Lokoja — Statistics from the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) indicate that about 3,800 kilometers of the nation's waterways are navigable seasonally, with 28 out of the 36 states of the federation accessible by water.
Besides, Nigeria can also link five of its neighbouring countries through water, namely-Benin Republic (Port Novo), Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon, Chad and Niger Republic.
However, despite the vast potential the nation has in terms of waterway channels linking many parts of its federating units and beyond, about 90 percent of movements involving persons, goods and services in the country are still being done through road transportation.
Stakeholders in the water transportation sector had at different fora harped on the need for big companies such as the Dangote Group to embrace the alternative of transporting their products through the waterways instead of hauling them via the roads.
The little priority accorded the water transportation system has led to exertion of too much pressure on the nation's road networks due to high volumes of vehicular traffic conveying passengers, heavy commodities, goods and services from one part of the country to the other on daily basis.
These constant pressures on the roads have given rise to negative consequences such as frequent auto crashes which often lead to loss of lives and property worth millions of naira, nerve-wracking traffic gridlocks and wearing out of our roads, amongst others.
All these factors and many others are reason that should make the government and other critical stakeholders in the transportation sector to see to the development and effective utilization of the waterways.
The bulk of the nation's navigable water channels which link most parts of the country are said to be found within the two main rivers - Niger and Benue.
Indeed, it has been established by NIWA that at least, 17 out of the 28 states of the federation which are accessible through water are linked through the two rivers.
Amongst the states that can be accessed either through river Niger or Benue include Adamawa, Anambra, Bauchi, Bayelsa, Benue, Delta, Edo, Gombe, Kebbi, Kogi, Kwara, Niger, Nasarawa, Plateau, Rivers, Sokoto and Taraba.
No doubt, it was in view of the vast transportation and commercial potential of these two rivers that the Federal Government in 2009 awarded contract for the dredging of the lower River Niger at the cost of over N33 billion.
The project which was flagged off by the late Nigeria President, Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, was aimed at boosting water transportation, socio-economic and commercial activities in the country.
The capital dredging of the River Niger which length stretches 572km from Baro in Niger State down to Delta State, cutting across eight states of the federation namely, Niger, Kogi, Anambra, Imo, Edo, Delta and Bayelsa, was completed in 2012 according to the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA).
But even after the completion of the dredging, only a handful of operators, majorly Nino Transport Company and West African Ceramics Company, Ajaokuta were utilizing the water ways.
West Africa Ceramics Company which produces tiles and other ceramic materials in Ajaokuta, Kogi State, has been ferrying its products from the Ajaokuta end to Onitsha through the barges provided on the dredged water channels by Nino Transport Company.
However, due to the 2012 flood which wreaked havoc across riverine states of the federation, most of the dredged portion of the River Niger became silted while many of the navigational aids earlier installed were reportedly destroyed.
Hence, when the new Managing Director of the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA), Barr. Boss Mustapha, assumed office, he made the maintenance dredging of the Ajaokuta-Onitsha water channels a priority to enable the companies already transacting their businesses on the waterways to continue and also encourage others to join.
The Minister of Transportation, Mr Rotimi Amaechi, flagged off the maintenance dredging of the 162km Ajaokuta-Onitsha water channel.
Performing the ceremony at Ajaokuta, Kogi State, the minister noted that the maintenance dredging would go a long way in increasing the value of water fronts and boost economic activities across communities on the river banks.
He said the dredging, which is being done in-house by staff of the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) using their dredgers, had enabled the Federal Government to maximise cost and save billions of naira.
He appealed to Ajaokuta community to cooperate with NIWA in its efforts to bring development to the area. On his part, the NIWA Managing Director, Boss Mustapha, said the maintenance dredging project was aimed at clearing about 523,000 metric tonnes of dredged materials to keep the water channel navigable all year round.
He said West African Ceremics Ltd and Nino Transport Company were the two major companies that have been utilizing the dredged water channels and urged other operators to key in.
He maintained that inland water transportation has a lot to contribute to the national economy and development, adding that 28 out of the 36 states of the federation can be accessed through water.
"One thing is sure; the use and maintenance of navigability of the waterways is safer and much cheaper than the use and maintenance of other modes of transport. Water transport is indeed the most sustainable mode of transportation for the future," he said.