Barring unforeseen circumstances, Nigeria is set to inaugurate a brand-new port while heralding a unique era in port development that stands to overcome numerous operational and logistic challenges hindering smooth port operations especially in Lagos.
But as hopes are high that the Benin River Port comes on-stream by second quarter of 2024, it stands to be seen the extent to which the lofty dreams of the promoters who are already upbeat about it can be achieved.
Talking about most projects with multiplier- effects on employment generation and the economy, Nigeria presents a very funny environment and, so far, nobody is held accountable. Expectations are often dashed especially from the top and no explanations made. It is either the project cannot continue for obvious political reasons or the selfish desires of the promoters are not being achieved as intended. On this score, the case of Ibom Deepsea Port and allied projects quickly come to mind, talking about a relatively recent case. The far- flung Oku Iboku Paper Mill and the abandoned Ajaokuta Steel Project remain signposts that tell stories of recklessness and irresponsible abandonment.
Back to matters of the moment. Chairman, Technical Committee of the Benin River Port Project, Engr. Greg Ogbeifun unveiled the news of the port in Lagos shortly before leading his Committee on a courtesy call to the Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA). He disclosed that at the last count, the Benin River Port project stands at 45 per cent completion even as the Outline Business Case (OBC) is 95 per cent completed.
“We have focused on all that is necessary to ensure that when we come out with the OBC, meet with the relevant authorities, they will see all we have done including the justification for the work we have done and then decide to give us the nod which must come from the Federal Executive Council (FEC).
“So, we will start from NPA, involve the Ministry of Transportation, Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC), then the Federal Executive Council.
“We are 95 percent through with the OBC and we have 45 percent accomplished the project. It is expected that the port will be up and running by the second quarter of 2024.”
Meanwhile, transaction advisory services on the project is being developed through a Public- Private- Partnership (PPP) arrangement, a measure Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State has fully endorsed even as
investment profile in the port project soars as not less than 28 investors have indicated interest.
Ogbeifun said that an international Transaction Adviser has been appointed via a competitive bid. “We hired a local consultant who worked with us to develop the request for proposal and for the procurement of an international transaction adviser. Through that process, we now appointed a company based in Canada with offices in Abuja. They met all the requirements. We have started working with them.
Ogbeifun was emphatic that the port that was being set up in a PPP arrangement between the state government and the investors.
“After the OBC and we get the government nod, we will now go ahead to do the full feasibility study. As at the last count, there are about 28 investors who have expressed interest, then we will then come out for a competitive bid for the investors. What we are hoping is that in the course of this year, we would have completed that process,” he said.
Being strategically located, he stated, the port which will stand at a distance of 32 nautical miles will enjoy a similar advantage which the Lagos Port has in terms of proximity to the Atlantic Ocean. It will be dedicated mainly to agro allied products to serve as catchment to export produce from the north, Benue area down to the west.
“We are building a port that is agro -allied. What we are developing is a port community. In developing the port community, we looked at the mistakes made in establishing existing ports and some that are today not viable like the ones in Warri, Sapele, Koko and Burutu. So, we have to consciously develop the concept that will address that aspect.
“All the agricultural produce coming from the northern states through the middle belt, they come to Edo and headed West to Lagos to be shipped through the Lagos ports with the attendant delays.
“So, we are incorporating an agro industrial park in the port community where stakeholders can develop processing lands and foreign importers of our goods can be invited to set up shops.”
Without prejudice to the obvious optimism promoters of the Benin River Port show, it remains to be seen how they can make a difference in an environment that is jinxed; an environment where nothing good works for the good of the common man except to satisfy the whims and caprices of politicians. Time will tell.