The commissioning of Baro River Port in Niger State by President Muhammadu Buhari last week was the most significant step taken by government in many decades to boost inland water transportation in this country. Baro port was heavily used during the colonial era but it fell into disuse three decades ago. Successive governments have expressed interest in bringing Baro Port back to life but they failed to walk the talk. It is in this context that its supposed completion at a cost of N6 billion by a Chinese firm, CGCC Global Project Nigeria Limited, is welcome development.
The National Inland Waterways Authority’s (NIWA) spokesman Tayo Fadile said at the commissioning that Baro Port is fitted with a mobile harbour crane, transit shed and an administrative block. He added that “it is equipped with facilities such as water hydrant system, water treatment plant, reach stacker, 100KVA power generating set and three forklifts of various tonnages.” Being built to support the dredging of the Lower River Niger project, Baro Port is expected to create some 2,000 direct jobs and many more indirect jobs.
As it stands, the commissioning of Baro Port is just a little seed planted in the inland water transport soil. It would need to be properly nursed if its objectives must be realized. All over the world deep water ports are coming in vogue because it is a cheaper and safer way of transporting heavy goods from one part of the world to another. Nigeria should ensure urgent dredging of the Lower River Niger to make it possible for big carriers to berth at Baro Port, as they do in Lagos, especially. As at now, the two main ports in Lagos – Apapa and Tin Can – are overstretched and they need to be relieved by inland and dry ports.
Also, the development of Baro Port will boost Nigeria’s competitiveness in the West African water transport sector. This country has virtually mismanaged its maritime port facilities over the years, which gave our neighbours the chance to harness huge economic benefits that accrue to maritime business to the detriment of Nigeria’s economic prosperity. Inland ports give us a chance to recoup some of those losses.
Apart from dredging the Lower Niger River, it is crucial to integrate Baro Port with a functional railway line. Originally, the colonialists constructed a railway line to Baro Port. The rail was used to evacuate farm produce and mineral resources from Nigeria to neigbouring countries. In the 21st Century and with the growth in population and economic activities, government should aim at building a better rail network to connect Baro Port with states in the North and other parts of the country.
As at the time of commissioning the project, the roads from other parts of Niger and Kogi States to Baro were impassable. Many who went to Baro had to be airlifted by helicopter. Without a good road network, it would be difficult to move goods to and from Baro Port. Government should ensure that the roads are put in order as quickly as possible, else the huge sum of money that went into the installation of facilities would translate to a total loss and a wasted effort.
No doubt, there is enormous return on investment in the inland waterways sector. If the rivers are well dredged, the road and rail networks linking the port are efficient, it will translate into huge savings for the national economy as a whole because water transportation is the cheapest of all forms of transport.
We call on government to ensure that the development of Baro Port is done to its logical conclusion so that it would not end up as rhetoric in the All Progressives Congress (APC’s) campaign as a run-up to the 2019 elections. The port is a necessity for Nigeria’s economic revival, and should not be treated as a side attraction in this election year, only to be dumped as soon as the election is won and lost.