The Baro Inland Port in Agaie Local Government Area of Niger State is yet to commence operation eight months after its commissioning by President Muhammadu Buhari, investigation by Daily Trust has shown.
The Baro port project cost was put at N5.8 billion and was awarded to a Chinese firm CGCC Project Limited in 2011/12. However, non-release of fund had stalled its completion, leading to its abandonment before the Buhari administration forged ahead to deliver it.
The port boasts of a quay length of 150 meters, cargo stacking yard of 7,000 square meters, a transit shed of 3, 600 square meters and an estimated capacity of 5,000 TEU at a time.
The port which is expected to provide 2,000 direct and 2,500 indirect jobs is equipped with facilities such as water hydrant system, water treatment plant, three forklifts of various tonnages and powered by a 100 KVA generating set.
President Buhari had, during the inauguration of the port in January, expressed deep personal attachment to the project because, according to him, he assisted in the design of its complex during his time as chairman of the defunct Petroleum Special Task Force (PTF).
He said the project will enhance intermodal transportation connectivity in Nigeria, reduce pressure of big trucks on the country's roads, create huge economic opportunities for Nigerians and help in decongesting similar ports.
But a visit by Daily Trust to the facility showed that it has been lying dormant. Residents said no single cargo has been lifted nor any vessel berthed since the ceremony unveiling it for business activities in January this year.
"The initiative raised our hope of the revival of economic activities we witnessed when the colonialists established the port up to the early 70s but our expectation is dimming by the day because since the commissioning of the place, no activities has taken place there," Captain Hassan Mohammed (rtd), an indigene of the community, said.
Hassan, also known as Captain Baro, is a member of the committee set up by the host state to interface with relevant federal government agencies to ensure the actualization of the project. He also confirmed that no vessel had berthed at the port within the last eight months.
"Why will ships berth when the apparatus that will make the port functional are not in place?" he queried.
Our correspondent noticed that key government officials that would have driven the ports activities were not on ground. "There are no top officials on ground neither are there key officials of federal government such as Customs and Immigration who are key to the operations of the port", one of the security guards said.
Deplorable access roads
It was gathered that the main constraint stalling activities at the port is accessing the facility as the two transport network - road and railway - that should serve as catalysts to its operation are in bad shape.
Daily Trust reports that there are two major access roads to the ancient community: the 55 kilometres Baro/Katcha/Agaie and Baro/Muye linking Gegu on Abuja/Lokoja expressway, both of which are in deplorable condition.
The federal government awarded the contract for the Baro/Katcha/Agaie axis in 2009 but revoked it in 2012 due to alleged failure on the part of the contractor to deliver on time, Daily Trust learnt.
However, the contract for the road was rewarded few months to the 2015 general elections to an Indian firm at the cost of N17.5 billion with a 12-month completion period.
During the flag off for the road construction in March 2015, the then Minister of Works, Arch. Mike Onolememen, said it was among those the federal government planned to experiment with "rigid pavement" because it is the gateway linking Baro inland port to other parts of the country.
The contractor returned to site after an initial release of fund by the Buhari administration but the progress has been slow due to failure to advance additional fund for the project.
So far only 10 kilometres of the road from the Agaie section has been asphalted but the entire section up to Katcha was graded. The terrain between Katcha and Baro is a nightmare especially as the rain intensifies. Rain water forms ponds where deep gully exists, making it difficult for motorists to navigate, while the bridges constructed during the colonial era across streams are beginning to give way as a result of age.
The Baro/Muye/Gegu section of the road, which links the port to the southern part of the country, is equally in a deplorable condition.
The state of the road, it was learnt, contributed to late installation of the cargo handling equipment at the port.
The National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) and the company, which handled the cargo equipment, First Index Nigeria Limited had raised the alarm in late December, 2018 when the truck bearing the consignment got stuck midway on its way to the port.
NIWA, it was learnt, had to carry out minor repairs in order to make sure that the contractor delivered and installed the equipment ahead of the port's commissioning in January.
Apart from the road network, the rail network, a standard gauge line, put in place by the colonialists to aide movement of goods to the hinterland has become relics.
"There used to be a railway network which linked Baro to Minna established around 1911 but it became moribund in early 70s despite its centrality in the transportation framework of the country," the village head of Baro, Alhaji Shaba Woshin said.
Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, during the commissioning of the port in January, promised that the rail network would also bounce back. "Baro is going to be part of our greater central line which will come from Abuja through Baro to join Itakpe all the way to Warrior," he said.
Beyond the rail and road infrastructure, there were also concerns and doubts over the dredging carried out by the federal government subsequent to the construction of the port and the scope of the project.
Experts said with draught of between 2.5 and 30 meters, inland waterways cannot accommodate big vessels that move on minimum draft of 8.5 meters. "If anybody tells you that big vessels could berth in Baro or any other inland port, that person is just playing politics with the issue.
"Mother vessels that are designed for a draught of between 8.5 and 10.5 meters ferry goods into the country and thereafter transfer same into barges, which in turn trans-load to smaller boats to inland ports," a marine engineer, Abdullahi Maikujeri said.
Our correspondent learnt that the depth of the Niger River is currently below the 2.5 meters minimum draught required for navigation due to high rate of siltation.
Maikujeri said that the dredging supposedly carried out earlier was not an expensive one that would allow for all-season navigation. He said even with the expensive dredging, there is need for constant maintenance dredging to sustain the draught.
But checks reveal that about eight years after the supposed dredging, no maintenance dredging has been done at the Baro port.
"After the initial dredging, there is supposed to be maintenance dredging every two years but we have not seen anybody coming to carry out maintenance dredging since the last exercise about eight years ago," Captain Hassan said.
Daily Trust learnt that the area was already highly silted before the wet season set in and is very difficult to navigate.
The siltation of the Niger was said to have been compounded by the construction of the Jebba, Kainji and Shiroro dams, as a result of which some areas on the Niger are clogged up with habitable islands along the routes.
It was learnt that the impact of the silt is more felt between December and March following cessation of rain, making navigation difficult.
Daily Trust learnt that President Muhammadu Buhari, the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi and important personalities had to fly into Baro during the commissioning of the port in January by chopper.
Another hindrance to the effective operation of the port facilities is the absence of power in the entire town. Baro is not connected to electricity and experts say the port management cannot depend on the 100KVA generator on ground to power all the equipment at the port.
They fear that like the Onitsha River port which was commissioned two times and still left dormant, Baro port may just be another electioneering instrument in the hands of politicians.
Contacted, NIWA's General Manager, Public Affairs, Tayo Fadile, said the major constraint against the operation of Baro Port long after it was inaugurated was lack of access road.
He said the port is fully set for operation but for the lack of access road, which he said, was not within the purview of NIWA to handle.
"We have appealed to the Federal Ministry of Works and they said they are still considering it. The issue now has nothing to do with NIWA per se. The ball is now in the court of the Federal Government.