Not long ago, the Minister of Transportation, Mr Rotimi Amaechi, visited the site for the construction of a green-field deep seaport at Finima, Bonny Island in Rivers State.
His mission was to resolve grey areas around the site to pave way for the immediate commencement of work.
At that visit, Acting Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Mohammed Bello-Koko, assured Nigerians that NPA would ensure a speedy actualisation of the multi-billion naira project for the benefit of the Niger Delta region and the larger Nigerian economy.
The NPA boss, who spoke with newsmen after an assessment tour of the Onne Port Complex and the Rivers Port Complex in Port Harcourt, shortly after the visit to Bonny, described the Bonny Deep Seaport project as a “game changer”.
“It will significantly transform the socio-economic landscape of Nigeria, especially with its multiplier effects like massive job opportunities,” he said.
Details of the project show that the Bonny Deep Seaport project covering a land area of 275.22 hectares is to be developed through direct investment by Messrs. China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC) Nigeria Limited, on a Design, Build, Finance, Operate and Transfer (DBFOT), basis.
Its project scope includes construction of a breakwater, revetment, container berth, general goods berth, dredging of the access channel and turning basin, construction of office buildings and warehouses.
The new port with a draught of 17 metres, will have a terminal capacity of 500,000 TEUs per annum, and 100,000 DWT general cargo berth.
The Deep Seaport project will be boosted by the rehabilitation of the Port Harcourt – Maiduguri rail-line with a branch at Elelenwo in Port Harcourt, heading to Dere, Bodo and terminating in Bonny.
The Bonny seaport, the Port Harcourt to Maiduguri rail line and a new Railway Industrial Park in Port Harcourt, all combined with a value of about $3.2billion, were flagged-off in March this year by President Muhammadu Buhari.
The NPA helmsman disclosed that with the identification of the best site for the Bonny Deep Seaport project, the construction process would take off in earnest.
“Having resolved the location with the highest economic value for Bonny Deep Seaport, we are very hopeful construction will start this year.
“The chosen location has a natural draft of 17 meters. On the Western flank is the Lekki Deep Seaport which will come on stream next year.
“These port projects will usher in a new era of tremendous economic prosperity for our dear nation and further consolidate our position as the regional trade hub in West and Central Africa,” he said.
Speaking further on the uniqueness of the Bonny Deep Seaport, Koko said, “what is very striking is that we are having a new seaport that will be serviced by rail from the beginning.
“The reconstructed rail track between Port Harcourt and Maiduguri will have an extension to the Bonny Deep Seaport. It’s about 56 km. This will facilitate quick evacuation of cargo among other benefits. That means we will have a multi-modal arrangement in place from the onset, unlike in our older ports that depend solely on road,” he noted.
Maritime experts agree with the NPA boss and have pointed out that in line with global trends, the railway link would fast-track the export of raw materials with value addition, as well as locally made finished goods.
They also expressed optimism that Nigeria will be host to a world class seaport in every sense of the word, when the project is completed and put to use.
They further pointed out that with a deep seaport like the ones to emerge from Lekki in Lagos and Bonny Island, Nigeria would be able to attract transit cargo meant for its landlocked neighbours as well as retain her own captive cargo.
There will also be a reduction with respect to ship-to-ship transfer activities taking place at nearby ports of Lome and Cotonou, for cargoes destined for the Nigerian market. The operation of a deep seaport in Bonny will thus enhance Nigeria’s place as a maritime hub status in Africa, the experts further note.
As anxious Nigerians wait for the new projects, Bello-Koko has also reiterated that the NPA management would equally remain steadfast to the full revitalisation of all the ports within the Eastern corridor of the country.
“A lot is being done to boost shipping and cargo traffic to our seaports outside the Lagos area. Not too long ago, we reviewed downwards some of our charges to encourage shipping companies to utilise the ports in the East and we have seen a slight increase in cargo volumes from that axis.
“Already, we have seen a significant increase of port activities at Onne Port. I have recently been to Onne to observe what is going on there. One of the terminal operators there is expanding space for stacking of containers – that is the West Africa Container Terminal (WACT). They have brought in new cranes to improve their cargo handling operations.
“For the other ports in the East, we are equally witnessing increased activities. We have encouraged the use of flat-bottom vessels as a result of the draught limitation in some of our locations in that axis.
“Those ports have very long access channels; it means navigation into those locations take a lot of time. There is also high siltation along the channels as well as the issue of security.
“While the ports in the west can operate 24 hours, the ports in the east, for security reasons, are not able to bring in vessels from the fairway buoy down to the port-side or escort a ship to the fairway buoy after a certain time.
“The marine pilots are constrained to a window of eight to 10 hours to bring in or escort vessels out of the port. This leads to increase in ship waiting time and cost,” he said.
To tackle the security issues, he said that more marine assets, including security patrol boats, have been deployed to those ports to enhance security and efficiency.
He also spoke on the Calabar seaport and efforts to boost activities there.
“It (Calabar seaport) is the longest access channel amongst all the ports in Nigeria. The channel has not been dredged for over 10 years due to some litigation.
“Though it is quite expensive to dredge and maintain, serious efforts are on for a resolution that will, hopefully, bring it back on track as the port is known to serve 16 states in the north, some of the major markets in the South-East, and Niger Republic.”
For the ports in the Warri area, he said that the challenge had to do with the positioning of some Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) pipes along their access channel.
“I think it is about a depth of six metres to seven metres. So, it makes it difficult to dredge lower than that area, except these pipes are relocated. Several discussions have been held between NNPC and NPA on the subject, we hope that the issue will be resolved soon.
“There is also the collapse of the Warri port breakwaters. Studies are being carried out by Royal Haskoning to determine the best way to either rehabilitate or construct a new one,” he said.
With the seaports serving as a development catalyst, the NPA boss has also appealed to the people of the Niger Delta to support and own the Bonny Deep Seaport.
He particularly noted that the Federal Government and its partner would be deploying huge financial resources towards the construction of the new port on Bonny Island in appreciation that seaports drive economic development and create massive employment opportunities.
“I wish to call on our people, particularly the youths, to understand that they need to support the project. When government facilitates a major foreign direct investment such as this, the citizens or locals should welcome it rather than go blocking roads, or causing problems that discourage investors.
“Most of the jobs will be sourced from the local communities and the multiplier effects will be felt across the host communities, Rivers State and the entire country,” he pointed out.
Mr Sesan Onileimo, Executive Director, Maritime Industry Advocacy Initiative, an NGO, shares Bello-Koko’s conviction.
“With the rehabilitation of the Port Harcourt to Maiduguri rail-track, it is expected that people of the Niger Delta will be peaceful and support the timely construction of, and protect, the new Bonny Deep Seaport by becoming an integral part of the project.
“There is no doubt that with the rehabilitation of the Port Harcourt to Maiduguri rail-track, the construction of the seaport will create massive employment and consequently transform the overall economic landscape of Nigeria.
“Worldwide, it has been acknowledged, without iota of doubt, that investments in deep seaports help to drive economic diversification, facilitate cross border trade, enhance local content development and wealth creation for public good.
“The task for the Niger Delta residents is to take full advantage of this massive marine investment in their area to shore up their economy,” he said.
Like Onileimo, many analysts have challenged the Niger Delta residents to fully support the Bonny Deep Seaport project and embrace it as a catalyst for massive economic growth that would improve their living conditions.