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5 years after commissioning, multi-billion naira Baro Port remains dormant

The multi-billion naira Baro Inland Port in Agaie Local Government Area of Niger State, is yet to commence operation five years after it was inaugurated…

The multi-billion naira Baro Inland Port in Agaie Local Government Area of Niger State, is yet to commence operation five years after it was inaugurated by former President Muhammadu Buhari, Daily Trust Saturday reports.

A gigantic mobile harbour crane overlooks the mass of water surging from the Niger River in front of the Baro Inland Port. It is one of the technical equipment for cargo handling that was procured for the take-off of the port ahead of its commissioning in 2019. Also staring at the water within the quay of the port is the Reach Starker and three forklifts, which, according to Usman Bumba, the port manager, are still in perfect condition and ready to perform their cargo handling functions.

But therein lays the paradox: this multi-billion-naira equipment, including other facilities, such as water hydrant system, water treatment plant and a 100 KVA generating set, have been lying dormant as no single cargo has been lifted or any vessel berthed since the ceremony unveiling the port for business activities over five years ago.

A visit by this reporter revealed that after the pomp and ceremony that heralded its inauguration by former President Muhammadu Buhari in January 2019, the Baro Inland Port, located in Agaie Local Government Area of Niger State, is yet to commence operation.

This is in spite of the fact that the N5.8billion project. which was awarded to a Chinese firm, CGCC Project Limited in 2011/12, has a cargo stacking yard of 7,000 square meters, a transit shed of 3,600 square meters and an estimated capacity of 5,000 Twenty-foot Equivalent Unit (TEU) at a time.

During the inauguration ceremony, Buhari said the project would enhance intermodal transportation connectivity in Nigeria, reduce the pressure of big trucks on the country’s roads, create huge economic opportunities for Nigerians and help in decongesting similar ports.

The then managing director of the National Inland Waterways Authority, Senator Olorunnimbe Mamora, said the completion of the port, which was abandoned by previous governments, would ensure the effective evacuation of farm produce and other commodities from Baro community.

On his part, former Governor Abubakar Bello said the port was a stepping stone for creating a Baro International Port City that would give Niger State global visibility and an effective source of sustainable income. He disclosed that a plan was underway for the acquisition of 728square kilometers of land for the master plan for the proposed Baro Smart International Port City and Regional Plan for Greater Baro Development Area, implementation of a rapid economic empowerment programme for the residents of Baro and its environs and the development of Baro International Port City.

Dashed hopes, expectations

However, a visit by Daily Trust Saturday to the facility showed that five years after commissioning formalities, the Baro Port remains a pipe dream as neither a cargo has been lifted nor a single vessel berthed.

“Our expectations for development are dimming by the day because since the port was commissioned, no activities have taken place there,” Ndagana Mohammed, a Baro-based school teacher said.

Mohammed said, “During construction, our environment, including farmlands, were destroyed. We made sacrifices to ensure that development came to our immediate community, but it appears that our efforts are in vain. We really don’t know what is happening.

“For over five years, the road from Agaie to Baro through Katcha has been dragging, thereby impacting negatively on our economic activities, such as fishing and farming. We are, however, hopeful that under the current Tinubu-led government, the port would take off.”

Like Mohammed, Ismaila Alhaji Aliyu, the councillor representing Baro ward at the Agaie Local Government, is also worried over the non-takeoff of the Baro Inland Port, five years after commissioning.

“It is worrisome because of the huge investments and immense benefits expected from the project. Any time I visit the place I get saddened, especially in view of the huge resources that have so far been committed into the project.

“During his recent visit to Niger State to commission a project, President Tinubu mentioned the Baro project, and I believe he would stand by his word by making it a reality.”

Why the port is yet to take off

Findings by Daily Trust Saturday indicate that apart from the issue of dredging, poor road network has been the main constraint in the takeoff of the Baro port.

It was observed that accessing the facility itself has been the major headache as the road and railway networks, which should serve as catalyst to its operation are in deplorable conditions.

There are two major roads to access the sprawling community – the 55km Baro/Katcha/Agaie and the Baro/Muye roads linking Gegu on the Abuja/Lokoja expressway, both of which are in a deplorable state.

The federal government is said to have initially awarded the contract for the Baro/Katcha/Agaie axis in 2009 but revoked it in 2012 due to an alleged failure on the part of the contractor to deliver the job on time.

