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Experts Urge Igbo Governors and Private Sector Collaboration to Unlock Onitsha River Port Potential

Politics is being identified as the primary impediment preventing the operational launch of the Onitsha River Port, despite being commissioned three times since 1983, BusinessDay Sunday has discovered.

The port, deemed a potential economic powerhouse for Nigeria upon its operationalization, requires an estimated N16 billion for channel dredging. Shipping activities have historically thrived in Lagos, Port Harcourt, Calabar, and Warri since Nigeria’s independence in 1960, with significant stakeholder presence from the South East region.

Demand for the Onitsha River Port surfaced due to escalating shipping needs from the South East, culminating in its first commissioning in 1983 by late President Shehu Shagari, amid widespread regional enthusiasm. However, the port remained inactive for years, prompting subsequent commissions in 2012 by former President Goodluck Jonathan and in 2018 by former President Muhammadu Buhari.

Emma Akpaka, President of the Anambra Shippers Association, affirmed that since Buhari’s commissioning, efforts have intensified among Anambra shippers to activate the port. Speaking at a workshop organized by the Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC) in Onitsha, Akpaka emphasized that the port’s success hinges on patronage from shippers across the South East, South-South, and Northern regions.

He called upon South East governors to visit the port, asserting that such visits would bolster stakeholder confidence and catalyze commercial activities.

In a bid to revitalize the port, Ifeoma Eloka, Vice President of Clarion Shipping West Africa Limited, estimated a dredging cost of approximately ₦16 billion for the port’s channels, achievable within 12 months. She urged importers in the South East to utilize the port, advocating for streamlined cargo handling to minimize demurrage.

Patricia Igwebuike, Anambra State Commissioner for Transport, disclosed that the Nigerian Customs Service has completed final inspections at the port. She highlighted the state government’s alignment with national transport policies, including feasibility studies for a comprehensive rail transport system, aimed at enhancing economic connectivity.

Acknowledging the port’s pivotal role in South East commerce, Igwebuike stressed collaborative efforts between the Ministry of Transport and stakeholders. She underscored that data indicates 70 percent of Nigeria’s container traffic converges in the South East, positioning the Onitsha River Port as a critical economic driver once operational.

Amid sentiments of political interference hindering the port’s activation, a businessman involved in clearing and forwarding operations lamented the pervasive influence of adverse politics in delaying the port’s development, echoing broader regional challenges in project realization.

Despite these hurdles, stakeholders remain optimistic about leveraging the Onitsha River Port’s potential to significantly bolster Nigeria’s maritime economy, advocating for concerted efforts to surmount existing obstacles and drive sustained economic growth in the region.

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