In October 2020, the Nigerian Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) piloted the arrival of the first cargoes from Onne Port in Rivers State to the Onitsha River Port in Anambra State by barges.
The NIWA had said the ceremony marked the beginning of the frequent arrival of cargoes to the port to decongest the traffic caused by trucks lifting containers from Lagos ports by road.
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During the groundbreaking ceremony, the Managing Director of NIWA, Dr George Moghalu said, “The aim of the test-run is to break the jinx and encourage partnership with the Barge Operators Association.”
He also revealed that the port was capable of handling 1,000 containers at once, which would then be transported by road to their destinations, which are nearer than Apapa and Tin Can port in Lagos or the Onne port in Rivers.
Seven months after the celebrated arrival of cargoes by barges, no container has arrived at the Onitsha port, an investigation by Daily Trust on Sunday revealed.
A first-quarter target by the NIWA for full operation of the port was also missed.
Our correspondent gathered that the voyage from Onne to Onitsha was difficult due to navigational issues.
Pilot cargo barge ‘made up’ – Sources
Sources privy to the test-run process said the first container vessel to arrive in October last year was towed into Onitsha port and that it did not sail as the NIWA had announced.
Near the port, a worker in the Julius Berger Construction Company at the second Niger bridge told our correspondent that they were the ones that towed the ship immediately it left Onne to Onitsha.
He said the barges on which the groundbreaking ceremony took place at the port were also arranged by them.
“There is nothing that has ever happened at the Onitsha River Port. The entire thing is just one big drama. The ship was towed into Onitsha.
“We use flat-bottom boats to move our equipment into Onitsha, and where there is a shallow draft, we dredge to allow for easy navigation,’’ our source added.
Recently, the NIWA said it had engaged Akewa Colmar Terminal Limited (ACTL) to move containers from Lagos ports to the Onitsha River Port via Burutu port in Delta State.
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Some operators and stakeholders in the importation business spoke about the state of the Onitsha River Port. The secretary of the Electronic Market Association in Onitsha, Comrade Damian Ogudike, said the purported opening of the Onitsha River Port was deceit.
It was learnt that since the NIWA claimed that the port was opened, importers in Onitsha are not accessing it because it is not functioning.
“We will be pleased with the NIWA and the federal government to match their words with action. You cannot tell the whole world that Onitsha port was functioning while it is not working. It is the height of deception,’’ he said.
An importer in Onitsha, Mr Mobi Rocky, said that after the commissioning of the Onitsha River Port, it stopped functioning almost immediately.
He said, “I don’t know why it stopped working when we had the hope of getting relief from the pains we pass through to bring goods to this part (South-East) of the country.
“I hope the government would reactivate the port because most of us are importers. We need the port for easy movement of goods from Port Harcourt and Lagos seaports to the South-East.”
Another importer, Mr Martins Okafor, also confirmed that the port had not been working since they commissioned it. He said nobody had cleared goods from the port since they claimed to have opened it.
“Barges just came when they said they had commissioned the port, and since then, nothing is happening there.
“I thought my pains of moving goods from Port Harcourt and Lagos to Onitsha had ended, but here we are. We appeal to the government to make it functional and active,’’ he said.
When contacted, the manager of the Onitsha River Port, Mr Baba Adam Spencer, said that for now, the facility had not started functioning fully. According to him, tests were done by ConnectRail Limited, Co-Haulage and AFCOM Nigeria Limited in preparation for full operation.
He also said AFCOM Nigeria Limited had been given an operational licence to commence very soon.
NIWA’s Head of Corporate Communication, Jibril Darda’u, told Daily Trust on Sunday on the phone that the voyage by the container vessel was the first phase of the test run and that the second phase would be from Lagos ports to the Onitsha River Port and from Onitsha back to Lagos.
“Part of the managing director’s commitment since he assumed duty is to ensure that the Onitsha port is fully functional. This is after 42 years of construction and commissioning in 2012, but it has not been put to use.
“The first voyage is in preparation for the full official operation of the port, which was intended to commence by the first quarter of 2021, but there are some teething problems, which include meeting with the Nigerian Navy and discussing with locals, whose waterfront would also be used,’’ Darda’u said.