Following its formal commissioning by President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan Thursday, the multi-billion Onitsha River Port Complex, Anambra State has begun operations.
Various cargo handling equipment were seen in operations as the euphoria that heralded the formal commissioning of the Onitsha River Port Complex ebbed with the departure of guests to the venues of other projects earmarked for commissioning by President Jonathan.
The formal unveiling of the Onitsha River Port Complex, which is located in the commercial nerve centre of the Eastern part of the country, followed its complete rehabilitation by the Federal Government.
While performing the cutting of tape ceremony, President Jonathan said the N4.6 billion River Port was unique and a signal for more things to come.
He added that his administration decided to embark on the development of the country's inland waterways transport as a way of exploiting all avenues of enhancing both road, rail, air and water transportation in the country.
His words: "The river or marine transport must be enhanced and to do it, we need inland port like the one in Onitsha. Our target is to link all the ports by roads and rail so that doing business in Nigeria becomes easy. The river ports must be linked up to other areas of resource. Today, the process is being started and others on the drawing board must be completed", he said.
The President expressed the hope that a well-developed inland water transportation system will lessen the burden on our highways, which often wear away because of the large cargo plying the roads.
He used the occasion of the commissioning to assure Nigerians that he would deliver on his electoral promises and urged Nigerians to exercise patience and keep faith with the country and his administration.
He lauded an indigenous firm, Inter-Bau Construction Limited, for its efficient delivery on the execution of the project.
Minister of Transport, Senator Idris Umar had earlier in his opening remarks said that the Onitsha River Port Complex started in 2009.
Describing it as another milestone in the quest to re-position the inland waterways, Idris explained that the facility involved the construction of a new port building, staff quarters, erosion control, and procurement of modern cargo equipment among others.
He said the river port would also make for effective transportation of goods and progressively open other inland waterways to ferry goods to different destinations in the country.
Described as Nigeria's largest river port, the Onitsha River Port Complex is complete with new facilities, warehouses and equipment such as cranes and forklifts.
The Federal Government with the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) supervised the execution of the project.
"The refurbishment was overseen by NIWA. It restores the port to its original splendour and offers new levels of operational efficiency. The reconditioned river port complex will also serve as a massive boost and complement to the newly dredged lower River Niger", the authority said in a statement.
THISDAY recall that prior to its overhaul, the port had suffered years of neglect, underutilisation and disrepair.
Former President Shehu Shagari commissioned the Onitsha River Port in 1983. It however slipped into a state of underutilisation and disrepair, forcing operators of ferries and other economic vessels to abandon it a few years after.
With the River Niger fully dredged and the waterways well protected by NIWA patrol boats and the Marine Police, the Onitsha River Port has received a new lease of life.