By DAPO OLAWUNI
Nigeria’s transportation minister, Rotimi Amaechi currently in murky waters over his recent comments on a national television where he wrote-off the nation’s four river ports, located in Anambra, Imo, Kogi and Niger states.
The Maritime Industry Advocacy Initiative (MAIN) has called for Amaechi’s resignation, even as it has urged the National Assembly to probe the minister.
In a press statement issued on Monday and signed by the Executive Director of MAIN, Mr Sesan Onileimo, the group expressed shock at watching a Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, going on the Nigerian Television Authourity (NTA) to disparage the river ports, describing them as a waste of resources.
Amaechi was seen on a live Television programme proudly and arrogantly demarketing the four river ports, that is after Government had committed several billions of Naira.
According to Onileimo “He is the superintending Minister whose portfolio includes water transportation. These river ports which the Minister openly declared as worthless are the ones known as Lokoja river port, Baro river port, Onitsha river port and Oguta river ports”
On the four ports, he said: “I had this conversation with my friend, Senator Goje about the viability of the river ports that we have including Onitsha, Baro, Lokoja and Oguta river ports and I felt that it was a waste of funds”.
“Honorable Minister, you knew that they were a waste of fund, yet you made the Federal Government to commit billions into their construction?
“While admitting that the river ports would only be useful if the River Niger was dredged, he declared also that, “for you to have those river ports functional, you must have to dredge River Niger. For now, even if you dredge, it is still 2.5 to 3 metre draft, which determines the vessel that can go there and the minimum you can have is a six-metre vessel.”
“So you also knew that the approaches to these river ports were too shallow to be dredged to permissible draught for badges, yet you convinced Government to them?
“Then, Minister Rotimi Amaechi boastfully dropped the bombshell. “There is absolutely no vessel that will come in there at 2.5 to 3 metres draft”!
“Apart from the draft limitation which he alluded to, the Minister also shamelessly acknowledged that Baro port, especially, is not viable and can not enjoy the patronage of importers.
He went ahead to add a clincher: “The idea when the Baro port was concessioned is that, you pick up a cargo maybe in Warri or Port Harcourt because Lagos is too far, and put it on a barge and move it to Baro. But how many times will the barge be able to move those cargoes to Baro?”
“So, Mr Amaechi knew very well that the distance between Warri port in Delta state and Port Harcourt port in Rivers state is too long to make Baro port serviceable by badges, yet he recommended its completion and deceived President Muhammadu Buhari to commission the river port?
In his words, “for the man who imports through Lagos or Port Harcourt, if he puts it on a train, he arrives the same day, and there is no issue of insecurity unlike the man who has taken the cargo from Port Harcourt seaport to Baro by barge.
“And the Minister spoke further like a typical Nigerian politician that he is. He cared less about the huge funds that have been expended on the two ports that have been completed and not functional and the two that are yet to be completed”
He spoke of Baro port again. “They wanted the port constructed, so we completed it. My responsibility is to construct a Baro port and I have constructed it. As Minister, I did engage the public that these are the problems we will face when we finish this Baro port. First, Nigeria does not produce anything in the first place, so what are you going to transport? If we make the Apapa seaport very efficient, then we don’t even have enough cargo.” This is balderdash!”
“In a saner clime, the Minister of Transportation would have been forced to resign. He would have been told how insincere he is with the affairs of state that he superintends. In some countries, Mr Amaechi would have been jailed or charged for deliberately wasting national revenue. But such hardly happens in climes such as ours, where demons are canonized because of political clouts”
“How dare Mr Amaechi insult the collective intelligence of Nigerians, the nation’s transport sector, and most especially, indigenes of the states and towns where those river ports are located? How could he willfully waste so much money on projects he understood to be worthless”
“As the Minister of Transportation, can Amaechi on oath, say that these ports that he glowingly condemned were not subjected to feasibility study. If they were, what was the verdict?”
“Hasn’t the Minister heard of S.W.O.T Analysis. Were these river ports subjected to analysis in terms of their Strength, Weakness, Opportunity and Threat?
“Mr Amaechi inherited four river ports, one of which was fully completed, while three were at different stages of completion, yet he threw his weight behind the projects and caused government to commit funds, only for him to turn round and say they were never meant to be viable!
“Our findings are that, prior to the appointment of Mr Amaechi as the minister of transportation in 2015, the four ports, with the exemption of Onitsha were all at different stages of abandonment”
“Onitsha River port was built under the administration of President Shehu Shagari in 1983 and since then, it has been lying fallow and completely underutilized until 2012 when it was rehabilitated and commissioned by former President Goodluck Jonathan. But, it has never been put to use since then”
“It is the to the credit of the Federal Ministry of Transportation, under Mr Amaechi that Baro was completed, and the duo of Lokoja and Oguta were still undergoing construction. Oguta is about 61% completed, while no one can ascertain the level of completion at the Lokoja port”
“The story of the four river ports and the Minister’s arrogant caveat emptor clearly underscores deliberate deceit on the part of successive government about the need for these river ports”
“At the least, we should thank the Minister for unveiling this truth – that the government never wanted the river ports to be operational, rather politicians want to use it to serve certain pecuniary and political interests. How else can one understand the mindset of our political leaders, if not by what Amaechi said: “They wanted the port constructed, so we completed it. My responsibility is to construct a Baro port and I have constructed it!
“Government functionaries under the supervision of the Minister of Transportation have lied severally about commencement of operations at both Baro and Onitsha. While Baro is not accessible by road at all, the Onitsha port was recently touted as being ready to receive container-laden ships. The Managing Director of NIWA; Dr. George Moghalu had to eat his words later, when evidences to the contrary emerged from stakeholders.”
“We call on the Minister of Transportation; Mr Rotimi Amaechi to resign for encouraging revenue wastages on the nation’s river ports. By his own admission, the ports are white elephant projects, that were not meant to serve the nation’s interest, but the parochial and selfish interest of a few politicians”
“We also call on the National Assembly to probe the state of affairs at the four ports. For Baro, the lawmakers should find out why it has remained useless two years after it was commissioned. For Onitsha, it is time to ask the Minister why the river port has not been concessioned or put to use, despite its full completion”
“We also urge the lawmakers to dig into the situation of things at the Oguta and Lokoja port, because huge funds have been expended on them”
“Maybe, at the end of the probe, which will have the Minister in attendance, Nigerians will know why and how public funds are filtered away on irrelevant projects that are doomed to fail from conception” the statement concluded