NIWA accused of deceit over Onitsha River Port as House probes maritime agencies

The House of Representatives has accused the Nigeria Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) of lack of honesty in the proposed concession of the Onitsha River Port.

This was as the House started investigation on alleged malpractices in government agencies in the maritime industry.

The Chairman of the House Committee on Ports, Harbours and Waterways, Dr Pat Asadu while speaking during the probe which kicked off Monday in Abuja said the management of NIWA has been misleading the general public on the Onitsha River Port.

According to him, the management of NIWA has never wanted the Onitsha River port to work, adding that the agency has been making claims that are not verifiable.

News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports the Speaker saying that there was nothing to show for the huge sums of money so far spent on the project.

Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr Yakubu Dogara described the allegations raised against NIWA were very weighty and capable of affecting the economy.

Dogara said the federal government needs an effective maritime sector for the benefit of the national economy and called for diversification drive in the industry.

While commending the executive arm for the efforts in repositioning the sector, he however said it would be unacceptable for ports in other West African to take the hub for international freight and trade from Nigeria.

He said, “ I must say that the maritime industry in Nigeria is yet to attain the desired and expected status of becoming the hub for international freight and trade in West Africa.

“In this regard, it has been observed that over the years, the Nigerian maritime industry has failed to attract the required local and foreign investment inflow that is proportionate to its contribution to both the Nigerian and West African economy, despite its great potential and enormous investment opportunities.”

“According to the National Bureau of Statistics in March, Nigeria’s Ports dropped down the global ratings basically due to bad infrastructure.

“Interestingly, major competitors in the West African region, such as the Port of Lome in Togo, Port of Dakar in Senegal, and the Port of Cotonou in Benin Republic, all deliver better efficient services than the Nigerian Ports.

“This is really not acceptable.
“”Some of the problems that have been identified as the reasons the Nigerian Ports are performing so poorly include bad infrastructure, high cost of doing business and low draught at a lot of our major waterways.

“It is our hope that the Legislative exercise being carried out through this committee will proffer lasting solutions to these problems.”

Dogara called on the federal government to dredge the seaports to be able to attract more traffic.
He said, “It has also been pointed out by stakeholders that dredging our port channels will increase traffic to our ports and invariably increase economic productivity.

“For instance, if we have cargoes going up north to places such as Kaduna, Kano and Maiduguri, such cargoes would not need to go through Lagos, which is already so congested.

“But for this to happen, the channels of other ports need to be dredged.

“Reports have it that the Lagos water channel is about 14.5 meters deep, while the Port Harcourt and Calabar channels are less than 10 meters deep, which limits their capacity to receive big cargo ships.

“This explains why there is so much congestion at the Lagos Port. If we must make the expected progress in our maritime sector, all available resources must be accountably and prudently managed to meet the various demands for improved infrastructure.”

The speaker further highlighted other factors militating against the development of the maritime sector.

The factors, he said, include alleged arbitrary increases in charges by terminal operators, inefficient collection and accounting procedures, and contract repetitions and payment of huge commissions to service providers compared to remittances to the Federation Account, among others.

According to him, if these allegations are anything to go by, we can understand why the sector has recorded persistent decline in performance and economic growth over the years.

The speaker pointed out that these are serious allegations which need to be looked into.

The investigative hearing was necessitated by seven maritime related motions on issues relating to Guaranteed Minimum Tonnage at the Nigeria Ports, extra budgetary spending and other financial improprieties by terminal operators and service providers engaged by the Nigerian Ports Authority.

Others are abandonment of dredging projects by companies so contracted, even after allegedly receiving payments and alleged illegal disposal of lands and properties belonging to the Nigerian Ports Authority and the National Inland Waterways Authority of Nigeria.(NAN)