Federal government has unveiled a navigational chart of lower River Niger from Jamata through Lokoja and Burutu produced by Nigerian Navy hydrographers and warned of 81 underwater features that may be dangerous to mariners.
The Chief of Naval Staff Vice Admiral Awwal Gambo in a goodwill message at the ceremony yesterday said the chart was crucial for the exploitation of the vast strategic reserves of mineral resources along the Lower Niger Basin with great prospects for Nigeria’s economic diversification.
He said the development would also boost tourism, create job opportunities and increase economic viability, adding that it would also reduce pressure on road infrastructure, as bulk cargo would be transported through the channel.
He said, “Successful opening of this River Channel for navigation will accelerate activation of concessioned inland ports and export processing zones for handling bulk cargoes from coastal areas and export of solid minerals as well as agricultural produce.
“Although, this is a preliminary step towards opening the Lower River Niger, I would like to assure this audience that the Nigerian Navy is willing to sustain partnership with NEXIM Bank, Sealink Consortium and the National Inland Waterways Authority including other critical stakeholders under this collaborative initiative to complete development of the river channel towards creating vibrant maritime activities along the Lower River Niger basin.
“I want to also assure that the Nigerian Navy Hydrographic Survey Department, having recently acquired state-of-the-art survey platforms and equipment, is poised to provide standard hydrographic service delivery to all mariners within the Nation’s maritime environment towards facilitating sustainable blue economy in Nigeria,” he said.
The Nigerian Navy Hydrographer, Rear Admiral CE Okafor in his presentation said the chart was developed with 100 percent local capacity covering a distance of 456 km (246 nm) from Jamata, Lokoja to Burutu.
He identified 81 underwater obstructions which could pose danger to mariners.
He, therefore, called for dredging, canalisation, installation of appropriate aids to navigation among others to facilitate both day and night navigation by a wide range of vessels.
Earlier in his welcome remarks, the managing director/chief executive, Nigerian Export-Import Bank (NEXIM), Abba Bello, said the River Niger and Benue were considered by the British merchants as the most navigable river channels, hence their use in the late 19th Century, where Burutu port served as a link between river transport and the sea.
He stated that the indigenous survey and production of paper and electronic charts to ensure navigational safety of Lower River Niger channel will go a long way to boost trade.
“Historically, the River Niger and Benue were considered by the British merchants as the most navigable river channels used, hence their use in the late 19th century, where Burutu port served as a link between river transport and the sea. It served as a port terminal for Royal Niger Company and UAC for export cargo consolidation and discharging of goods from ships for onward water transport to river ports in Northern Nigeria and neighboring French territories through rivers Niger and Benue.
“The cessation of the use of the Burutu port in the mid-1970s substantially led to considerable level of disuse of the river channel for mercantile trade, leading to siltation of the channel over the years that resulted in navigational challenges. Therefore, this informed the decision to partner with Afreximbank, Nigerian Navy and NIWA to undertake the survey / charting exercise,” he said.
He added that the chart will provide a guide on the current state of navigability of the river channel, “which would be catalytic to ensuring the design of a framework that would enable channel improvement works necessary to facilitate the commencement of massive commercial operations on the channel, especially for Regional Sealink Project”
In his goodwill message, the president of African Export Import Bank (AFREXIMBANK) Prof Benedict Oramah represented by the manager Trade Finance, Anglophone West Africa, Mr Remmy Nwachukwu said the bank provided $360,000 for the execution of the project.
He said the charting of the lower River Niger signals the take-off whistle for the commencement of active maritime activities on this great river that traverses the country.
He added that the unveiling marks the beginning of new life to the economies of various communities along the Lower River Niger as access to markets for their agricultural commodities will receive a boost.