SINCE he became the Governor of Delta State a little over a year ago, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, has been thinking of nothing other than how to transform the economy of the state, which was shattered by Warri crisis and crippled by militants. Delta State owns the largest concentration of sea ports in the country, located in Warri, Koko, Sapele and Burutu, and it also has the longest shoreline.
But, at the moment, the Burutu port has been privatized by the Federal Government; the Nigerian Navy took over the Sapele port years ago and converted it to a School of Engineering even as Sapele people bemoaned the plummeting of the once flourishing municipality to a “rural community.
However, "the House of Representatives may have come to their rescue with the recent motion it passed, ordering the Navy to relocate the school to the neighboring Oghara, the country home of the former governor, Chief James Ibori so that the concerted effort to jumpstart the economy of the area once again will gather steam. At Koko, the people know that they used to have a port in the town, but, what they cannot say with exactitude is whether it is dead or still alive.
Economic experts believe that one of the major catalysts to the recovery of the weather-beaten economy of the state is the resuscitation of the various seaports, particularly the Warri port, which has recorded a lull following its abandonment by importers and investors at large that fled the state as a result of the twin crises. Uduaghan knows this and as he remembers with nostalgia the booming business at the various ports in the 70s and 80s and ripple effects it had on the life and finances of the people.
That was the time the Delta ports were beehives of activities, ships laden with assorted goods came in droves while hotels and night clubs blossomed; importers, exporters, transporters, traders moved freely, and people went about without fear of being kidnapped by militants. The governor rises up every morning, not with the thoughts of how workers salaries would be paid alone, but also how the state can be restored back to its former glory.
With his three-point agenda of peace and security, infrastructural development and human capital development in view, he held a brainstorming meeting with the key players in the oil industry, some few months ago, in Warri, to re-assure them on the state governments preparedness to provide security for them while they do their business in the state.
They believed him because they saw how he was able to restore a sense of
sanity to the state through the Delta Waterways Security Committee, his
colossal support to the Joint Task Force (JTF) on the Niger-Delta and his
empowerment of the Delta State Oil Producing Development Areas Development
Commission (DESOPADEC), as a vehicle to develop the oil communities and
curtail their surge on the oil companies. Managing director, Western
Division of the SPDC, Mr. Cor Zegelar, who spoke the mind of the investors,
said they were ready to remain in the state with Uduaghan as the chief
But the havoc that was wreaked on the economy of the state cannot be fixed overnight. Even though, investors, for instance, are ready to return, as they promised Uduaghan, it would not be easy for them to stop importing their equipment and goods through the Lagos and Apapa ports, which have become their first choice overnight, and switch over to Warri port and other ports in the state. Besides, there is the problem of the Escravos Bar, which must be dredged before big vessels can come to the Warri port again.
Not only that, the break waters constructed by the colonial government
had given way and required to be created again and there are also some
security threats, including the hurdle posed by the local pilots.
What about the high tariffs charged by the operators of the ports? Who dredges the Escravos Bar and how soon? How about the militants, will they not resume attacks again and the area boys that waylay traders on the road to ask for “deve” (settlement)? Posers upon posers.
It dawned on Uduaghan early in his administration that the state
government had to partner with the Nigeria Ports Authority if his dream
ships bringing in an assortment of imports, such as industrial machinery
equipment, plants, chemicals, flour, frozen fish and industrial raw
materials, and ships beginning to load cocoa, timber, rubber, palm kernel,
coffee, etc as export cargoes in Delta ports should translate to reality.
This synergy was established, last year, and apparently resulted in the
Ports Consultative Council (PCC), the highest advisory body in Nigerias
maritime industry, holding its quarterly meeting and maritime summit for the
first time in Delta State for two days, Wednesday, June 4 to Thursday, June
5. The chairman of the PCC, Dr. W.A. Kareem, commended Uduaghan for the
From the NPA itself where all the managers of the different ports in the country were present, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC), Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industries, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA), Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), shipping companies and agents, freight forwarding companies and agents, port terminal operators, Central Bank of Nigeria, Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON), Nigeria Export Promotion Council (NEPC), Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), Nigeria Port Police Command, Ministries of Transport, Finance, Trade and Commerce delegates at the meeting, it was clear that the stakeholders were complete to do justice to the theme of the maritime summit, which was aptly tagged, Delta Ports: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.