However, the contract for the road was rewarded a few months to the 2015 general elections to an Indian firm, GR Building and Construction Nigeria Limited, at the cost of N17.5billion, with a 12-month completion period.

At the flag-off for the construction of the project in March 2015, the then Minister of Works, Mike Onolememen, reportedly said the road was among those the federal government planned to experiment with “rigid pavement” because it is the “gateway linking Baro Inland Port to other parts of the country.”

Daily Trust Saturday, however, learnt that after an initial release of funds by the Buhari administration, the contractor returned to the site, but progress has been quite slow due to government’s failure to advance additional funds for the project.

Findings showed that less than 20km of the road from the Agaie section has been asphalted, although the entire section, up to Katcha, was graded. However, the terrain between Katcha and Baro is a nightmare for commuters, especially during the rainy season.

Similarly, the Baro/Muye/Gegu section is also strategic as it links the port to the southern part of the country. But this section is equally in a deplorable condition and desperately needing intervention.

On the other hand, the rail network, a standard gauge line put in place by the colonialists to aid the movement of goods to the hinterland has become a relic.

“There used to be a railway network that linked Baro to Minna, established around 1911, but it became moribund in early 1970 despite its centrality in the transportation framework of the country,” Salihu Mohammed, the village head of Baro recalled.

He, however, lamented that since former President Buhari commissioned the project in 2019, nothing had happened in terms of takeoff, adding, “We have been expecting it to take off so as to boost our socio-economic activities.”

There are also concerns over the dredging carried out by the federal government following the construction of the port and the actual scope of the project itself.

Experts said the dredging supposedly carried out earlier was not the type that would allow for all-season navigation. A marine engineer said that even with the expensive dredging, there is a need for constant maintenance to sustain the draught.

Findings by Daily Trust Saturday indicate that almost 10 years after the supposed dredging, no maintenance dredging has been done at the Baro port. A source at the port said that after the initial dredging, there was supposed to be maintenance dredging every two years, but none had taken place since the last exercise.

All eyes on Tinubu

Several stakeholders have decried the current state of the Baro port and called on President Tinubu to urgently do something about it.

The chairman of Agaie Local Government of Niger State, Sayuti Halilu Ibrahim, said President Tinubu should make history by making Baro port a dream come true.

“This is the time to resuscitate the lost glory; it is about the people growing the economy. President Tinubu should make history by making Baro a reality. As a strategic port in the northern part of the country, we are hopeful that Tinubu would actualise it,” Ibrahim said.

While appealing for the completion of the access road from Agaie to Baro through Katcha, he said that apart from its economic advantages, the takeoff of Baro port, which is in the centre of the North, would also boost tourism.

In a similar vein, the Emir of Agaie, Alhaji Yusuf Nuhu, who expressed worry over the delay in the takeoff of the port said, “When it was commissioned, we thought it would take off immediately.

“That is the only access road for the haulage of goods from the port at Baro to the hinterland, and from Baro to ports in Lagos, Port-Harcourt, and vice versa.”

The emir, who spoke on the strategic importance of the port to the North and Nigeria in general, recalled the role it played during the colonial era in Nigeria.

“Baro used to be boisterous in the past when ships would be transported to the hinterland. The port was used to transport groundnut, cotton and some other goods from the North.

“Although it is yet to take off, we are not losing hope. I know that the road from Agaie to Baro through Katcha is one of the factors causing the. However, work on the road is ongoing and I believe it would be completed.” he said.

The emir called on President Tinubu to revisit the project and make it a reality.

Access road, maintenance dredging required – Port manager

Speaking on why the port is yet to take off over five years after commissioning, the Baro port manager, Usman Bumba, said lack of access road was a major problem.

“Due to lack of access road, concessioners who had showed interest in the project are being discouraged,” Bumba said.

He also said that since the initial dredging was carried out in 2009, there was the need for maintenance dredging of the river for enhanced navigability.

Bumba, however, said all the technical equipment procured for the port’s cargo handling were still in perfect condition.

He said, “I can tell you that concessioners who showed interest have been discouraged from coming here. There is also the need for maintenance dredging. But all technical equipment procured for cargo handling, such as mobile harbour crane, Reach Stacker and forklifts, are in perfect condition.”

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