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Let the Orashi river port flourish

By Luke Onyekakeyah
06 October 2022   |   3:55 am
The move by the Uzodinma administration in Imo State to dredge and develop the hitherto unknown Orashi River into a river port is a step in the right direction which should be commended and appreciated by right thinking citizens.

Uzodinma. Photo/FACEBOOK/govtofimostate

The move by the Uzodinma administration in Imo State to dredge and develop the hitherto unknown Orashi River into a river port is a step in the right direction which should be commended and appreciated by right thinking citizens. The project, if logically pursued and executed, will constitute an important regional development landmark for the South-East geopolitical zone that has been erroneously branded as landlocked.

The South-East has been branded landlocked by ignorant people who didn’t understand the hydrological setting of the East. Truth is that there are at least three major rivers that have direct access to the Atlantic Ocean. What the channels need is dredging to make them navigable to vessels. The rivers include Imo River, Omambala River and Orashi River. A deliberate regional development action by way of dredging will open them up as navigable channels to the Atlantic Ocean.

The popular Suez Canal in Egypt was a dry land before it was cut and dredged down to the Ocean to create a seaway corridor and one of the busiest channels in the Middle East. The same was the Panama Canal that was cut through the Isthmus of Panama to connect Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. The Imo Rivers naturally empty into the Atlantic Ocean and could easily be developed into navigable channels for water going vessels.

Until now, not many people knew that the South-East has direct link to the Atlantic Ocean via the veritable Orashi River. This fact has been hidden, which is why the move by Governor Uzodinma to bring this hitherto concealed and undeveloped water way to the limelight for enhanced economic value. It is not that the Federal authorities did not know about the Orashi River and its huge economic potentials as the impression is being peddled.

Available information shows that Orashi River is an ancient trade and cultural route, which has provided means of transportation and migration for indigenous communities who moved from one town to another by canoe for cultural, social or economic purposes on market days. As part of effort to improve inland waterways utilization in Nigeria, the Federal Government reportedly approved the dredging of the Orashi River from Oguta Lake in Imo State to Degema in Rivers State. The project which was awarded to Simidia S&I International Company in May 2012 was to be completed in 12 months. The 205 kilometers river was expected to be dredged with a bed width of 40 meters, top width of 70 meters and depth below dredging chart datum of 1.5 meters.

The question is what happened to the contract? Was it executed? If not, why? Experience shows that the country is littered with thousands of abandoned projects due partly to political exigencies. It is obvious that the contract was awarded during the Goodluck Jonathan administration, which was Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). It is possible that the succeeding All Progressive Congress (APC) government in 2015 did not welcome the idea of dredging the Orashi River. But even at that, the contractor was given 12 months to complete the project, which would have been completed before the APC government came on board in 2015. Nevertheless, Governor Hope Uzodinma who wears the shoe of leadership in Imo State knows where it pinches most, hence, his decision to dredge the river for economic development. But what baffles me is the way and manner the responsible federal government officials are feigning total ignorance about the Orashi River project. Recently, Governor Hope Uzodinma, had stated that the federal government has approved the dredging of Orashi River to the Atlantic Ocean to serve as a river port in the South East region.

According to reports, Governor Uzodinma had disclosed that the approval followed the visit of President Muhammadu Buhari to the state to commission projects executed by his administration. He said when completed, the port will complement the economic activities of the other six major seaports in the country. He stated that the dredging of the river port will enable traders from the zone to import and receive their goods directly while enjoying a comparative advantage as well as promote and encourage the business spirit of the people of the South East.

However, in an interactive session with journalists on the sideline of the 2022 World Maritime Day celebration in Lagos, the Minister of Transportation Engr Muazu Sambo, stated that that neither the Ministry nor the Presidency is aware of such port.

“I was in the US when the Minister of information, Alhaji Lai Muhammed, sent me a text to confirm this Orashi River dredging and I asked the permanent secretary who also said nothing like this is in the ministry.

“I know the Orashi River is an inland waterway and it falls under the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) purview. I have not been able to reach the NIWA MD.

“Also, I have not been able to reach the governor who is my friend to know whether it is the state government that intends to do the dredging,” he said.

The flat denial by officials by the federal minister is ridiculous; it shows the gap and lack of synergy in governance. If there is “nothing like this in the ministry” in the words of the permanent secretary Ministry of Transportation, what happened to the contract reportedly awarded to Simidia S&I International Company in May 2012? Was there a contract or not? If there was a contract, why is there no trace of it in the ministry?

There is need to clarify what a river port is vis-à-vis sea port. A river port is an inland port on an inland waterway, such as a river, lake, or canal, which may or may not be connected to the sea. Such a port has facilities for loading and unloading ships. Onitsha, Lokoja and Markurdi are towns on an inland waterway that could have such facilities if properly developed and utilized. Ships dock at ports to load and unload their cargo and passengers.

On the other hand, a seaport is a town or city with harbour for seagoing vessels. Sea ports are maritime facilities that can comprise one or more wharves where ships can dock to load and discharge cargo and passengers. It is obvious that what Governor Uzodinma meant was river port.

The Imo State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Hon Declan Emelumba, had in a statement in Owerri, said the explanation has become necessary following various interpretation of the project by many interest groups.

According to him, Gov Hope Uzodimma never talked about sea port at Oguta or Orashi, but harped on the economic benefits of dredging the river up to the Atlantic Ocean. He added that the governor could not have talked of a seaport in Imo state when there is no sea in the state, adding that what the governor was emphasising was having access to the sea through the dredging of existing waterways.

Said he, after an inspection tour of the area, Uzodimma specifically told reporters that he went with the Navy to understand the terrain better and appreciate the beauty nature has bestowed to this state.

Emelumba regretted that the opposition and some biased maritime reporters had stoked the fire of controversy to take the shine off the huge vision behind the project. The commissioner said this was not the first time that attempt was being made to dredge the Orashi River to join the Atlantic Ocean.

I was apprehensive that the denial of the Orashi dredging by the Minister of Transportation and others might be a subtle way to scuttle the project. The Federal Government has this dog in the manger attitude when it comes to major projects in some states.

For instance, when the first civilian governor of Imo State, Sam Mbakwe embarked on building an airport in the state, federal authorities did everything within their power to stop him but he never wavered. Today, the Imo Airport is one of the busiest in Nigeria.

Furthermore, when the former Lagos State governor, Babatunde Fashola embarked on a major project to expand the Lagos-Badagry-Seme highway into a befitting international corridor, federal authorities in Abuja kicked against it which contributed to stalling the project. These and some others are just a few examples of dog in the manger attitude by the Federal Government, which is inimical to national development.

The dredging of Orashi River is worthwhile and should be encouraged. Governor Uzodinma should not relent in the worthy mission. Rather than go it alone, the Imo State Government should synergize and involve the other governments in the South-East because of the regional importance of the project.

Finally, the Akwa Ibom Government is building a deep seaport. The state is looking towards China for the actualisation of its multimillion naira deep seaport project located in Mbo Local Government. We need development all over Nigeria. Imo State needs infrastructural development badly.