The Federal Government on Monday reassured the business community in the South East of its commitment to concession the Onitsha River Port for full operations.
The Managing Director of the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA), Dr George Moghalu gave the assurance in Onitsha during a stakeholders’ meeting on the economic viability of the River Port operations.
Moghalu, however, explained that there were legal contentions currently hindering the smooth completion of the concession process with the preferred Belgian firm, Port of Antwerp.
The NIWA boss further explained that the process to gazette the Onitsha River Port as port of final destination was on in a bid to reduce congestion at the Lagos ports.
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According to him, more than five million containers come to Onitsha, Nnewi, Aba and other South East states yearly which he noted accounts for the gridlock on highways.
“The Onitsha River Port is not yet a port of final destination, but the process is on a very high speed to make it a port of destination.
“We are also waiting for a report of a technical adviser which would be presented to the Federal Executive Council for approval.
“Goods can only then be cleared at Onitsha when it is made a destination port,” he said while assuring that he would drive the process to conclusion as NIWA MD.
He said that the agency was engaging the Nigerian Navy, Nigerian Police Force and Army in collaboration with NIWA Police to beef up security on waterways, especially Onitsha to Onne and Onitsha to Lagos Ports.
Moghalu said to make the business process comfortable for investors, the agency had made the issue of insurance cover mandatory for all badges and vessels plying the routes.
The managing director disclosed that the agency had signed a Memorandum of Understanding with NUPENG to move bulk petroleum products from Lagos to Onitsha, Baro and Lokoja ports to encourage water transportation.
Moghalu, who expressed delight at a successful haulage of cargo from Onne Port to Onitsha River Port a week ago, solicited the support of the stakeholders to ensure full operations.
“We are now more determined than ever to make more waterways navigable to facilitate marine transportation across the country,” he assured.
Earlier, the President of the Onitsha Chamber of Commerce, Industries, Mines and Agriculture (ONICCIMA), Mr Chris Ukachukwu expressed hope that the commencement of the full activities at the Onitsha River Port will boost economic activities and create employment opportunities.
Ukachukwu listed the benefits of the Onitsha River Port to include reduction in road traffic congestion, elimination of illegal Customs and Police check charges on roads and increased revenue for the three tiers of government.
Others benefits, he said included reduction in crime and youth restiveness, longer lifespan of roads and increased water transportation, among others.
The president, however, raised questions regarding the operation of the port such as whether the port had been gazetted as port of final destinatination, if there were plans for dredging the River Niger channel and the nature of security architecture on ground, among others.
While commending the management of NIWA for the job done so far, Ukachukwu appealed to the Federal Government to urgently consider linking the Onitsha River Port to the national rail network.
In a welcome remark, the Area Manager of NIWA, Onitsha, Mrs Queen Uba said the federal government had developed the Onitsha River Port to provide alternative means of carrying cargo into the hinterland.
Uba urged the stakeholder including captains of industries and the business community to patronise the river port and make the dream a reality.