The outbreak of the deadly Coronavirus (COVID-19) may have delayed due diligence work being carried out by private operators on Onitsha river port concessioning process.
Speaking at a stakeholders forum recently in Lagos, the Managing Director of National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) Dr. George Moghalu, said that the Onitsha river port as well as the Baro river port are 100 per cent completed and awaiting concessions to private operators.
He explained: “As we are now, the concessioning process is on. I would have travelled on Sunday night to Belgium with my team to the port of Antwerp for due diligence. They have come here about a month and half ago, their team came and went to Onitsha port and do all their assessment and everything.
“Consequence upon which now, invitation was extended to receive us but this Coronavirus issue will put a hold on the movement. Once that is resolved, we continue with the process. But I can assure you the concession process is still on.”The NIWA MD said that out of the 10,000 kilometers of inland waters in Nigeria, only 3,650 of the waterways is navigable. He however assured that NIWA is opening open up the rest of the channels in order to relieve the gridlock at Apapa port.
Also speaking at the meeting, Chairman of Nigerian Ports Consultative Council (PCC) Otunba Kunle Folarin, urged the NIWA MD to step up the campaign on the use of life vests for boat riders and passengers, saying that the level of accidents on waterways is alarming.
Otunba Folarin lamented that there is shortage of manpower development in the maritime sector, he said currently, the professionals are ageing while there are no trained hands to take over from them.
Chairperson of the Nigerian Shipowners Forum, Barr Margaret Orakwusi noted that safety issues on the waterways must be handled with urgent attention, while the recklessness of the boat operators must be addressed.
According to her, NIWA should ensure that rescue missions and ambulances are provided on the waterways in case of accidents.
On his part, former Managing Director of Nigerian Shippers Council, Dr. Kingsley Usoh, lamented the shallow draft of the inland waterways, saying that it prevents barge operators from loading high numbers of containers.
He also called for creation of policies that would stop the construction of bridges across the inland waterways, according to him, this prevents stacking of containers.
President General of the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN) Comrade Adewale Adeyanju, who was represented by Francis Bunu, charged NIWA on developing the boat operators rather than signing memorandum of understanding on taxing them. He said that currently, boat operators welfare have been abandoned, while they are being double taxed.