would result in increased revenue both at the Federal and State level, jobs that would be created for the teeming mass unemployed youth and more importantly allay the growing concern of a systematic attempt to marginalize and subjugate the economy of the South East region.
The ideas and suggestions expressed in today’s event will further concretize the position of the Organized Private Sector in Onitsha and in a larger context the South East region which would be presented to the Federal and State Government in the form of a communiqué. We have moved past the meaningless political parley that does none of the party any good. Now is the time to push for the full utilization of the Onitsha River Port and to ensure that in the coming months the Onitsha Business Community would witness the first ship berthing at the Port.
We thank everyone who has taken time from their busy schedule to be part of this event; we also thank those who have been working silently in the background to ensure that the Port is fully utilized.
Thank you
Don Ebubeogu (MD, Tiger Foods LTD)
The President
Onitsha Chamber of Commerce,
Industry, Mines and Agriculture.
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