Engr. Nkpubre Okon Nkpubre is a former Managing Director of Nigerdock Plc and former Director of Engineering, Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC). Currently the Managing Consultant, Green Seas International Nig. Ltd., Engr Nkpubre is also the Chairman of Oron Nation Technical Committee on Ibaka Deep seaport. In this interview, the thoroughbred professional speaks on how the Akwa Ibom State Governmant is planning to build a dugout port in Ibeno LGA, jettisoning the choice of Ibaka in Oron nation which has repeatedly gained approval from relevant authorities as the most suitable site for the Harbour.
The deep seaport that was originally sited at Ibaka in Oron land has been trailed by controversies. What are the issues?
Ordinarily, there shouldn’t be controversies if the right thing was done. Ibaka bay in Oron nation has long been recognised as a natural harbour with a natural draft of above 11 meters most suitable for hosting a deep seaport. However, because of ethnic politics against Oron nation which is a minority ethnic group in Akwa Ibom State, the Government of Akwa Ibom State wants to abandon the natural harbour to go and dig out an artificial ocean to build a dugout port elsewhere. That is what is generating controversy.
Initially, the Ibaka deep seaport, the first deep seaport embarked upon by the Nigerian government was to be developed under a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) model between the Federal Government, Akwa Ibom State Government and a core investor with equity in the ratio of 20:20:60 respectively. The Federal Government through a Ministerial Committee set up a Project Delivery Team to carry out due diligence studies for the Project. The team worked with consultants through a rigorous procedure to select a site near Ibaka bay and close to Tom Shot Island as the most preferred location for the deep seaport. The Due Deligence report was submitted since January 2013 and Outline Business Case was submitted in July 2013. Godswill Akpabio who was Governor of Akwa Ibom State then, promised to ensure completion of the deep seaport before leaving office in 2015. Unfortunately, destructive politics set in. The Government of Akwa Ibom State began to work surreptitiously against the location of the deep seaport at the preferred location in Oron nation. The information given to us by the Implementation Committee for the Project is that the Federal Government has relinquished equity in the deep seaport and that the seaport will now be built in the most unusual location in Ibeno as a dugout port. Oron people are vehemently against the relocation of the deep seaport and the construction of a dugout port near their territory.
The Federal Government recently gave approval for the take off of construction. Do you think the situation can be redeemed, like reverting the site to its original location?
People in Oron believe that if the falsity and dishonesty involved in the relocation of the deep seaport from Ibaka is exposed, the relocation will be stopped. Why would any sane person abandon a preferred location in a natural harbour close by to go and dig an artificial ocean out of land to build a dugout port. Can you imagine the cost of digging out such an ocean? Where would the millions of cubic meters of dugout earth be dumped? It is a situation like this that makes outsiders look at Nigeria as a very fraudulent country and makes the TI index of Nigeria to keep declining, despite the efforts of the Federal Government. Oron people will do everything legally within their powers to ensure the relocation is stopped. No investor would want to invest in a project surrounded by controversy. We will let our objection to the relocation of the deep seaport from the preferred location known to all the stakeholders. At first, they told us that the relocation was because of a cluster of oil pipelines in Ibaka Bay. When this was debunked, they went to procure a cooked-up new assessment document to overturn a previous location assessment carried out by the Project Delivery Team. This cooked-up document makes no sense and can be trashed even by an intelligent secondary school student who is taught statistics. Oron people will do everything to stop the relocation, including going to court to challenge the logic and validity of the new location assessment document on which the relocation is based. In Nigeria, you can get approval for anything if you have money and connections. The Federal Government can revoke approvals if there is evidence that the approval was fraudulently obtained.It is because, they don’t want the deep seaport to be in Oron nation.
Why do they not want the seaport to be sited in Oron?
Akwa Ibom State is made up off three major ethnic groups: Ibibio, Annang, and Oron, occupying 15, 8, and 5 local government areas respectively. Before the creation of Akwa Ibom State from Cross River State, Oron people, though small in population in Cross River State, held commanding heights in industry, politics and education to the discomfort of the more populous ethnic groups. This led Prof. Ayandele the former Vice Chancellor of University of Calabar (UNICAL) to coin the word ‘Oronphobia’ to illustrate the threatening popularity of the Oron ethnicity. When Oron was put with the other two bigger ethnic nationalities to form Akwa Ibom State, it appeared the concept of Oronphobia became more pronounced. Oron has suffered undue subjugation since the creation of Akwa Ibom State. It is on record that 70% of oil accruing to Akwa Ibom State is from Oron land and water territory. This is what has made the state the highest oil producing state in Nigeria. Yet, Oron nation has been blatantly refused recognition as an oil producing community. Because of this deprivation and marginalization some people in Oron have muted the idea of Oron leaving Akwa Ibom State to join the Efiks in Cross River State to form Atlantic State. I must say that this is not the desire of the generality of Oron people. It is an idea thrown up by the frustration of unabated subjugation. This may be the real reason why Akwa Ibom State Government do not want to build a deep seaport in Oron. If that is the reason, why can’t they tell Oron people so instead of cooking up spurious reasons as if Oron people are fools. But, must we sacrifice a national heritage as valuable as Ibaka natural harbour because of ethnic divide? If they struggle to build a dugout port at Ibeno which is only 10km from Ibaka, it means the naural hatbour at Ibaka will remain a waste for eternity. No government will approved another port at Ibaka.
