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Shrinking rivers, wilting lives II

In the second of our two-part story, Daily Trust reports on how huge budgets and badly executed dredging projects have contributed to killing Nigeria’s rivers…

In the second of our two-part story, Daily Trust reports on how huge budgets and badly executed dredging projects have contributed to killing Nigeria’s rivers and pushing local fishermen towards extinction.


Between 2009, when the Lower River Niger capital Dredging Project commenced and 2019, the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) has budgeted a total of N59.3 billion for the dredging of rivers Niger and Benue and the construction of river ports in Lokoja, Baro and Makurdi.

Some fishermen idle away at the river bank in Numan, Adamawa State

Though the Baro port has been completed, no vessel has berthed there. No construction work has commenced on the Makurdi port while that of Lokoja commenced but has been abandoned.

Analysis of the Federal Ministry of Transportation Budgets from 2009 through to 2019 showed that N32. 7 billion has been budgeted for the dredging of the two rivers. N11, 367, 483, 269 was budgeted for the river Niger dredging project in 2009. In the 2010 budget, N9 billion was earmarked for the same project while feasibility studies for the dredging got N1.5 billion.

Estimates for the years 2011 and 2012 were N6. 3 billion and N2. 9 billion respectively. Then N5 billion was estimated for the dredging of river Niger from Baro-Wari, while  N6billion was earmarked for the maintenance dredging of waterways. Feasibility studies and dredging of the river Benue got N1, 495, 400, 000 billion in 2013 year’s budget.

The 2017, 2018 and 2019 budgets did not get estimates for dredging projects but N2.9 billion was allocated for  turning basin [wider body of water to allow ships make U-turns on narrow rivers] and water training works at Baro port. Also, purchase of barges and vessels got N1 billion while charting and bouys got the same amount.

Four contractors were approved for the project. Fung Tai Engineering Company Nigeria Limited, Dredging International Services Nigeria Limited, Van Oord Nigeria Limited and Williams Lloyds Technology Company Limited. At the time they were engaged, the project was estimated at €125 million which at the time amounted to N47billion. This figure has risen by N2.9billion since then.

According to an article published on the website of International Association of Dredging Companies,  Dredging for Development on the Lower River Niger Between Baro and Warri, Nigeria, Van Oord was awarded sections 3 and 4 with a total length of approximately 250 km,  stretching from the Jamata Bridge north of Lokoja to the Niger Bridge at Onitsha and also included the River Training Works, which were unique to this section and not included in the other sections.

Daily Trust gathered that the dredging commenced on September 17, 2009 after the official flag-off ceremony in the presence of then president Umaru Yar’Adua.

The dredged sand was deposited along the riverbanks and findings have shown that this has been washed back into the river further aggravating the siltation and sedimentation in the 2012 flooding.

The article stated that at various locations, the river is so shallow that even with maintenance dredging, the stipulated water depth of 2.5 metres could not be guaranteed since there is a provision  to construct 18 cross dams to block the secondary branches of the river to guide the water towards the navigation channel alignment.

“This will increase the velocity of the water and therefore the erosion of sediment on the bottom to ensure the required water depth. The cross dams are to be constructed using sand dredged from the navigation channel and are protected by a layer of rock materials contained in gabions. In addition to the cross dams, the contract also provides for the construction of 14 groynes. The main purpose of these groynes is not the guidance of the river flow but to protect some of the outer bends of the river to stop erosion,” the piece further revealed.

However, the project was not executed to specifications as stakeholders have all insisted the dredging was not properly done and the river is now worse off than it was before.

A dockworker, Mr Joseph Etsano, who spoke with our reporter in Warri, said the lower Niger was only partially dredged, a development he said has hampered the original intention of having bigger vessels to navigate the channel.

“In the ‘80s, there were a lot of companies here. They left because of the lingering crisis then. Now, they’re returning with the news of the dredging; investors are now moving in but with this development, uncertainty is everywhere,” Etsano said.

The spokesman of the dockworkers said if the Federal Government does a full scale dredging of the river, big vessels with heavy tonnages would come into the Warri Port and move upstream to Ajaokuta and Lokoja.

Findings also revealed that the Baro Port in Niger State is still lying fallow 10 months after President Muhammadu Buhari commissioned it. When our reporter visited, he learnt that no vessel had  berthed there since it was unveiled in January.

Also, Jihad Ahmed , the aged fisherman in Lokoja, decried the siltation of the river.

“Vessels are also not coming and one wonders what was the purpose of the dredging? Without the masses, there won’t be government, so when government is doing a project, it should do it in a way that will be beneficial to the masses,” he said.

For him, dredging has been a waste since it could not achieve the purpose for which it was done.

President of the Nigerian Indigenous Ship-Owners Association (NISA), Aminu Umar, had in 2016, decried the poor handling of the dredging project, stressing that no work was done despite the huge funds earmarked for it.

Geoffrey Binauto, Chairman of Nigerian Union of Fishermen and Seafood Dealers in Adamawa State, who has lived in Numan for the past 50 years,  said the last time a vessel came up to the area,  was in the early 1970s when he was still a child. He believes dredging the Benue would boost economic activities and help curb perennial flooding of riverine communities.

Where is the money coming from?

A source at NIWA said funds for the project were not from the federal budget raising question as to why huge sums of money were still budgeted for a project which had another source of funding.

The National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA), hitherto Inland Waterways Department (IWD) of the Federal Ministry of Transport, metamorphosed into an Authority by an act of the National Assembly, CAP 47, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (LFN), 2004 (Decree No. 13 of 1997), established with the primary responsibility to improve and develop Nigeria’s inland waterways for navigation.

It also has the responsibility to undertake capital and maintenance dredging; provide hydraulic structures for river and dams, bed and bank stabilisation, barrages, groynes; as well as survey, remove, and receive derelicts, wrecks and other obstructions from inland waterways. However, evidence shows that it has failed to account for the monies budgeted for this responsibilities so far, as this investigation has showed.

When asked how much was used to dredge the river Niger, Mr. Tayo Fadile, spokesman of the authority, said he was not the right person to give that kind of information.

He ignored a text message sent to him demanding details of the project and whether the dredging served the purpose for which it was done. When our reporter called him two days after sending the message, he said he was in transit but it was the only opportunity he was giving the reporter to speak with him on the project.

He said the lower river Niger was dredged and it was left for the business community to utilise it. On allegations by fishermen that dredging affected their occupation negatively, Mr. Fadile said they (fishers) cannot competently say the river was not properly dredged. He however, admitted that the river has silted again due largely to the 2012 flooding and the alluvial nature of the river banks. He also said monies budgeted for the project were not released by the government.

When contacted, one of the contractors, Dredging International Services Nigeria Limited responded through Van Velthoven Stefaan, saying  “Please contact NIWA as they were the Client and we have an agreement that no statement should be made by the subcontractor. I trust this might help you.”

The others did not respond to emails.

Calls placed to Sir Isaac Chukwu and Mr. Lloyd Ezechukwu, chairmen of Fung Tai Engineering Company Nigeria Limited and Williams Lloyds Technology Company Limited respectively went unanswered.

Ezechukwu however responded to a text saying he would send his project team to meet with this reporter.

Weeks later, our reporter is still waiting for this meeting. And for years, local fishermen have been waiting for the dredging work to be completed while they slip further and further down into poverty. From all indications, they have many more years to wait before the rivers are dredged, if ever.






















This investigation is supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting.

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