The Managing Director of the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA), Ahmed Aminu Yar'adua has said over flow of the River Niger that led to the flooding in Lokoja and other parts of Kogi State was caused by inflow of excess water from the dams into the rivers Niger and Benue and the situation may last two months. Excerpts:
Now that Onitsha river port has been fully rehabilitated, equipped and commissioned, what next?
You are aware that it has been formally commissioned by Mr. President and the Federal Government policy of handling this kind of infrastructure is to concession them to a private investor who will work there alongside the government under the Public Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement.
Onitsha river port is the first phase and as at now the ICRC has employed a consultant that is making a business study on the viability of the Onitsha river port.
After the business case study as I understand from them, that will now form the basis of how the concession arrangement is going to be. That is the stage we are now. I understand the ICRC may come up with the result of the case study towards the end of the year. It is after that, government will take a decision on what is to be done.
Is there any company or individual that has so far indicated interest in the concession of the river port?
Yes, we have a few companies that indicated interest. I cannot remember their names. Some of them wrote to us a very long time ago. One of them even wanted us to terminate the contract with the dredging companies, hand over to it, so that it would complete the work and manage the port. Some said they only want to handle the warehouse. Some are asking for one thing or the other. But the government wants to run it as a unit. We wanted to tie the infrastructure with the entire dredging and the inland waterways transportation.
The River Niger has over flooded its boundaries. Is that not going to affect the second year maintenance dredging?
It will certainly affect it because what we have this year is a situation that has not been experienced in the last 25 years. The situation in Lokoja is unusual. The level of water there was last recorded in 1939. The situation as at today has gone beyond what was recorded in 1939. The minimum level of the depth of the dredging of river Niger around Lokoja was 2.5 meters after the dredging. It is now much more than that.
We are supposed to have concluded the second year maintenance dredging by December. But from what we have, the water may not go down even in the next two months to the level we can commence the second year maintenance dredging. Again, all the Buoys we put there indicating the direction of the dredged channels have been displaced by the high volume of water and we must place them back. That is another big problem. These are some of the challenges we are facing now.
What happens to the channels that have already been created, are they going to be buried as a result of the flood?
The channels are there. But after the water level has gone down, we shall carry out a study to see what exactly happened. But the channels are there.
What we really have is additional water above the one we estimated to have. In 2010, we had the highest level within a period of 3 years. But what we have now is about 10 meters above what we had in 2010. So, the 10 meters above what we had in 2010 means the stability of the dredging is not there again. But the channels are there.
What will happen to navigation activities there now? Can boats and Barges using the river channels sail with the level of flood?
Okay, look at it this way. We had a depth of 2.5 meters channel in River Niger following the dredging exercise. With the flood we now have a depth of 12 to 15 meters. That should be for ocean vessels! In fact, the essence of the dredging exercise is to create channels for vessels to sail through the river at a depth of at least 2.5 meters when the river is low.
Now we have a depth of 15 meters as a result of the flood. You can imagine what the situation is. During a period like this, those vessels do not need dredging, they can just move in especially with this volume of water in the river.
As at now, anything can pass through. But we need the dredging for the low period. When the water level is low, the dredged channels can provide a minimum depth of 2.5 meters to enable the vessels pass through.
What is the source of the excess water is it from the adjoining dams or from rainfall?
It is the rainfall. It is not only in Nigeria but all over West Africa and beyond. You know, rivers Niger and Benue that met in Lokoja have passed through several African countries. There is more rainfall now in the Northern states than in the South and you know the water in the two rivers flows from the north to the south. The dam itself is entrapped by the rain. Most of the dams are filled to capacity because of the excess water from the rain.
So, the adjoining dams are also emptying their excess water into the river. That is very necessary to reduce pressure in the dams and guard against brakeages. There are dams in Cameroun and Niger republics that emptied their waters into some rivers and channels that feed rivers Benue and Niger. So, the water is from different sources.
The second year maintenance dredging is the last in the series of dredging exercise approved for River Niger. What is your agency doing to ensure continues dredging of River Niger so as to ensure that the channels are maintained?
The Ministry of Transport and NIWA are working on the establishment of a channel management sector that will source means of maintaining the channels. The idea is to partner with private engineers and private investors to identify and explore stable means of managing the channels. It is capital intensive.
Some countries have not only made the channels self sustenaning but also made them stable sources of revenue generation. That is exactly what we are working on. We intend to start taxing users of the channels. The charges will not be much but should be able to maintain the channels. The biggest and most important achievement recorded after the dredging of river Niger was the approval given by Mr President for NIWA to purchase its own dredger.
That is a very big achievement. With our dredger, we can bargain with any company to partner with us in ensuring frequent dredging of all the inland waterways. Constant dredging of the channel expands them and makes them navigable all year round. One of the problems we are facing in the commercial aspect of it is the apprehension of large transportation stakeholders on whether or not the channels can be sustained. They have the money to invest, they have the will but they are afraid that the channels may not be sustained so long as they remain under government.
So, government is setting up one of the best and most transparent PPP policy where the private investor will even provide part of the logistics. Similar arrangement has been put in place at the Lagos channels Management Company and Warri too.
We are trying to do the same for the River Niger. So far, a lot of international companies have shown interest. Dredging International Company is one of it. Fung Tai International is also one of the interested companies. We now want to commission a consultant to make a study for us of the viable potential investors to see the consequences of the proposals of these would-be-concessionaires.
First, we want to ensure that we device a means of taking away the burden of maintaining the channels from government continuously forever.