Interviews Politics

Moghalu, NIWA idetermined to open up Onitsha port for cargoes, reposition Nigerian waterways for reliable alternative transport

As part of activities marking his one year in office, Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of the National Inland Waterways Authority, Chief George Moghalu, recently engaged a section of the media on the activities of the Authority. Moghalu spoke about his desire to make the Waterways a major means of carrying cargoes all over the country, to reduce the challenges faced by Nigerian importers on the major roads. Group Political Editor, EZEOCHA NZEH, was there for The AUTHORITY

On the dredging of the Niger and other water channels

I want to let you know that we share your concerns to the issue of dredging. If you recall in 2012/2013 there was Capital Dredging in Nigeria and this is one business that is quite capital intensive but it took less. What we are doing more now as an organization is focusing our attention on maintenance dredging.

We have undertaken some procurement process. We now own dredgers ourselves, so we can deploy our staffs who are experienced and then carry out our regular maintenance dredging because, one thing about movement of silt, you cannot determine the volume or capacity. It’s a continuous thing, that’s why we consider maintenance as the best option.

But the major thing to be done is regular training, we acknowledge that fact. In fact there was a meeting we recently attended where we are looking at dealing with the issue of flooding and the issue of dredging came up. Dredging has been done not too long ago by Capital Dredging 2012/2013 but now there is need for it. We acknowledge that fact, as an agency. We are laying emphasis on maintenance dredging; we can work within the limit of resources available to us.

What are you doing about security of waterways

The concern here is first the issue with security. We have general security concerns, it’s not only limited to water ways. The beautiful thing about this is that the governments are very much concerned about the situation and every efforts are being made to address this challenge.

If you would recall last year there was an international conference on security that about 79 countries was represented here in Nigeria. Because we are looking at a situation where there would be an egotistic approach to the issue of security.

Let me also commend the security agencies for what they are doing so far within and between the sister maritime agencies. We are all collaborating and everybody is quite supportive (the Army, Police the Navy etc.) because apart from the negative image it gives us internationally; it hampers our economic growth. It is a major challenge and it’s being aggressively addressed. We know it can create more problems for us, but the beautiful thing is that there is commitment to address this challenge.

How have you been able to manage the paucity of resources available in most of the sector.

Truth be told that even before this administration came into being we are one product economy and our resources is one consequence of the international reaction to the price of oil and petroleum products. So, that’s the major issue and we know that. That is why I don’t speak for government. That is why our leadership today said in 2015 that there is need for diversification of the economy. Although you know that there is a lot emphasis on solid mineral sector, a lot emphasis on agricultural sector. We are now looking inwards to see how we can block all possible loopholes so we can increase our IGR. We are looking at ways we can generate resources to be self-sufficient. We must not all depend on the central purse. So we are working towards that and the results are quite encouraging. What we need now is to sustain it, because I know if we keep doing what we are doing now, in no distant future we are going to get to our desired destination

We are conscious of the funding challenge and we are working towards addressing it. We may not have all the cash we may need. The good thing is that we need to prioritize our needs. You then look inward and know to what extent and where do you invest money that has the capacity of helping you improve on your idea. So we are managing like every other agency. It is not limited to NIWA every other agency is managing with the limit of resources that is available to them. But the important thing is that you have to invest in those areas that would help you generate more income.

On how NIWA is leveraging on private sector participation and involvement

Yes, we are doing that, we are exploring all the opportunity like the documentary you watched, you heard when I was talking about investment by some private sector players. I talked about the two Jetties in Lagos that is being deployed by private sector. And the test-run project in Onitsha was done because of the involvement of a private sector player. The barges used were not our barges, they belong to a private sector player who believes, agrees and sees from our perspective that business can be open and that it is valuable, brings economic growth and people can benefit from it. So we both agree to take the challenge by taking the bull by the horn. We tried it and it worked. So, we are involving the private sector. We are engaging more.

