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Jonathan’s Administration Blew N34b On River Niger, Says Rotimi Amaechi

The Nation: After paying a contractor ₦34 billion for the dredging of the River Niger,  former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration failed to get the job done.

The Muhammadu Buhari administration is spending ₦100 million on the job, Transportation Minister Rotimi Amaechi said yesterday in Lagos. It was at the opening of a conference on Fast-tracking Port Reforms hosted by The Nation in conjunction with the Federal Ministry of Transportation and Epsilon Limited.

The minister said: ”When the River Niger was first approved for dredging by the previous administration, it was approved for ₦47 billion and ₦34 billion was paid to the contractor. Dancers were called in and there was a party.

“We are not dredging the River Niger with billions of naira; we are dredging the River Niger with just ₦100 million. When we flagged it off recently, did you see us dancing? Was there a party? I just went to see the governor and told him that the project will start today and will be finished in one month.

“The governor said he will accompany me, and I said ‘ok’. So, I asked the governor to flag it off since it’s located in his state.”

Amaechi went on: “People are wondering how on earth we are going to dredge the River Niger for ₦100 million when the previous government awarded same contract for ₦47 billion? But we are going to dredge the River Niger, using dredgers owned by the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA).

“NIWA has dredgers, but the previous government preferred to give contractors money to dredge the river with private dredgers while NIWA’s dredgers were lying idle somewhere in Port Harcourt.

“The NIWA MD told me the agency has dredgers, but it’s been hired out to somebody in Port Harcourt. So, we had dredgers, but the previous administration hired them out to some persons in Port Harcourt while paying a contractor billions of naira to use privately owned dredgers at a very high cost.

“I told the NIWA MD that I will look for money to fuel their dredgers, and work has started. That is why we are dredging the River Niger with just ₦100m,” Amaechi said.

In 2011, the Jonathan administration approved the Lower River Niger Dredging Project from Warri, in Delta State, to Baro, in Niger State, to four contractors — Fung Tai Eng Company Nigeria Limited, Dredging International Service Nigeria Limited, Van Oord Nigeria Limited and Williams Lloyds Technology Company Limited.

Last year, the Nigerian Indigenous Ship-Owners Association (NISA)  accused NIWA of bungling the dredging contract of the Lower River Niger.

NISA President Aminu Umar  told a national daily:  ”We keep hearing that the River Niger has been dredged down to Warri, but how has that improved the traffic of vessels along that route? I don’t think that river was dredged.

“If truly NIWA dredged that River, then there ought to have been increase in movement of goods along that route. Nothing has changed before and after the so-called dredging that they claimed to have done.

“To be honest with you, from the shipping community, we don’t think any dredging has taken place on that river.

”How can the Federal Government approve ₦43 billion for the dredging of the River Niger and nothing would have changed? How can such money have been spent on that river and it still looks like that?

“Please help us ask NIWA to make public the draft of the River Niger before and after the dredging. We need to know what such money was used for because we are talking of hundreds of millions of dollars if it is converted into foreign currency.

“NIWA should come out with details of what they did with ₦43 billion on that river between 2011 and 2015.”

Addressing over 800 participants at the forum,  Amaechi said $186 million had been approved by President Buhari for the fight against piracy and other criminalities on the waterways.

Part of the money, the Minister said, would be spent on three helicopters and three other aircraft, among others.

His words: “Mr. President has approved $186 million to fight piracy in our waters. The funds will be used to buy  three helicopters, three aircraft, 12 vessels stationed in the water. In the next three months, all of them would  be deployed to fight piracy on our waters.

“We promised change. Change is not talked about; it is felt. That is why we asked that the people should give us time.”

Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) Managing Director Ms Hadiza Bala Usman spoke of  gateways to international trade as major accelerators of local economic development.

Said Ms. Usman: “According to the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), the Netherlands has been able to sustain a relatively high economic growth rate because of the Port of Rotterdam, in spite of the intensely competitive environment in Europe.  The success of Singapore is equally attributed to the Port of Singapore, which has developed a transport logistic centre and has successfully been able to attract foreign investment.