The general manager, eastern zone of the NPA, Mr. Sotonye Etomi delivered an enlivening paper entitled, Ports as a resource for rapid socio-economic transformation and development of Delta State. Managing director of Green View Development Limited, Captain Olugbenga Abidoye, spoke on the “Challenges of revitalizing Delta Ports for efficient service delivery to the Ports Users” and the former Acting Comptroller General of Customs, Mr. Tayo Ogungbemite, talked on “Trade Facilitation and the roles of the Nigerian Customs”. Director, Cabotage, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Mr. Ambrose Igbecha, delivered a paper on “Cabotage Implementation in Nigeria: Problems and Prospects”. “Port infrastructural development as investment opportunity for financial institutions” was a fashionable paper at the meeting by the managing director of the Oceanic Bank Plc, Chief (Mrs.) Cecelia who was represented.
The bank listed the areas of public-private partnership in port infrastructure investment such as terminal for cargo and container terminal, usually funded by the World Bank, but for port equipment, packaging plants in the production zones, transportation of shipment parts and employment creation, it said it was ready to bring out the money, supported by equity contribution, as long at the processes are made clear to the bank and it was assured that the money would be paid between 50 and 80 years.
Uduaghan who was the chief host sat down patiently like a student with his pen and jotter to listen to the resource persons and took down notes on what his government should do to put the Warri ports back on its feet whenever the speakers made vital points. He commended the speakers for enumerating the various problems that have been militating against the optimal utilization of the ports, which he summarized as silting that has made entry, especially as the Madangho end to the Warri port, slightly difficult at a place that is popularly called the Escravos Bar, the Escravos breakwaters done by expatriates and almost extinct today, threats along the channel and “very sadly, the problems we have encountered with local pilots. The governor, on the other hand, said, “I believe that the most advertised and the greatest challenge that we have in the utilization of our ports is the issue of security.”
Apparently drawing from his findings during his recent trip abroad to market the investment potentials of the state in the oil and gas sector, he said, “For any investor you talk to, asking him to come and invest in Nigeria, he will first exclaim, Nigeria! Not to talk of if you say come and invest in Warri or part of the Niger-Delta. Security is still a very big issue and for us as a state government and indeed, the other state governments of the Niger-Delta, we have taken the issue of security very seriously. “In looking at the security issues, I will start by looking at the overall challenges in the Niger-Delta - why do we actually have these security issues.
The challenges include but not exhaustively the problem of environmental
degradation and pollution, the problem of high unemployment, the problem
of poverty and the problem of under representation. All these have led to
agitations, restiveness and to criminal activities, which include
kidnapping, destruction of oil pipelines, etc”, he said. Uduaghan
explained that the problems could be solved through a co-operation
framework involving the Federal Government, state government, local
government, investors, operators and the host communities.
He said that a lot is being done by the Federal Government to bring about peace in the Niger-Delta and one of the ways was its strengthening of the NDDC, which has come out with a master plan for the development of the region. He asserted that the Federal Government has equally created opportunity to dialogue with some of the youths in addition to the enforcement of peace through the Joint Task Force (JTF) on the Niger-Delta.
“For us as a state government”, the governor said, “We have our strategies and our strategies are our three-point agenda of peace and security, infrastructural development and, of course, human capital development.” The state government, he said, had approved the establishment of the Delta State School of Maritime Technology, which would be located in Burutu and a consultant was already working on the temporary site while the government is looking at the permanent site.
On infrastructural development, he said the state government was using
the Delta State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission (DESOPADEC),
whose primary aim is to provide the oil producing communities with the
basic amenities of life, such as electricity, water, education and good
health, pointing out 50 per cent of the 13 per cent derivation funds
accruing to the state is set aside for the commission, headed by a
community leader from the riverine area.
He also said that the state government has proposed the setting up of the Delta State Integrated Development Agency (DIDA) and the Bill for its establishment is before the House of Assembly. Essentially, the body is to develop infrastructures that will transport investment to the state in the areas of transportation, power, urbanization, etc. Having identified the ports as one strategic area the state government is anxious to revive and use as a logistic support for investors, he said the problems were being tackled and that through the working committee of the state government and the NPA, the dredging of the Escravos Bar and the reconstruction of the breakwaters would soon be a thing of the past, as the NPA has put some money in the budget to silt the entry points. Uduaghan said information at his disposal was that contractors were already positioning themselves for the contract but he was quick to appeal that people from the area should be involved in it.
He said the state government had been intervening on the problems between the local pilots and the NPA and would do everything to broker peace to ensure that the maritime industry does not go below the standard that is recognized anywhere in the world. He said it was disheartening to hear that Delta ports are being flagged red in international reports in spite of all the efforts the government was putting. He therefore appealed to the local pilots that they would not be shortchanged but whatever they want to do should be done according to the laid down rules by the Federal Government.