There is an American firm that we signed MOU with, they are supplying life jacket to NIWA staff. So that people can have modern Life jackets.

We will like to know what NIWA is doing about Baro Port that was recently commissioned by the President.

Baro port is a world class port, fully completed and commissioned by the President. The first facility of NIWA I visited after my appointment was the Baro port and I went by water from Lokoja to Baro port, spent some time there and still came back to Lokoja same day. The biggest challenge there today is Access Road to Baro port but I am happy to say the federal government project with regards to providing road to Baro is ongoing. I have also engaged the Niger state government; they have also demonstrated their commitments, determination, and desire to have a road leading to Baro port. So very soon I am confident with all the efforts being made and the synergy we are building, the issue of Baro port would be an issue of the past.

What should the people expect in the future?

Like I said in the documentary, I have a vision and that vision that I gave to myself is that I want by the time I leave office, that water transportation would become a choice means of transportation of both cargo and personel. That’s my determination, my wish and that is where I have put my eyes on and that is what I’m working towards, because by the time we open up all our waterways. Then you would appreciate the enormity of what God has done for us. We have over 10,000km of waterways in this country and you can access 28 states of Nigeria out 36 by water. It’s only unfortunate that it is slightly over 3000km that is available all year round. So by the time I leave office, we can make it possible for people to access most of the state by water. So we can move bulk cargo as it’s done overseas.

There is a massive tourism potential which can generate resources apart from the employment direct and indirect that comes with it. So there is quite a lot we can gain. So I have a vision, I want a situation whereby people can take their boat and travel rather than go on road.

I want a situation where bulk cargo can be moved by water. And that is what we are determined to achieve. s of transportation.

Talking about Onitsha Port, there has been mixed reactions as some people believe there has been no progress, despite your assurance that it would soon commence business. What is your response?

I acknowledge that the port started 42 years ago, commissioned in 2012 and has not been active. But when I came in, I said it cannot be the same, that we need to put the port to active use. So we set up a management committee in the house to address the issues. Important point came up and I said why can’t we put this into practice? Why not do a practical experiment. I approach a barge owner, shared my visions with him and he accepted and said it can be done. I asked that the barges be moved from Onne to Onitsha. So we can load container and return it back to Onne, barring challenges from all sources, because a lot of people believed that it’s not doable. I felt that if it’s not doable; why do we have the guts. So the barges were released to sail.

They were loaded in Onitsha; I came on Sunday to flag off the test run. We went to Onne, before we knew it the containers were entering Onne. Now nobody can tell me it’s impossible to move barge in Onitsha and within. In a couple of days we would move containers from Lagos to Onitsha because when we do it; we will have broken the challenges. Whatever challenge we encounter we will resolve it at that point and we will inspire private sector players to do same. They cannot put their barges without seeing us do it. Like on Sunday two companies came to talk to me, they want to enter agreement with NIWA so that they can put in their own barge and move Items. To them it was not doable, but we broke the edge. By the time we break the limit from Lagos to Onitsha many people would be ready to partner with us. It’s not a rocket science nor magic, this is exactly what happens. Some People say it’s not possible, and is asked which is not possible? Is the barge coming to Onitsha not possible? Or you can’t load containers on barge, or barges cannot move to Onitsha. We have demonstrated all this and found out that it is possible. Yes, you can say we have not shipped from Onitsha to Lagos, but we are going to come from Lagos very soon. That is a target I have set for myself. Just like I set the Onitsha Port, I wanted to do it by the grace of God. By the time we open our water ways, we are going to save the life span of the Roads. We are going to decongest the Lagos port, because a good percentage, if not 50% of goods that come from Lagos ends in the South East. In practical terms if 2000 containers are coming from Lagos means that 2000 trailers would be on the road. But we can use the barges to move containers from Lagos to Onitsha, and trailers would be out of the roads and then we will save our roads. The roads are not designed to carry such weight that we are placing on them – how do you expect the road to survive? These are just practical realities.

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