AMJON Conference: Monarch calls for dredging of Oguta-Orashi River to decongest Lagos ports

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– As AMJON urges FG to focus on Non- Oil sector

By Agnes Nsikak

The unending congestion of Apapa seaports, despite the massive rehabilitation of roads experienced in the area recently has continued to worry well meaning Nigerians who believe that the most pragmatic solution to the problem has been provided by Governor Hope Uzodimma of Imo State.

Speaking at the 2023 Conference and Awards ceremony organized by the Association of Maritime Journalists of Nigeria (AMJON) at Apapa Lagos, a renowned maritime stakeholder and Chairman Olinco Transworld Groups Limited Apapa, Lagos, His Royal Majesty Eze Dr. Oliver Ohanweh said solution to the issues bordering on congestion of Lagos ports lies on that step taken by the Muhammadu Buhari administration on the prodding of Gov. Uzodima that brought the former Vice President Yomi Osinbajo to flag off the dredging of the Oguta- Orashi River on 11 May, 2023.

Barr. Emeka Iwueze, represented HRM Ohanweh at the event.

Eze Ohanweh who is the Obi Gburugburu and the paramount ruler of Isiama kingdom of Isiala-Mbano LGA, Imo State was represented by Emeka Iwueze, a Lagos based lawyer who sought the cooperation of journalists especially AMJON to take the lead in the advocacy and realization of this laudable Orashi- Oguta Seaport dream.

He emphasised that about 18 nautical miles distance of Urashi to the Atlantic Ocean cannot be compared to Lagos Port of 50 nautical miles and Port Harcourt 60 that were all dredged to make for navigation.

Eze Ohanweh decried the suffering of very many Nigerians which he said could be reduced when a sea or river port becomes operational in the southeast.

Paul Ogbuokiri, President, AMJON, reading his welcome address at the event

He said, “Going by the present economic realities of the country today and knowing very well that greater number of importers in Nigeria today are Igbos of the Southeast who constitute greater number of the freight forwarders, import 60 per cent of all the containers leaving Apapa/Tin-can seaports to the eastern part of Nigeria.

“These importers eventually move their goods(containers) to southeast from Lagos. There is need to facilitate the dredging/ construction of the Urashi Seaport in Imo State commissioned in May 2022 by the former Vice President Prof. Yomi Osinbajo.

“I want to thank His Excellency Distinguished Senator Hope Uzodimma who saw the importance of dredging this seaport to alleviate the sufferings of importers and by extension generality of Nigerians.

“Urashi Seaport will seamlessly link the Oseskwa Seaport in Ihiala, Anambra State which will no doubt benefit States like Imo, Anambra, Abia, Ebonyi, Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Rivers Edo and Kogi.

“The sea port if revived would not only decongest Lagos, it would provide jobs, increase revenue base of the federal government, have multiplier effect on the agro and socioeconomic development of the old Eastern Region.

The royal father sounded it clear that any one or agency directly or indirectly sabotaging the realization of the port is enemy of the people. Reminded that importers despite the numerous losses they bore, they would eventually transfer all the costs to the already impoverished Nigerians.

“Despite congestion at Lagos ports of Apapa and Tin-Can, movement of goods from Lagos to the Southeastern markets of Onitsha, Nnewi, Aba and Owerri comes with much cost as a result of extortions by some dishonest law enforcement officers and other agencies, coupled with delays and other challenges faced in the course of moving goods down to the importers’ warehouses in the east. All these add heavy costs to the goods which are finally transferred to common Nigerians (the final consumer) who consume them in Nigeria and other neighbouring countries,” he said.

On arms proliferation, he said with modern technology as scanning machines, such could be detected thereby reduce cases of multiple checkpoints on the road which also cause haulage trucks to charge more for being delayed. Therefore called for urgent review on checkpoint proliferation.

Ohanweh who is the group chairman of Olinco Transworld Nigeria Limited, was a recipient of the 2023 AMJON Excellent Leadership Award for his achievements in the maritime sector and frontline role in the actualization of the Urashi- Oguta Seaport.

In his paper presentation at the conference, the Managing Director of the National Inland Waterways Authority(NIWA), Munirudeen Oyebamiji, ably represented by NIWA’s GM, Business Development, Surveyor Olumide Adetola, said discovery of oil in the country caused government to neglect development of inner waterways, as they moved their focus on coastal areas where they were doing oil businesses to the detriment of the inland waterways.

Apart from finance which he said is militating against the realisation of the ports development, security he said remains a major albatross.

The general Manager therefore called on private partners to come to the rescue.
“Government is saying they don’t have enough money to provide these services, we have been looking into the issue of Public Private Partnership(PPP)
So that some of the things we have that the government has not been able to complete, private individuals or private investors can come in and complete it for us, use it for some number of years and return back to government.

“Like the Ogata River Port abandoned for over 20years, if there is an investor that will be ready to complete it, then use it for number of years, government will be interested in giving any investor opportunity to try what they can do on it.

“Apart from PPP, we are looking at aids and grants from international donors who will assist in the development of infrastructures. There are so many things we can do on the water ways but it’s funds that will determine,” he stated.

Earlier in his welcome address AMJON president, Paul Ogbuokiri emphasized that Nigeria’s Balance of Trade year in year out has always been unfavorable.

He expressed concern over the poor state of the Country’s mono-cultural economy which needs urgent attention of the federal government to steer the country away from this crisis and diversify as urgent as possible and take the greater advantage of African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and the recent deal between the Customs Administrations of Nigeria and Benin Republic.

“When economists listed the dangers of a mono economy, it sounded like a song meant mainly for entertainment; even with the occasional fall of the price of crude oil in the international market which usually shocks our economy whenever it happens. But we normally forget once the price goes up again and things normalize. As such, beyond sloganeering, we have never seemed to bother ourselves with the fact that our Balance of Trade year in year out has been unfavorable to us.

“Now the shock has become permanent because our crude oil has become encumbered, a large portion of it now goes into payment of debts acquired and squandered by politicians, while the other portion is being stolen by powerful people; we are therefore left with little or no foreign exchange to finance our necessary and unnecessary imports.”

The AMJON President added that though President Bola Ahmed Tinubu GCFR hit the ground running with different strategies and appointments especially the appointment of Minister of Marine and Blue Economy in order to rectify the woes of the economy since he assumed office, there is still need to re-strategize more on full local production for our consumption as done in the 70s and 80s.

“As we strongly believe that trade in non-oil exports holds the key to Nigeria’s economic survival, particularly with regard to intra-African trade. With platforms like Economic Community of West Africa States-ECOWAS Trade Liberalization Scheme (ETLS), African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and the recent deal between the Customs Administrations of Nigeria and Benin Republic.

“We believe that discussions should center on trans-border trade between our country and its neighbours with the view to identifying any encumbrance that could hamper trade now or in the future. When we focus more on our local produce for consumption, we can sell the excess to other countries for our forex needs,” he said.

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