Tapping into the Onitsha market, Uduaghan showed he has a clear focus of where he wants to take the state to when he revealed his government’s plan to make the traders in Onitsha to start importing their goods through Warri, Sapele or Koko ports in due course, instead of Lagos port, saying Onitsha is a very big market and the state government wants to take advantage of it.He invited the president of the Anambra State Amalgamated Traders Association, Mr. Sylvester Odife, who came to Warri with some other top officials of the body.
He told the Onitsha traders that they would not regret using any of the
ports in the state for the importation of their goods, saying, “We know you
do have problems with some of the security agencies: Customs, police and
all that, either in the port or on the road, we dey talk to them, they are
our brothers.” On transportation of goods from Warri port in particular to
Onitsha, he said he was happy that the Federal Government was already
dualizing the east-west (Warri-Port-Harcourt) highway, adding that since
the road passes through Ughelli, the state government was looking at the
possibility of dualizing Ughelli-Asaba Road, even though it is a federal
Besides, Uduaghan said his government was making plans to dualize the Ugbenu to Koko Road for the investors and traders who decide to use the Koko port to travel on a dualized expressway from Koko to Onitsha, either via Benin or Warri. He added: “But if you want it faster, we are constructing an airport in Asaba, a cargo port provision sort will be there and you can air-freight your goods straight to Asaba and within a few minutes into Onitsha.
In fact, if you dont want the goods to enter Onitsha straightaway today, Nna, Chineke, your money is talking, we are also planning warehouses around Asaba, where you can keep the goods safely and while waiting in Asaba, if you want to chop your ego (money), we are very good hosts, we are putting up very good hotels, you know we already have very good hotels like Grand Hotel.”
The governor also stated that his administration was seriously pursuing the Free Trade Zone and had already applied for Koko Free Trade Zone while pursuing the one for Warri to ensure increased activities. For the state to get ready for the anticipated upsurge in business, he said that the government was dualizing the road from Ugbenu, along the Benin Warri expressway to Koko so that even if you bring your goods through the Koko port, you are going to be hooked on a dualized road, straight onto the Benin-Warri highway and if you want to take from there to Onitsha, it is easy as you get to the bypass in Benin City and head straight to Onitsha market.
He said the more serious one for the state government is taking
advantage of the deep shoreline in the state, which is over 26 kilometers
by establishing a Deep Sea Port that will act as a regional cargo
receiving centre for larger vessels. Such a port would be one of the
biggest in the continent and also a serve as a transit point for
multi-port distribution along the west coastline of West Africa with
specialized port services that will reduce the freight rates due to bulk
He said that the road that would service the port is already being constructed at a cost of over N95 billion. It takes off from Warri, through Omadino and the Gbaramatu axis to Escravos. The first phase, he said, had been at Omadino and the NDDC, which is partnering with the state government, would be awarding the second phase of the road project in the next few days.
Uduaghan told the stakeholders that the state government was also discussing with the Federal Government to complete the Ajaokuta-Aladja railway line, saying that if the rail line stops somewhere at Agharho and if it does not do so, as a state, we believe we can mobilize some funds to be able to complete it. Security for the investors, particularly the oil companies and other big-time investors, he said they have to help government to help them.
His words, “For us to have peace and security in the area (Niger-Delta), for us to make sure that investors coming in are not disturbed, there are two issues. One, we appeal that your operations should conform with the necessary safety, health and environmental standards so that our environment are not polluted because when our environment are polluted, it gets the communities very angry and I can tell you that it is one of the reasons we have community disturbances. So, please, ensure your operations have to meet this minimum standard..
Delta State Commissioner for Information, Mr. Omah Djebah, a journalist of repute, told Sunday Vanguard that since he joined the Uduaghan government, he is beginning to see the man more as the Biblical Joseph who interpreted dreams. He said, “Governor Uduaghan is a visionary, he has a comprehensible inspiration of where he wants to take Delta state to in the next few years with his three-point agenda and is pursuing it with ‘I can do it’ spirit.
It is like a bug that has caught up with some of us, his commissioners and aides, to make the impossible to be possible in Delta State with God as our Battleaxe and Chief Builder. President of the Anambra Amalgamated Traders Association, told newsmen after listening to Uduaghan that from what he said, the governor knows our fears, adding that once those fears were addressed, Onitsha traders would relocate, so to speak, from Lagos to Delta State and make the state, beyond doubt, the favorite investment destination for any sagacious investor.