by Abdullahi Suleiman
Inconsistency and lack of political will to drive new infrastructural development or sustain existing ones are major challenges confronting the needed growth and diversification of the Nigerian economy. It is not the easy excuse of scarce resources, but the prioritisation of available resources and channeling them to economically viable projects like Baro Inland Port in Agaie Local Government Area of Niger State.
The N6 billion River Port which was inaugurated by President Muhammadu Buhari in January 2019 with a promise to expedite action on its completion, is fast losing its prospects and becoming a shadow of it like many abandoned projects littered across the country.
Like the then notorious criminal, Monday Osunbor who was caught and executed by the Babangida administration said in an interview with Newswatch magazine before his eventual execution in 1989, “E be like say I wan mental,” each time I recall that Baro Port is still not completed two years after its commissioning. To me, it is like a nasty decimal. The feeling of grief grips me anytime I tour round the Baro port project in Niger State with its potential economic benefits that need to be urgently harnessed to ramp up revenue for the country.
It should be instructive for the federal government to note that apart from the fact that the massive economic benefits of the project are now under threat by the delayed completion of the project, the huge unemployed workforce which the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) recently put at 27.1 million and thousands of deprived youths who keep hoping that our leaders would rescue the state from the abyss towards which it is currently facing and put the economy on a growth trajectory, feel like Osunbor daily.
The port boasts of a quay length of 150 meters, cargo stacking yard of 7,000 square meters. It also has a transit shed of 3, 600 square meters and an estimated capacity of 5,000 TEU at a time.
The Baro port is equipped with facilities such as water hydrant system, water treatment plant, three forklifts of various tonnages. It is powered by a 100 KVA generating set. The port is expected to provide over 2,000 direct and 2,500 indirect jobs.
President Buhari had during the inauguration of the port, expressed deep personal attachment to the project, giving hope that the project was going to be up for operation in a matter of weeks. But about 19 months since its commissioning, the project is yet to be completed for operation. The facility has been lying dormant since its commissioning. To the best of my knowledge, no single cargo has been lifted neither has any vessel berthed since the ceremony unveiling it for business activities in January of 2019.
It is taking too long especially in the overall quest for the diversification of the economy. There is every need to revive the Baro port and bring it to function, especially at this critical time when the nation is facing a drop in revenue.
We must collectively not lose focus of the fact that the project was designed to enhance intermodal transportation connectivity in Nigeria. It is also built to reduce the pressure of big trucks on the country’s roads. When completed, it will create huge economic opportunities for Nigerians and help in decongesting similar ports. Unfortunately, the recent headlines of the reports on the celebrated Baro Inland Port suggest the nightmare of having a port that can open up the entire Northern region to economic progress will still linger (at least) unending.
Although government had attributed the delayed take off of the Port to the non-completion of the major access roads to the multi-million naira inland port, I still find it difficult to believe that a project with the capacity of creating a huge number of direct and indirect jobs is not prioritised to help achieve the federal government’s 100 million jobs project.
The port is critical to the operations of Nigeria’s waterways, especially being a feeder to inland dry ports in Kaduna and others been proposed by the federal government. That is the more reason it should have been made to commence operation in line with the economic diversification drive of this administration.
Inland ports offer superior logistics, the availability of large buildings, close proximity to rail and highways, ample truck parking, less traffic congestion, and economic incentives. In today’s new global economy, speed to market with finished goods and lowest cost shipping are the drivers more than ever.
Projections for the next five to six years indicate that some ports will triple their containership capacity and freight throughput. To accommodate the rise in global imports, the industry is shifting more to an “inland port” model, where inbound goods are quickly off-loaded from ships and moved to inland distribution centers for subsequent handling and redistribution within the country. The advantages are numerous.
Completing the port and making it to function optimally is long overdue. It is obvious the port will benefit the economy of the country when it becomes fully operational; it affects naturally the economic activities of the place. Specifically, it will have impact on the local economy in the state. Jobs will be created and for not just the host community, but for the teaming youths across the country.
The federal government’s efforts at making Baro Port in Niger State and other ports on the River Niger, such as the Lokoja and Oguta ports viable for shipment of cargoes within the country, particularly to the northern part, will save Nigeria a whopping N100 billion in freight costs for shippers.
Because the North Central is land locked, inland container ports would expose the region to international markets. If the ports were in place, the rate of road accidents as well as road degradation would be minimised.
Operators in the nation’s maritime sector said that opening up the ports would also generate billions of naira for government, especially now that the country is seeking ways to diversify the economy from its dependency on oil proceeds by increasing revenue generation from other sources.