By Joseph INOKOTONG
The Acting Director General of the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE), Dr. Vincent Onome Akpotaire has decried the non-dredging of the Calabar Channel which has impeded vessels coming into the Calabar Port to the detriment of the terminal operators and other users of the Port.
Speaking after the Post Privatisation Monitoring of Terminal Operators at the port recenrlt, the Acting Director- General who was represented by the Director, Post Privatisation Monitoring in the BPE, Mr. Joseph Chigbo Anichebe who led a BPE team to the Port, said the Bureau would immediately come up with a report on its assessment of the Port and present to the Federal Government for quick intervention for the dredging which commenced some time ago but suddenly stopped.
He said that though the Bureau was not a party to the contract for the dredging of the Calabar Channel, “BPE will step in to ensure that the Federal Government dredges the Port because it is an agreement signed with the Terminal Operators during the concessioning of the Terminals”.
The Ag. DG said that during the two-day monitoring at the Port, all the Terminal Operators complained that the non-dredging of the Channel had led to a lull in their operations leading to a huge loss of revenue to the Federal Government, a situation, he said ought to be addressed urgently to shore up Government’s dwindling revenue.
According to him, “Calabar Port is not what we were expecting. We expected to see here what is happening in Lagos and Port –Harcourt Ports where activities are booming but unfortunately, the Calabar Port has gone back to pre-2006 levels. We have interacted with the Port operators who have told us why the Port is not performing as expected and have given the Bureau an avalanche of reasons why the Port is not performing. And the major challenge they say is the non-dredging of the Calabar Channel.
“No ocean going vessel can come into the Channel. We were expecting the draught to be deepened but as it is now, no big or container laden vessels can come into the Port. When we go back after the interaction with the Terminal Operators, we will do a report to the BPE management and the National Council on Privatisation (NCP), chaired by the Vice-President, highlighting the problems we saw on ground and it is our belief that very soon things will change based on our recommendations”
A statement signed by Mr. Alex E. Okoh Head, Public Communications of the BPE said he stated that after the interaction with the Terminal Operators, the key thing that played out was the non-dredging of the Calabar Channel. “You can’t ask a ship to come to Calabar Port and dock because the depth is so low. And that is the critical thing we expect the Federal Government to do. As soon as the Channel is dredged, Nigeria can apart from imports, also export as there are many things to export but if the ships can’t come in you can’t export. You can’t take smaller ships to export goods to Europe”.
The Acting Director General maintained that the Calabar Port is very central to the North-East, North-Central, South-East and South-South regions of the country which it can control the economies in these regions.”Nnewi for instance imports heavy duty equipment. In Onitsha, they import all kinds of goods. Aba exports and imports a lot of products and Calabar Port should be the hub but currently, it is not. People will transport their goods to Lagos to export while others would import through Lagos Port and haul them by trucks and the roads are not good. So why not use the Calabar to ease their sufferings”.
The Calabar Port was concessioned to Intels, Ecomarine and Shoreline Logistics in 2006. Under the concession agreement, the Federal Government was contractually obligated to dredge the Calabar Channel but it never did until in 2013 when the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) appointed a Channel Manager- Calabar Channel Management (CCM) in 2013. CCM mobilised and started dredging in 2014 but suddenly stopped.
Due to the non-dredging of the Channel, many stakeholders have been making a case for it, the recent being the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) which recently met with the Cross River State Governor, Ben Ayade to intervene to make the Port work.