Before we dredge Calabar Port again…

In the twilight of General Yakubu Gowon’s administration in the mid-1970s, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) was battling with the problems of ports congestion as a result of massive cement importation.
The government decided to build two new ports to ease the transaction costs associated with shipping and to ensure adequate facilities for Nigeria’s import and export needs.
A feasibility study was carried out and the experts recommended the creation of two new ports; one in Lagos and another in Ibaka, in present day Akwa Ibom State. These projects were contained in the 3rd National Development Plan.
The one in Lagos is the Tin-Can Island Port commissioned by the then Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters, and deputy to then military Head of State, Genera Olusegun Obasanjo, now late Major-General Shehu Yar’Adua on 14th October, 1977.

Ibaka Port was never constructed, purportedly on the advice of the then Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and current Chairman of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) – Alhaji Bamanga Tukur.
I heard Tukur’s argument was that instead of starting a new port from scratch, the same resources could be used to revive existing and nearby Calabar Port.
Government bought his argument and a huge amount I’m still trying to find out was used to revive the port. The new Calabar Port Complex was commissioned on 9th June, 1979.
I heard Alhaji Tukur has a wife from Calabar. Now I’m not sure if his wife influenced his decision or if his support for Calabar port made the community bless him with their daughter. But anyhow, it is clear that the decision is a wrong one because Calabar Port is still moribund.
Fast forward to 2006 when Alhaji Bamanga Tukur’sson, the iconic Chief Adebayo Babatunde Sarumi, was in charge of the Nigerian Ports Authority.
A princely sum of 56 million dollars (about N9 billion) was spent on dredging the Calabar Port channel.

The dredging contract was awarded to two dredging firms: Messrs Jan de Nul and Van Oord. The federal government divided the entire length of the channel in Calabar Port between the two firms.
While Van Oord was paid $26 million to dredge kilometre 0 to 46, Jan de Nul got $30 million to dredge kilometre 46 to 84. According to the scope of the contract, the two firms were to scoop out 25 million cubic metres of sand to achieve an overall draft of 8 metres to allow big vessels call at the port.
Not one big ship has called at the port ever since because while the companies collected their monies and walked away, the channel remains as shallow as ever.
Of course the appreciative Calabar community honoured Chief Sarumi with a chieftaincy title.

You may now understand my apprehension and concern when I heard that the present Managing Director of the NPA, Mallam Habib Abdullahi, assured the good people of Calabar penultimate week that Calabar port will soon be dredged again.
I think the central government should not award another contract for the same project until it has found out what happened to the dredging exercise of 2006.
Apart from its shallow channel, Calabar Port has other limitations. Poor port access roads and lack of rail links are major challenges.
Most importantly, however, is the Ikom Bridge. The bridge, which crosses over the port channel, is a major bottleneck because large vessels cannot pass under. Have all these factors been considered or are we just trying to throw money down the drain again?
The dredging of Calabar Port should be a purely business decision devoid of political sentiments.

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