The need for optimal utilisation of the nation's inland waterways has been brought to the fore, as maritime industry stakeholders recount the huge loss of opportunities to underutilisation of the water resources.
The stakeholders, who gathered at the 2017 National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) International Conference and Exhibition in Lagos, said the utilisation of inland waterways is very critical to the evacuation of cargoes and decongesting the ever-busy roads.
The Minster of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, wooed the private sector to massively invest in the business as a means of employment generation and poverty eradication.
He said: "The network of rivers, creeks lagoons and lakes are great resources to this country that needed to be maximally utilised by the private sector. These bodies of internal waters are used to facilitate movement of economic goods and persons with great revenue generating and eradication of poverty through employment opportunities that come along with the economic use for navigation."
He however commended NIWA for the progress recorded so far on the amendment of the NIWA Bill at the National Assembly. The Managing Director of NIWA, Boss Mustapha, said the agency is focused on developing inland ports for cargo handling and passenger operations in order to create connectivity for multimodal transport linkages (Road-Rail-Waterways-Sea) transport.
Mustapha said the Authority has commissioned an in-house project team to embark on a continuous dredging of the entire waterways in Nigeria, adding that it has also scheduled to complete the construction and installation of cargo handling equipment at the Baro Port, Lokoja Port, Oguta Port, and a number of jetties and landing platforms in many communities along the waterways this year.
The Managing Director, Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) Hadiza Bala Usman, said inland waterways are an integral part of the nation's multimodal system, and critical for the evacuation of cargo.
"We all have seen what happened in Apapa, we need to do dual network (Inland waterways and rails) to move our cargo. That is the only way we can move our cargoes in and out in a efficient manner," she said.
A global report predicted that the seaports transport will quadruple by 2020, as such, Usman said Nigerian inland waterways needs to position itself to benefit from the huge traffic projections.
An Industry chief, Mrs Dabney Shall Homa, said the Inland waterways cannot operate in isolation, but must be connected to the seaports in other to maximise the benefits.
She also called for a business friendly policy that would encourage private investors coupled with incentives such as tax holidays, Customs waivers, and policy stability among others.
Homa said the tax holidays and waivers must be in accordance with the extant laws in order to avoid the mistakes of the past. "About 95 per cent of freight traffic in Nigeria is done by road. We need to grow transshipment of goods from road mode of transportation to especially inland waterways.
"The inland waterways resources are vast, in fact reported to be one of the longest in the world, and estimated at nearly 3,000 km comprising over 50 rivers, big and small that can strongly support a vibrant intra-continental trade network," she said.