The announcement last week by Governor Hope Uzodinmma of IMO State that the Federal Government had approved the dredging of Orashi River to the Atlantic Ocean, generated concerns and debate, compelling him however to make a volte-face on his earlier claims. But it seems the Freudian slip has become a blessing in disguise.
According to the Governor, in an earlier online press statement, the Orashi River will be the first port in the Southeast region of Nigeria after the dredging. This announcement came few days after the visit of President Muhammed Buhari to Imo State, where he commissioned projects executed by the Governor.
The Governor stated that, “When completed, the seaport will complement the economic activities of the other six major seaports in the country which will enable traders from the zone to import and receive their goods directly while enjoying a comparative advantage as well as promote and encourage the business spirit of the people of the South East”.
But in his reversal statement which came after the barrage of questions and attacks, he stated, “We are not talking of a seaport but access to the sea”.
The statement further read, “Governor Hope Uzodinmma never talked about sea port at Oguta or Orashi but harped on the economic benefits of dredging the river up to the Atlantic Ocean”.
Among numerous stakeholders who showed concern over the politics of river and seaport in Oguta or Orashi was the Minister of Transportation, Engr. Mu’azu Jaji Sambo who said he knew nothing about the dredging of Orashi River as announced by Hope Uzodinma. Engr. Mu’azu in a media parley with journalists stated that it was the minister of information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed who sent him (Mu”azu) a text while he was in the United States of America, to confirm the announcement. This is worrisome given the fact that the Minister of Transportation under whose jurisdiction the waterways fall, was not even aware of the dredging of Orashi River.
While this has raised a red-flag on governor Uzodinma’s announcement, especially with the involvement of the name President Buhari, it means the intended dredging exercise couldn’t have been planned by the state government.
The League of Maritime Editors and Publishers (LOMEP) had issued a statement condemning the Governor’s show of crass ignorance, while arguing that the initiative is a good project if indeed it is true but raised concerns about it.
“The League which is made up of Maritime Editors wants the governor to provide answers on when the dredging project would be carried out, whether it is to start this year or next year and how it was captured in 2023 budget.
“We want to know when the project was approved and the contractor handling the project”, the statement said.
The League equally demanded that the governor gives further clarification on the project in terms of when specifically President Buhari made the promise during his visit to the state.
The statement challenged the governor to come out and state the involvement of the Ministry of Transportation and agencies in the project.
It was at best termed a political project meant to sway votes for the ruling party and the Governor’s second term in office.
Before the Minister’s intervention, MMS Plus had sought clarification on the state of the Orashi River and Oguta River port in particular being promoted by the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA). Authorities in NIWA said they were not aware of any proposed dredging exercise in that region.
NIWA is vested with the powers to oversea and regulate the river port activities. Interestingly, the agency has been promoting Oguta River Port as one of the river ports awaiting concession to deepen inland waterways transportation and promote hinterland connectivity as well as multi-modal transportation in the country. Other river ports on the gazette of the Federal Government include, Onitsha River Port, recently concessioned for N40billion; Baro River Port; Lokoja River Port.
It was on this strength that the Federal Government dredged Oguta River Port in 2012 for N2.3billion as part of the dredging of the Lower River Niger then put at N9billion.
However, since after the claimed dredging activities nothing has happened there.
It is shocking to note however that there is nothing like Oguta River Port which government has been promoting and spending so much on, raising the concern that the N2.3billion said to have been paid to Messr Simidia S & I International, the dredging contractor for Oguta River Port in 2012 may have been a payment done without any work.
While NIWA could not speak on this findings by MMS Plus, an expert in waterways navigation who incidentally is from Imo State and a former General Manager in Nigerian Ports Authority(NPA), Capt Ebubeogu Iheanacho, said in a short interview thus:
What is the difference between Orashi River and and Oguta River Port?
Ebubeogu: No. Oguta is Oguta Lake not a River.
But why is it called river port?
Ebubeogu: No. Oguta Lake is where the port is and the connection between the Oguta Lake and the tributary of the Niger Delta is Orashi River which links Oguta Lake to Degema.
