The Spaniards and Portuguese traversed the world in the 15th century through waterways. It was with ship that Christopher Columbus `travelled’ in 1492 from Spain to the `New World.’
All the foremost African leaders who travelled to Europe and America in search of the Golden Fleece did so through water transportation.
Other modern means of transportation have in no way devalued the importance of water transportation.
It has remained the main means of movement of bulk goods across the world.
In Nigeria, the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA), has the mandate to promote Nigeria’s waterways transportation.
The mandate of NIWA is to “ Provide regulatory, economical and operational leadership in the nation’s inland waterways system and develop infrastructural facilities for an efficient intermodal transportation system in line with global best practices that is safe, seamless and affordable.’’
NIWA management on its part has expressed commitment to ensure efficient utilisation of the inland waterways, in line with the transport sector transformation agenda.
Dr George Moghalu, the Managing Director of NIWA gave the assurance on assumption of office.
He noted that the overall policy objectives of NIWA are transforming the inland waterways to make them not just economically viable, but also to provide a safe, reliable and alternate transport system to ease the problem of transportation and movement of goods across the country.
“Inland waterways system is a critical component of the national freight system, particularly for the movement of bulk commodities.
“In view of the growing transportation needs particularly in moving bulk commodities, our country dearly needs the diversification and development of its critical infrastructure in the area of waterways transportation,” he said.
Danladi Ibrahim, who held the fort before Moghalu’s appointment, said within the period he acted, he succeeded in commencing the process of procuring self-propel barge with the capacity of carrying 60 number 40-feet containers.
He noted that this is to set the pace of moving bulk cargo from Nigerian seaports to the hinterlands through the river ports at Onitsha and Baro, to convince private investors that the inland waterways transportation is doable and viable.
He said during the period, NIWA, also procured additional dredgers to carry out in-house maintenance dredging of navigable channels, to cut cost for the government.
Ibrahim added that the management is about to conclude the process of procuring buoys in continuation of providing navigational aids from Lokoja to Onitsha, to ensure safety on the waterways.
Muoghalu during a visit to the Nigerian Naval Shipyard in Port Harcourt, reiterated NIWA’s commitment to ensure that the nation’s waterways are all year round navigated to boost maritime business and grow the economy.
Muoghalu said that out of 10,000km of Nigeria’s waterways, only 3,600 are all year round navigated.
He said the authority had been engaging the security agencies, especially the Nigerian Navy, to fight insecurity in waterways to ensure it is secure and safe for use.
He said: “We are already venturing into the area of insecurity. Our principal responsibility is to ensure that our waterways are all year round navigated. “We all know from records that we have over 10,000km of waterways and just about 3,600 are all year round navigated.
“So, we want to ensure that the waterways are all year round navigated, the issue of insecurity in the waterways has been there and is being addressed.
“We have marine police whose primary responsibility is to protect the waterways and we are engaging the security agencies, such as the Nigerian Navy, to play the expected role so that at the end of the day, our waterways will be very safe.
“We are appreciative and conscious of the fact that the waterways have a lot of potential in our transportation industry by the way of cargo movement and even passengers’ movement.
“So, we are very conscious of that. It is our hope to make waterways the right choice of transportation. That is the ambition we have and we are pursuing it gradually,” he said.
Navy Commodore Bolaji Olederu, the Superintendent of the Nigerian Naval Shipyard, said that the Naval Shipyard had world class facilities that would help it carry out its responsibility for the Navy and larger maritime community.
Muoghalu, during assessment visit to the Lamata River Port in Lokoja, expressed concern over slow pace of work since the contract was awarded.
The over N5billion contract, which was awarded to Inter Bau Construction Limited with the Baro Port several years ago, was abandoned by the contractor, even when the Baro Port had long been completed.
Muoghalu said that the Federal Government would take steps to engage the contractors and relevant stakeholders to revive the project.
“We are here to see what can be done to save the government’s investment here. We cannot allow it to waste. That is basically why we are here today.
“The port is very important to the socio-economic development of the country. The local community and Kogi, which is the host state, would equally benefit from the effective operation of the port,” he stated.
The completion of the Baro Port during President Muhammadu Buhari’s first tenure underscored the importance government attaches to waterways transportation.
Incidentally, the Baro River Port project was first designed during Buhari’s days as Chairman of Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF).
Buhari, at the inauguration of the project, said that massive development of the waterways would reduce carnage on Nigerian roads.
According to him, if the Baro River Port project had continued with the comprehensive master plan for the development of the Nigerian inland waterways, spanning over 10,000km across 28 states, carnages on the Lagos-Ibadan express way as a result of road accidents would have been minimised.
Buhari promised to upgrade the Port, revive the railway and provide a dual carriage way that will boost the economic activities of the port both on water and on rail.
The Minister of Transport, Rotimi Ameachi said the project was completed following matching order handed down by President Buhari.
He expressed the hope that the old rail lines used in the colonial days would be revived even as the road network linking the port was already being upgraded.
The port built by Chinese firm, CGCC Global Project Nigeria Limited at the cost of N6 billion, has a harbour length of 150 metres, cargo stacking yard of 7,000 square metres, a transit shed of 3,600 square metres and estimated capacity of 5,000 TEU ( twenty-foot equivalent unit)at a time.
Some of the installed machinery are 84-tonnes mobile harbour crane, one reach stacker and three forklifts of varying capacities.
Other facilities in the port include the administrative block, water treatment plant, power generating plant and staff quarters, among others
Moghalu, when he visited Baro port on familiarisation visit, said NIWA would partner the private sector to ensure the viability of the port.
He said that since the waterways have great potential, all hands must be on deck to develop and improve Nigeria’s inland waterways.
By Obike Ukoh, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)