Multi-Billion Naira Baro Port Dormant, 8 Months After Commissioning

The Baro Inland Port in Agaie Local Government Area of Niger
State is yet to commence operation eight months after its commissioning
by President Muhammadu Buhari, investigation by Daily Trust has shown.

The
Baro port project cost was put at N5.8 billion and was awarded to a
Chinese firm CGCC Project Limited in 2011/12. However, non-release of
fund had stalled its completion, leading to its abandonment before the
Buhari administration forged ahead to deliver it.

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The port boasts
of a quay length of 150 meters, cargo stacking yard of 7,000 square
meters, a transit shed of 3, 600 square meters and an estimated capacity
of 5,000 TEU at a time.

The port which is expected to provide
2,000 direct and 2,500 indirect jobs is equipped with facilities such as
water hydrant system, water treatment plant, three forklifts of various
tonnages and powered by a 100 KVA generating set.

President
Buhari had, during the inauguration of the port in January, expressed
deep personal attachment to the project because, according to him, he
assisted in the design of its complex during his time as chairman of the
defunct Petroleum Special Task Force (PTF).

He said the project
will enhance intermodal transportation connectivity in Nigeria, reduce
pressure of big trucks on the country’s roads, create huge economic
opportunities for Nigerians and help in decongesting similar ports.
Dashed hopes? But a visit by Daily Trust to the facility showed that it
has been lying dormant. Residents said no single cargo has been lifted
nor any vessel berthed since the ceremony unveiling it for business
activities in January this year.

“The initiative raised our hope
of the revival of economic activities we witnessed when the
colonialists established the port up to the early 70s but our
expectation is dimming by the day because since the commissioning of the
place, no activities has taken place there,” Captain Hassan Mohammed
(rtd), an indigene of the community, said. Hassan, also known as Captain
Baro, is a member of the committee set up by the host state to
interface with relevant federal government agencies to ensure the
actualization of the project.

He also confirmed that no vessel
had berthed at the port within the last eight months. “Why will ships
berth when the apparatus that will make the port functional are not in
place?” he queried.

Our correspondent noticed that key
government officials that would have driven the ports activities were
not on ground. “There are no top officials on ground neither are there
key officials of federal government such as Customs and Immigration who
are key to the operations of the port”, one of the security guards said.

Deplorable access roads It was gathered that the main
constraint stalling activities at the port is accessing the facility as
the two transport network – road and railway – that should serve as
catalysts to its operation are in bad shape.

Daily Trust reports
that there are two major access roads to the ancient community: the 55
kilometres Baro/Katcha/Agaie and Baro/Muye linking Gegu on Abuja/Lokoja
expressway, both of which are in deplorable condition.

The
federal government awarded the contract for the Baro/Katcha/Agaie axis
in 2009 but revoked it in 2012 due to alleged failure on the part of the
contractor to deliver on time, Daily Trust learnt.

However, the
contract for the road was rewarded few months to the 2015 general
elections to an Indian firm at the cost of N17.5 billion with a 12-month
completion period. During the flag off for the road construction in
March 2015, the then Minister of Works, Arch. Mike Onolememen, said it
was among those the federal government planned to experiment with “rigid
pavement” because it is the gateway linking Baro inland port to other
parts of the country.

The contractor returned to site after an
initial release of fund by the Buhari administration but the progress
has been slow due to failure to advance additional fund for the project.
So far only 10 kilometres of the road from the Agaie section has been
asphalted but the entire section up to Katcha was graded. The terrain
between Katcha and Baro is a nightmare especially as the rain
intensifies.

Rain water forms ponds where deep gully exists,
making it difficult for motorists to navigate, while the bridges
constructed during the colonial era across streams are beginning to give
way as a result of age. The Baro/Muye/Gegu section of the road, which
links the port to the southern part of the country, is equally in a
deplorable condition. The state of the road, it was learnt, contributed
to late installation of the cargo handling equipment at the port. The
National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) and the company, which
handled the cargo equipment, First Index Nigeria Limited had raised the
alarm in late December, 2018 when the truck bearing the consignment got
stuck midway on its way to the port. NIWA, it was learnt, had to carry
out minor repairs in order to make sure that the contractor delivered
and installed the equipment ahead of the port’s commissioning in
January. Apart from the road network, the rail network, a standard gauge
line, put in place by the colonialists to aide movement of goods to the
hinterland has become relics.

“There used to be a railway
network which linked Baro to Minna established around 1911 but it became
moribund in early 70s despite its centrality in the transportation
framework of the country,” the village head of Baro, Alhaji Shaba Woshin
said. Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, during the
commissioning of the port in January, promised that the rail network
would also bounce back. “Baro is going to be part of our greater central
line which will come from Abuja through Baro to join Itakpe all the way
to Warrior,” he said. Beyond the rail and road infrastructure, there
were also concerns and doubts over the dredging carried out by the
federal government subsequent to the construction of the port and the
scope of the project. Experts said with draught of between 2.5 and 30
meters, inland waterways cannot accommodate big vessels that move on
minimum draft of 8.5 meters.

“If anybody tells you that big
vessels could berth in Baro or any other inland port, that person is
just playing politics with the issue. “Mother vessels that are designed
for a draught of between 8.5 and 10.5 meters ferry goods into the
country and thereafter transfer same into barges, which in turn
trans-load to smaller boats to inland ports,” a marine engineer,
Abdullahi Maikujeri said. Our correspondent learnt that the depth of the
Niger River is currently below the 2.5 meters minimum draught required
for navigation due to high rate of siltation. Maikujeri said that the
dredging supposedly carried out earlier was not an expensive one that
would allow for all-season navigation. He said even with the expensive
dredging, there is need for constant maintenance dredging to sustain the
draught. But checks reveal that about eight years after the supposed
dredging, no maintenance dredging has been done at the Baro port.

“After
the initial dredging, there is supposed to be maintenance dredging
every two years but we have not seen anybody coming to carry out
maintenance dredging since the last exercise about eight years ago,”
Captain Hassan said. Daily Trust learnt that the area was already highly
silted before the wet season set in and is very difficult to navigate.
The siltation of the Niger was said to have been compounded by the
construction of the Jebba, Kainji and Shiroro dams, as a result of which
some areas on the Niger are clogged up with habitable islands along the
routes. It was learnt that the impact of the silt is more felt between
December and March following cessation of rain, making navigation
difficult. Daily Trust learnt that President Muhammadu Buhari, the
Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi and important personalities
had to fly into Baro during the commissioning of the port in January by
chopper. Another hindrance to the effective operation of the port
facilities is the absence of power in the entire town.

Baro is
not connected to electricity and experts say the port management cannot
depend on the 100KVA generator on ground to power all the equipment at
the port. They fear that like the Onitsha River port which was
commissioned two times and still left dormant, Baro port may just be
another electioneering instrument in the hands of politicians.
NIWA
reacts Contacted, NIWA’s General Manager, Public Affairs, Tayo Fadile,
said the major constraint against the operation of Baro Port long after
it was inaugurated was lack of access road. He said the port is fully
set for operation but for the lack of access road, which he said, was
not within the purview of NIWA to handle. “We have appealed to the
Federal Ministry of Works and they said they are still considering it.
The issue now has nothing to do with NIWA per se. The ball is now in the
court of the Federal Government.

Source:- Dailytrustng

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