FORTY two years after the idea was muted, the Onitsha River Port made history when it received light cargo barges with containers, which the National Inland Waterways Authority, NIWA, said was to test run the activities in the port.
The development drew excitement among the residents of the town who are mainly importers and exporters. Their excitement stemmed from the fact that when the port fully comes on stream, they would not have to travel to Lagos to clear their goods as that would be done in Onitsha.
Work on the Onitsha River Port project was begun during the administration of former President Shehu Shagari in 1983. Since then, it has been laying fallow due mainly to politicization. Though it was rehabilitated and commissioned by former President Goodluck Jonathan in 2012, there were still no activities. One of the drawbacks was the shallowness of the River Niger, which could not allow for ships to berth at Onitsha. So, for this past 42 years, Onitsha Port remained a white elephant project until the determination of the present administration to inject life into it. What was witnessed at the commercial town of Onitsha at the weekend was not the berthing of ships, but the arrival of barges which came from Onne Port in Rivers State. The exercise was supervised by the Managing Director of NIWA, Chief George Moghalu who also received the barges and the containers at the port. Saturday Vanguard gathered that full activities at the port are expected to begin in the first quarter of 2021. Experts are of the view that for a ship to arrive and berth in Onitsha, there is need to properly dredge the river from the Atlantic ocean to Onitsha and other inland river ports. Moghalu, who was elated by the berthing of the barges described it as a “milestone that will have direct impact on the economy of the Southeast geopolitical zone”, as cost of transportation of goods and services will significantly be reduced. According to Moghalu, activities at the Onitsha River Port will openavenues for job creation and equally reduce time spent on traffic and the resultant road accidents. The NIWA boss said: “The aim of the test run is to break the jinx and encourage partnership with the Barge Operators Association and to assure them that it is possible to move containers from Onne to Onitsha by water successfully and from Onitsha back to Onne. ”This is the first phase of the test run and the second phase will be from Lagos Ports to Onitsha River Port and from Onitsha to Lagos. “NIWA is giving an exemplary leadership to all investors that move goods on the waterways, which is economically viable and safe. So we want investors to key into the programme to be able to benefit from the potentials of water transportation.
“This is part of my commitment since assumption of duty as Managing Director of NIWA. My aim is to ensure that the Onitsha Port becomes fully functional after 42 years of the commencement of its construction and the subsequent commissioning in 2012., “The exercise that took place at the Port was part of preparation for the full official operation of the Onitsha River Port which will commence by first quarter of 2021. “There is no doubt that the full operation of the River Port will boost economic activities in Anambra State and South East in general, create jobs and wealth for our teaming youths, reduce the usual bottle neck in clearing goods and save money wasted in transporting containers from different ports in the country to the South East. It will also decongest our ports in Lagos and reduce the pressure on our roads.” The Area Manager of NIWA, Onitsha River Port Complex, Mrs. Queen Uba, who was elated at the milestone being achieved by the current leadership of the port was optimistic that the full operation of the Onitsha River Port would be achieved, adding that the full operation was being put on hold due to the ongoing process to concession of the port. “While we were waiting for completion of the concession arrangement,the management entered into agreement with Connect Rail Services Limited to kick start the lifting of goods from the Port to other parts of the county”, Uba said.