Baro Port, located at the Agaie Local Government Area of Niger state, was the forerunner of the seaports in Nigeria. It was the first inland port in the country from where the first Governor-General of Nigeria, Sir Fredrick Lugard, disembarked prior to the amalgamation of the Southern and Northern Protectorates in 1914 after voyaging from the South.
The Baro Port was central to water transportation north of the country for several years and was later linked by rail line fanning out to Minna, Kano and Lagos.
However, the port suffered the same fate as many of such colonial legacies. It was also neglected. There were what appeared like feeble attempts at reviving the facility by successive administrations. But these efforts were made desultory and later abandoned. One of such steps to bring the port back to life was taken by the late President Umar Musa Yar’Adua when he took the bull by the horns in 2009. He inaugurated the dredging of River Niger at Lokoja which was necessary for the operation of the much needed waterway transportation across all the major littoral towns and villages in the country. Lokoja was to be a key port destination. A similar exercise was carried out at the Baro Port. While a new port was to be constructed at Lokoja, the Baro Port was to be revived and made modern.
Speaking at the ground breaking ceremony in Lokoja in September 2009, Yar’Adua envisioned that the project would accelerate the actualisation of his 7-point agenda and also help him to realise his Vision 20-2020 dreams. The dredging project was to be executed within three or so years.
The then Transport Minister, Alhaji Ibrahim Bio, explained at the ceremony, that 572km of the river would be dredged across eight states from Delta through Anambra to Niger, and some 152 communities. Had the project pulled through, it would have provided unobtrusive, cheaper and safer means of haulage of goods and trading activities among adjoining communities and people of states neighbouring the Lower River Niger.
It would then be possible to reach Onitsha in Anambra state from Lokoja in Kogi state within 50 minutes and perhaps in less than 90 minutes from Baro by speed boat and not nine hours or longer by road. Given the deplorable condition of the network of roads along the axis now, it should take longer hours.
About nine months after the commencement of the dredging exercise, Yar’Adua passed on and the noble project died also. Successive federal administrations have failed to appreciate the dual benefits of the Lokoja and the Baro projects – boost the water transportation and free the flow of water along the course of the river.
Since 2012 to date, Nigeria has been experiencing heavy floods as a result of the clogging of its two major rivers – Niger and Benue. Several arteries across the country are known to spew back excess water into various communities along their banks because the two major rivers that are supposed to pass on the water have been saturated.
It is common to see trees sprouting from the middle of the two rivers at various points. Many boat mishaps on our waterways in recent years have also been caused by undersurface barriers like fallen trees, etc., leading to fatalities.
Had the government paid attention to water transportation, the obstruction along the river paths like sand dunes shaped like pyramids and fallen trees would not surface to inhibit free flow of water. Besides, the government would have used one stone to kill two birds… boost economic activities in the communities along the rivers and mitigate flooding that constantly wreaks havoc on their inhabitants.
Be that as it may, we call on the federal government to renew its interest in both the Lokoja and the Baro projects. There appeared to be a light at the end of the tunnel when President Muhammadu Buhari breathed life into the pioneer port and even commissioned it in January, 2019. But about 18 months after the ceremony, commercial activities are yet to commence.
Disturbed by the seeming jinx associated with the facility, the Niger state Governor, Alhaji Abubakar Sani Bello, led a high-powered delegation of stakeholders to visit the President in a bid to rescue the project from another circle of abandonment.
It is high time the government paid equal attention to the nation’s waterway transportation system the way it accords attention to the road, air and rail sectors. If the government finds it necessary to grow dry ports in some parts of the country, we wonder why the waterways should be relegated to the background. Just like the rail system, water transportation comes cheaper and will go a long way in easing pressure exerted on our highways by heavy duty vehicles.