The Federal Government’s efforts to diversify not just the economy but also our ill-advised sole dependence on the Lagos Ports is moving steadily, as the Onitsha Inland Port has finally gone into operation.
This is commendable sequel to the full commencement of operations by Maerskline at the Onne Port this year after quitting the Lagos ports.
With the commissioning of the port by the Director General of the Nigerian Inland Waterways Authority, NIWA, George Moghalu, Maerskline containers can make the one month travel to Onne, arrive at the Clarion Terminal of the Onitsha Port within 24 hours and be cleared to dry ports or directly by the owners.
It has been a long, tortuous trek to this triumphant moment for this port on the River Niger. It was originally built by the Shehu Shagari regime nearly 40 years ago.
Shortly before the 2015 general elections, the Goodluck Jonathan government upgraded and commissioned it. But it could not be put to use because the waterway logistics were not ready.
Following approval by the Nigerian Ports Authority for Maerskline to move East, and the government’s determination to fully activate commercial operations in the Onitsha and Baro ports, commerce is now possible on the Niger. It was slow in coming, but at least, it is now here.
We hope the nation is really serious about moving goods up the Niger from the seaports. It will go a long way in relieving the city of Lagos and Nigerian business operators of the headaches of traffic congestions, heavy demurrage charges, losses to road accidents and extortions by law enforcement agencies along the Lagos-Benin-Onitsha highways.
It will also restore population equilibrium which had weighed heavily on Lagos and against our other cities.
It will provide new developmental and job opportunities and make it possible for the River Niger to service commercial and industrial activities in the Northern zones which had hitherto depended only on the Lagos ports. It is a win-win situation for everybody.
We commend the Buhari administration for taking the good works of previous regime to their logical conclusions where they become available for the use of the generality of Nigerians. This indeed confirms the dictum that government is a continuum, and only unpatriotic regimes will drop the relay baton.
For our river ports to adequately service the economy and operate round the clock, necessary arrangements must be made to secure the waterways against piracy and the activities of maritime hoodlums masquerading as “militant” agitators.
Care must also be taken to protect them from extortionist rogues within our security agencies. The River Niger channel must be regularly dredged and desilted to enable barges operate undisturbed.
Unless these steps are taken, the waterway and ports might be abandoned once again.