ONISHA- Stakeholders have expressed reservations over the purported concession of the Onitsha River Complex located in Onitsha, Anambra State, nearly five years after the Federal Government completed its rehabilitation and modernisation at the cost of N4.7billion.
These reservations are against the background of the fact that the process of the concession exercise, which was carried out by the National Inland Waterways Authority NIWA, in conjunction with the Infrastructure Concession and Regulatory Commission ICRC was seemingly shrouded in secrecy.
General Manager of NIWA in charge of Public Relations, Mr. Tayo Fadile, on Thursday, disclosed that two unidentified concessionaires have emerged, which followed the opening of financial bids on July, 3, 2015.
Fadile, who also hinted the port might commence operations before the end of the year, stated that the concession agreement was for a period of 25 years but also failed to disclose at what cost.
He, however, said that the Federal Government was yet to issue relevant letters to the emerging two concessionaires, which he claimed accounted for why the names of the concessionaires would not be made public for now.
Former President of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders, NAGAFF, Chief Eugene Nweke, one of the stakeholders, who commented on the exercise, expressed misgivings over the seeming enclosure from stakeholders and the deliberate lack of public awareness on the processes that culminated in the emergence of the two concessionaires.
According to him, stakeholders were worried over their exclusion from the entire process, noting that the users of port services needed to know the identity of the concessionaires with a view to making quality inputs as to their technical and financial capabilities in running the port complex.
He insisted that stakeholders would the relevant government agencies to put measures in place to make it viable and efficient.
He also noted that the matter did not just end with transferring such valuable and critical public asset to private individuals without carrying the same stakeholders who would work with them in the entire process, which might just be transferring public monopoly to a private one, which would be counter-productive to the main objectives for rehabilitating and modernising the complex abandoned since 1982.
Nweke said: “Part of the crucial issues to have been discussed and settled is the mode of transferring consignments from the regular seaports to the river port, whether it is through barges or still by road, which might pose more problems than it is designed to solve. Stakeholders are curious at this point in time given the gridlock that characterise port access roads in Lagos.
“I could recall that there was a certain stakeholders’ meeting sometime in 2014 on the proposed concession of the port complex and there were issues raised. But surprisingly, we did not hear anything again from the relevant government agencies about four years after only to hear recently that the only river port in the country has been handed over to private operators without any input from the stakeholders.
“My argument here is not that the idea of concessioning the port to private investors, which would make its operations definitely more efficient is wrong, but my argument is that due diligence must be done, the track record of the concessionaires must be known and above all, every necessary regulatory and legal framework must be put in place to ensure a hitch-free take-off and operations of the river port.”
He observed that the government should begin to look in the direction of encouraging investors whether foreign or local to focus on green field development instead of transferring already functional national assets to private investors, whose only language is that of profit.
Nweke also expressed worries that the attention of the government was drawn to that fact that there was a hitch at the River Niger and Benue interchange, which makes it difficult for barges coming from the northern and middle belt area of the country difficult.
It was further gathered that NIWA and ICRC have from the pre-qualifying stage been very secretive with the process of the concession since it commenced some time in 2015, as they decided to keep under absolute secrecy the names and identity of the concessionaires.
The rehabilitation work concluded and commissioned by the government sometime in 2013 involved a comprehensive remodeling of the transit sheds and warehouses of 110 x 55 metres with a storage capacity of 10,000 Twenty feet Equivalent Units TEUs, construction of new port operations building, nine units of senior staff quarters, 11 units of junior staff quarters, fuel tank farm and other roads works.
Other components of the port include road works, erosion control works with gabions and reno mattresses, new slipway, 150mm diameter borehole with elevated water tank and water treatment unit and reticulation and other plumbing works.
Also rehabilitated included a quay wall and apron with a length of 150m with a wharf that has a width of 50m with adjoining hardstand width of 100m, five existing staff quarters, port security and Police buildings, Fire Brigade building, drainage works and gang ways, among others.