With 8,600 kilometers of inland waterways and 852 kilometers of coastline, Nigeria has the longest waterways in the African continent But these extensive waterways is made up of mainly the River Niger and river Benue which dissected the country with confluence in Lokoja before flowing into the Atlantic ocean.
The extensive inland waterways provided the country some rare opportunities which have not been utilized as in developed economies due to numbers of factors. The National Inland Waterways Authority has been looking for ways to maximize the usefulness of the country’s waterways hence the dredging of the river Niger and Benue the most useful waterways in terms of economic usage. The second attempt it made to actualize optimum utilisation of the waterways potentials was the organization, few days ago, of an international conference on how best to make the best use of the vast waterways for economic prosperity of the country.
All the experts that spoke at the conference bared their mind and frankly too as each of them enumerated the factors that have combined to make the potential that abounds within the country’s inland waterways untapped
The commander of joint task force operating in the Niger Delta, Major E.J. Atewe in his paper titled “securing inland waterways for sustainable economic ventures”, said there was need to provide adequate security along the water ways in order to attract investment into the economic sub-sector.
“Sustainable economic venture is a socio-economic activity that improve human wellbeing and social equality amongst other positive hu-man and environmental endeavors. In order to attain this level of impact, a secured environment is required, which is a fertile ground for a conducive atmosphere for sustainable economic venture. The outcome of both security and sustainable economic venture is human development which leads to better standard of living. Sustainable economic venture cannot take root in a war torn society, where there is fear amongst the investors, turmoil, hostility and violence” he said
According to him the inland waterways in the United kingdom are well developed, managed and by the Inland waterways Protection in collaboration with other agencies like the British Transport commission, adding that traffic safety along the waterways in the country was higher than road transport to galvanize economic development.
He said authorities that are managing the British Inland waterways were well equipped with small boats services aircraft, marine craft and a host of other to carry out their jobs even as an average Briton consider see it as a solution to continental transport problems and development catalyser. ‘In America, the United States Coast Guard is a branch of the United States Armed forces with the responsibility of securing the U.S.A. inland waterways, The American Coast Guard is adequately equipped to carry out this assignment and today American waterways are considered the most secured in the world.
The joint task force chief enumerated the components of insecurity on the country’s inland water ways to include kidnapping, which is considered as very lucrative by the criminals,activities of cultist, sea robbers and smugglers, the ethno-political conflicts, illegal bunkering and crude oil theft pipeline vandalism and sabotage, engagement of ex- militants of questionable character, drug trade and poverty in the Niger Delta.
Others who spoke at the conference emphasized the need to ensure regular capital and maintenance dredging of the waterways for effective navigation, besides the regular removal of waterweeds, popularly called water hya-cinths.
The government however said it was planning to link 28, out of the country’s 36 States with waterways as a roadmap for the development of the waterways.
The Managing Director of NIWA, Hajia Inna Maryam Ciroma said she would not be satisfied, until she has overcome the challenges of enthroning sanity and best global practices in an inland waterways where investors can operate, with the assurances of safety and necessary infrastructure, in place.
“The authority with its regulatory responsibil-ities has the big challenge of enthroning global best practices in the inland waterways sub-sector. It also has the responsibility of maintaining the more than 10,000 kilometres of waterways, out of which only 3,000 kilometres are navigable”, she disclosed, noting that the authority was also expected to provide the necessary infrastructure that will make navigation on the waterways effective and efficient, so as to ensure that about 28 states, out of the current 36 States can be accessed through water.
Inna Ciroma expressed her dissatisfaction that the already dredged 572 kilometres of channels, running from Warri to Baro had not been adequately put to optimal use, and challenged the participants at the conference, to explore ways, as to how the provision of 100 metres wide channels, with a minimum depth of 2,5 meters could be fruitfully utilized, all year round.
“For the dredged River Niger to be put in proper and effective use, the Federal Government has also approved the rehabilitation of the abandoned Onitsha River Port which is being put up for concessioning by Messrs Green Stratos of India, under the supervision of the ICRC”, noting further, that there would equally exist a coordinated linkage between emerging new river ports at Baro in Niger State, Oguta in Imo State and Lokoja in Kogi State, alongside some other jetties being constructed in different parts of the country.
She enjoined them to brainstorm, dialogue and exchange ideas with the objective of ensuring maximum utilization of the dredged River Niger; pointing out that at the end of the day, the illumination from the crowd of mentally sound
minds should also be able to indicate how Nigeria could realize the tourism potentials of a dredged, coordinated and sanity dominated channel, emphasizing the need to be guided by the theme of the conference: “Modernization inland water infrastructure and vessels, for safe and sustainable Inland waterways transportation in Nigeria”.
Speaking on the same note, the Minister of Transport who said the Federal Government was pursuing the goals of a vibrant economy, anchored on public private practice (PPP) agenda, assured that all the nation’s river ports would be assisted to blossom, after which, they would also be concessioned to the private sector operators, upon completion; because Government was pursuing delivery of an efficient intra-coastal system, to reduce the pressure on the country’s road transport network.
“May I hasten to mention that this administration attaches great importance to security of our waterways; and it is in this regards that some patrol boats were procured to provide security coverage within the inland waterways.
“Consequently, in other to consolidate the transformation of inland waterways sub-sector, the Federal Government has approved the dredging of River Benue, while the process for the award of contract for the construction of Makurdi River Port is actually progress”, Senator Idris Umar stated further, assuring investors that Government was committed to providing an enabling environment, needed to stimulate economic growth, through our inland waterways”, he also said.
It is worthy to note, that Nigeria has navigable waterways, linking more than 20 states and comprising 12 major rivers, creeks, lagoons, lakes and intra-coastal waters aggregate, to a total navigable distance of over 10,000 kilometres, constituting an important natural resource that offers extensive opportunities for inland water transportation.
Already, the federal Government has completed the capital dredging of lower River Niger from Warri to Baro, covering about 572 kilometres to facilitate all-year round navigability; for a channel running through major towns like Warri, Onitsha, Agenebode, Idah, Jamata (Lokoja) and Baro. And the idea here is largely to ensure that goods can be transported over long distances, at relatively, low rate along the channels.–International Trade Monitor