“It is thereby acknowledged that the maritime sector, an essential component of the transportation system, is crucial for wealth creation.

“However, a port becomes an active wheel of an economy only if it is run efficiently. One of the key areas of efficiency that our ports require is the national single window .I am pleased to announce that the Authority and the Nigerian Customs Service have concluded the operational model for establishing the national single window and will in the next few months commence with the public tender process of selecting the vendors that will deploy the required information technology infrastructure.”

“Presently, the function of a port is not only limited to traditional activities but has expanded to a logistical platform.  Ports not only perform the basic operations (embarking, disembarking and transferring of passengers and crew, loading, unloading and transhipment of cargo to and from the vessels, storage and warehousing of merchandise on land and stevedoring to and from vessels), they provide inland access and inter-modal connections as well as complementary services to shipping carriers,” she said.

Given the abundant mineral and agricultural resources available in most regions of Nigeria and the desire of the Federal Government to diversify the economy, Ms Usman said there was the need to explore opportunities to boost economic development.

The President Buhari administration, she said, has identified agriculture and solid minerals as upbeat and that the maritime Industry will play a major role in the movement of the produce and minerals to international market.

“ In February this year, all terminal operators and shipping companies were mandated by the Nigerian Ports Authority to set up fast-track desks for export of solid minerals and agricultural produce.  Process of review of associated existing procedures and protocols has been commenced to ensure efficiency and intended results are achieved.

For the Nigerian ports to play this key role in the economy an efficient rail system will be needed  in moving agricultural produce and solid mineral from the locations of production that are usually in the hinterlands  to the seaports for export.  The Federal Ministry of Transportation has embarked on a $2 billion concession rail project to be handled by General Electric which will provide the needed inter-modal support.  It will cover about 3,500km (2,200 miles) of existing narrow gauge lines from the Southwestern commercial capital, Lagos to Kano in the North and Southeastern oil hub, Port Harcourt, to Maiduguri in the Northeast.

“We are already recording increase in export of agricultural produce. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, in its Trade Intensity Index Report for the Q3, 2016, export of frozen shrimps and prawns for the period July to September were worth over ₦5 billion; Sasame seed export was worth over ₦4.8 billion in the same period; income from cashew export exceeded ₦2 billion; soya beans yielded over ₦4 billion; ginger contributed over $30million.

“Developing the ports is very crucial for realising the lofty but achievable development objectives of the Federal Government,” she said.

The Managing Director and Editor-in-Chief  of The Nation Mr Victor Ifijeh, thanked Amaechi for acceding to the request to collaborate with the paper on the summit.

“This clearly attests to his willingness to make himself available for all initiatives that can move the mariime sector forward and help fast-track the Nigerian economy.

“We all know the problems of the Nigerian sea ports; they have been well-documented. They have also been the subject of various talks. Nevertheless, until the problems are adequately addressed, the need for more engagements like we are having now cannot be overemphasised.”

For the Federal Government’s plans for the sector to succeed, the Editor-in-Chief said the port agencies need to integrate their plans and carry along not only the stakeholders but the public.

He urged the forum to create  a peer-facilitated platform which can be used to make the agencies accountable to the goal jointly agreed.

“Considering the presence of maritime experts at this forum, we are confident that lasting solutions will be provided to the challenges bedeviling smooth ports operation.,” he said.

Ifijeh thanked the Chief Executives of NPA, NIMASA, NIWA, the Nigerian Shippers Council, the participants and other stakeholders for supporting the forum.

Others who spoke include:  Spokesperson and Director, Public Enlightenment, Independent Corrupt Practices and Other related Offences Commission (ICPC) Rasheedat Okoduwa and Senior Special Assistant to the National President on Technical Matters, Research, and Training, Association of Nigerian Licensed Custom Agents, Francis Omotosho.

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