Following your line of thought, don’t you think that the fear of the State Government is not misplaced, because Oron may leave Akwa Ibom State to form Atlantic State?
Dangote is building a massive refinery in Lekki not because he is from Lagos State but because Lekki is the most suitable location for such a large scale refinery. If Ibaka deep seaport is built in Oron and Oron happens to move out of Akwa Ibom State in future, will it change the ownership and management structure of the deep seaport? After all the core Investor who is investing 60% in the project is not from Akwa Ibom. The Federal Government was very committed to the Ibaka deep seaport. That was why a Ministerial Steering Committee was inaugurated to drive the project.
The SWOT analysis for the project listed the natural harbour at Ibaka as a major strength of the project. But probably because of underhand dealings for the relocation of the deep seaport from the preferred location at Ibaka, the Federal Government lost interest and decided to relinquish equity in the project. When I demanded explanation from the Commissioner in Akwa Ibom State in charge of the deep seaport project, he told me that the Federal Government doesn’t have money anymore to invest in the deep seaport. But recently, the Minister of Transportation announced the intention of the Federal Government to increase the tonnage of sea tranportation in Nigeria by investing in deep seaports in Delta State. So it is possible that the Federal Government relinquished equity due to the ugly politics of relocation. Ibaka bay is a national treasure most suitable for a deep seaport. Nothing can justify the removal of Ibaka deep seaport from there.
Don’t you think that politics of siting a project might delay the take off and make the project unrealistic and if there is no actualization there will be a negative backlash on the economy of the State and even Cross River, should Oron leave Akwa Ibom and don’t you think it is better to engage than to disengage?
The location of a major infrastructure as a deep seaport should never be subjected to ethnic politics. It is decisions like this that is making Africa undeveloped. There are basic economic criteria for siting production and service infrastructures such as a deep seaports. These criteria are unambiguous. I have gone through the official due diligence report for Ibaka seaport. The location they want to move the port to is most unsuitable. It was earlier rejected by the location assessment done under the Project Delivery Team. The area is clustered with oil pipelines and offshore platforms making navigation almost impossible. The shore is also exposed to high waves. That is why they are forced to resort to a dugout port. They will still need to build a very costly wave barrier in addition to digging out an ocean from land. This is a crazy choice.
The Chairperson of the Implementation Committee is a lawyer. She is handicapped. She cannot have the intuition of an Engineering mind. When the Calabar port was to be built. Ibaka bay was the preferred location, but politics caused the port to be moved up the Cross River. The port is now a white elephant project with little or no patronage. When Nigeria wanted to build an export refinery, Ibaka was the preferred location. Politics tried to influence the export refinery to be located elsewhere. There was controversy. The project was abandoned. The planned dugout port at Ibeno is already showing signs of failure. Ibaka deep seaport under the drive of the Federal Government was to be completed in 2015. Till now there is nothing on ground apart from paper work which I learnt has already gulped billions of naira. It took them six years to fight for relocation. It will take them possibly another six years to dig out an ocean of one square kilometres from land. By this time other deep seaports in the country might be operational. It is better for the project to be stopped if they can not return the deep seaport to Ibaka to be built in a shorter time and at a much cheaper cost.
Looking at the financial implication of a dug-out-port when juxtaposed with the cost of building in a natural harbour. What is your opinion?
The cost implications will definitely be enormous and comparatively much more higher than building a deep seaport at a natural harbour at Ibaka. We do not have many dugout ports in the world and comparative cost data are not easily available. But we are talking about digging an area of one square kilometre to a depth of 20 meters. This is likely to generate a volume of loose sand and debris close to 50 million cubic meters. Where and how are they going to dispose of this volume of stuff? From my engineering intuition, I can tell you that this is a costly venture. When comparative cost analysis was carried out for different locations during due diligence studies for Ibaka deep seaport, the preferred location at Ibaka had a cost figure lower than the Ibeno location. The comparison was for building a normal port at Ibeno coast not a dugout port. If you then add the cost of digging out an ocean, you can imagine what the cost difference would be.
The Federal Government has relinquished equity in the project. It is now left for Akwa Ibom State and the core investor. What if they go ahead and build the dugout port?
We pray that they will not go ahead with the relocation and the building of the dugout port. No sensible investor will choose to abandon a natural harbour which will cost him less to go and waste his funds in digging out a costly artificial ocean. If they go ahead, people will be forced to believe that the so called core investor is only a front. People who have stolen humongous amount of money from government want to use this vain project to launder such funds. It is a deprivation like this that gives rise to ethnic violence. If they go ahead to relocate and build a dug-out-port, the project may suffer violence during both construction and operations.
What is the way forward?
Oron nation has sent a petition signed by both traditional and community leaders of Oron both at home and in diaspora. We have also forwarded this Petition to relevant authorities. We intend to also let our grievances known to all stakeholders. We are exploring legal action to challenge the logic of the document on which the relocation was based. We still have other actions we intend to embark on against the relocation and the dugout port. We are hoping that they would see reasons and stop the relocation. The way forward is for the government of Akwa Ibom State to return Ibaka deep seaport to its original location.
Culled from National Newstrack