So, as it is now, the dredging activity Hope Uzodinma was talking about is actually at the Oguta River!
Ebubeogu: There is nothing like Oguta River, Oguta Lake is where the Port is and it is connected to Orashi. A Lake is a river surrounded by land and it linked up Orashi to Degema and then to the rest of Niger Delta. You can follow it to anywhere, including Onne Port. That is the connectivity between Oguta Lake and the Niger Delta. So, there is nothing like Oguta River in this context. There could be another Oguta River somewhere but in this context, we are talking about Oguta Lake and Orashi River.
We are talking about dredging now, what I would like to know now is, like we have Onitsha River port, it is said that we have Oguta River port, which was dredged in 2012 by one company called Simidia S&I International and it was NIWA that contracted them. Does it mean nothing was done in 2012?
Ebubeogu: That’s something I can’t answer. Ask NIWA. I cannot answer it. Ask them because, they dredged it and if there is no activity there, ask them why there is no activity there. I knew that it was during PDP time they approved that Port, why is there no activity there? So NIWA should answer that question. Before 2015 that Port was approved. I was part of it when that Oguta Lake was approved. So, NIWA should answer those questions.
What we have there, is it capable of taking vessels as it were even if dredged?
Ebubeogu: How will I know from here? Why are you giving me a task that I don’t know? NIWA should answer that question. There is something we call navigativity in waterways, it should be determined. Then you begin to mark the channels and the safety of navigation. All these questions should go to NIWA. What informed the Federal Government’s idea of establishing a port there in the first place? And what has been the operational and commercial status of the Port? Only NIWA can answer those questions. From NIWA’s response, experts like us can talk but, we need to hear from them first. The only thing I know is that, when people hear about Hope Uzodinma, they will think he has come to eat money, even if that is the case, let people ask NIWA those questions. After all, it wasn’t Hope Uzodinma that put that Port there, NIWA put it there ab initio to make it a white elephant. So, all those questions should go to NIWA.
Speaking as a foremost freight forwarder in the South-East, Chief Ernest Elochukwu, corroborated that there is no port in Orashi River or Oguta River but said it would be good to have it if it is possible.
In 2011, the then Governor of Imo State, Mr. Ikedi Ohakim initiated the idea of hosting a Lighter Terminal which was part of his Oguta Wonder Lake project. It was called Imo Wonderlake Resort and Conference Centre at Oguta Lake site in Oguta local government area of the state. It was aimed at making Imo a major tourism destination in partnership with financial institutions and hotel management consultants, who looked forward to the resort to be built in five phases incorporating a five star hotel, casino, golf course, gymnasium, amphitheatre and parks as well as housing units in the second and third phase.
Lighter Terminals is like a miniport, it acts as primary gateways for Ship supply and shipping activities. The Oguta Lake Lighter Terminal was designed for boat and barging operations and other logistics services, essentially to service the Aba and other neigbouring markets in the that corridor and region. But Ohakim’s failure to clinch a second term killed the dream as his successor abandoned it. It is important to note that that initiative was broached by a maritime journalist and Ohakim saw gold in it.
Oguta’s high yield oil and gas fields makes it an important territory and geographic area, hosting many multinational oil companies, like AGIP, Shell, and Chevron.
But can this Orashi River take a barge or vessel even if dredged? Orashi River is a river of the lower Niger River basin, and a tributary of Oguta Lake. Orashi River has an elevation of 183 metres 600 feet and length of 205 kilometres 127mi.
The implication is that if designated a river port, it can only function via barges because of its shallowness. However, the questions remain: Why does Uzodinma want to dredge Orashi River? Of what socio-economic benefit is it to the people? Does one dredge river for the sake of dredging? Where is the Oguta River Port the Federal Government promised and had spent huge money on? Oguta River Port is a scam, that is what Uzodinmma’s parapraxis has unearthed.
Where is the Oguta River Port? Was it sited in Oguta Lake or Orashi River?