Former governor of Cross River State, Mr. Donald Duke must have realized early though that his state was located in Nigeria’s oil-rich neighborhood, but was not as rich in oil as its neighbours even when Cross River still had Bakassi. So, early on, the man set about “creating” oil wells in such projects as Marina Resort, Obudu Cattle Ranch, Tinapa, and the annual carnival, all aimed at the promotion of the big economic masquerade – TOURISM. He founded the EPZ. And Tinapa was to be an international supermarket patterned after Dubai.
A major life line to these projects was to be the dredging of the Calabar river. The importance of dredging the Calabar river could never be over emphasized. It was meant to energize the economic fortunes of Cross River State. That was on one level. On another level, it was meant to give life to the economy of the nation’s South-South, South-East and North-Central states; perhaps even enlivening as well the economies of neighbouring countries like Chad and Niger.
The former Minister for Transport, Malam Idris Umar once observed that “dredging of the channel (Calabar river) could transform the economy of the Niger Delta region. The synergy between the Calabar Port, the Calabar free Trade Zone and Tinapa is evidently valid. With the channel dredged, the increase in the volume of economic activities could be substantial and of course will transform and grow the maritime economy”.
If we knew this, why has the project aimed at dredging the channel experienced serial miscarriages. We know for a fact that the administration of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo awarded the contract for the project (of dredging) to two Dutch companies at a cost of $56 million. They started, but abandoned the project.
In 2014, the Goodluck Jonathan administration also came up with the Calabar Channel Management (CCM), which was a joint venture between Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and a consortium of companies led by Messres Niger Global Engineering and Technical Company Ltd with the goal of dredging the channel. CCM reportedly commenced work but was put on hold.
The last thing Nigerians wanted to hear about the matter was that the channel had been dredged but the last thing we are hearing is that the matter is in court. This laudable project has again been lost in the estuaries of corruption in government.
The Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) has taken the firms to court to recover ₦4.32 billion, claiming that they have not executed the job.
The question now is why has a major plan to put the maritime industry in the state and country on a sure footing repeatedly met with a brick wall? We in The Lens are of the opinion that concrete steps should be taken to address these setbacks in the dredging of the Calabar river. We think a way out is for the state government to set up a technical group made up of experts to proffer day time solution to the challenge. And the next step to actualize the project which should be on the wing to follow up with the relevant public and private concerns, is a team of technocrats.
Published in maiden edition, Lens Newspapers Vol. 1 No. 12.