Posted on February 15, 2023
The Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) has said that the long awaited dredging of Calabar Port channel will commence in a few weeks. For more than 26 years efforts to dredge the 84-kilometres channel have been futile because of allegations of contract infractions, bribery, litigations and other challenges BAYO AKOMOLAFE reports
Recently, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) assured that the scooping of silt in the 84-kilometres Calabar Port channel to create way for bigger ships would commence soon as litigations on its operations and contract formalities have now been resolved. For more than two and half decades, the dredging of the port channel has become a conduit pipe to siphon money because of lingering contract infractions and failed efforts to probe the scandals. Notwithstanding, the Port Manager, Calabar Port, Mr Iyke Olumati, said recently that the long-awaited dredging of the port channel would commence in a few weeks, noting that every litigation on its operation and contract formalities had been settled. He added that other technical matters inimical to the port were also being handled. Olumati dropped the hint when the Commissioner for Trade and Commerce in Cross River State, Rosemary Archibong, and the management team of Great Elim Resources Limited visited the port to see its capacity to export iron ore.
He said the state government had always shown interest in generating the much-desired cargo that will keep the port busy, as well as generate employment for Nigerian youths and improve the economic wellbeing of the state. Also, the commissioner said that they came to explore the possibility of exporting iron ore and coal from the port, noting that the state government was committed to maximising maritime trade internationally and within the Gulf of Guinea trade sectors, which informed the Bakassi Deep Sea Port Agenda.
The first scandal was the dredging of the 84- kilometers Calabar Port Channel awarded by the Federal Government to Van Oord and Jan de Nul. The two firms were asked to scoop out 25 million cubic metres of sand out of the port channel in order to achieve an overall draft of eight metres to enable vessels of up to 30,000 tonnes sail to the port. But the job was abandoned half way. For instance, the first contract was awarded at N3billion to Messrs Jan de Nul and Van Oord by a former Head of State, Late General Sani Abacha, in 1996 to enable the channel accommodate vessels of up to 30,000 Gross Registered Tonnage (GRT) but the contract was not executed. The contract was also reawarded 10 years after by President Olusegun Obasanjo to the same firms in 2006 at a whopping sum of $56 million. The entire length of the channel was divided between the two firms. Van Oord was paid $26 million to dredge the first 44 kilometres, while Jan de Nul got $30million to dredge the last 40kilometers of the channel. The project began in July 2002 and lasted for 64 weeks, with the instruction that the two firms should scoop out 25 million cubic metres of sand to achieve an overall draft of eight metres to enable big vessels sail to the port. Also in 2006, the same contract was re-awarded by the former Minister of Transport, Dr Abiye Sekibo at N14 billion after the firms failed to deliver the job. Also, between, 2008 and 2009, the authority received N6billion and N7billion respectively, but the money was never used for the dredging. Another contract was awarded by the Federal Government under President Goodluck Jonathan to Niger Global Engineering and Technical Company Limited (NGETCL) in 2014 at N20 billion before it was terminated by NPA in August 2017.
However, the contract was canceled in a letter dated August 22, 2017 and signed by its Board Secretary/Legal Adviser, Eniola Williams (Mrs), over alleged fraud in the award processes and shoddy execution of dredging contract of the channels. The letter reads: “Please be informed that the Nigerian Ports Authority, as a statutory corporation, having established non-compliance with the provisions of the Public Procurement Act 2007 in the selection of the consortium led by your company as a party to the Joint Venture Agreement (JVA), cannot continue to maintain a JVA which is inconsistent with an extant law of Nigeria and therefore in breach of public policy. Accordingly, the authority is constrained to put an end to the JVA. “Take note that the Joint Venture Agreement dated July 25, 2013 between the Nigerian Ports Authority and a consortium led by Niger Global Engineering and Technical Company Limited, including the Joint Venture Agreement dated January 25, 2013 between the same parties, is hereby terminated.” It was learnt that the plans to terminate the contract started in 2015 when the former Director- General of Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP), Emeka Ezeh, in a memo to the former President Goodluck Jonathan, on May 18, 2015, raised issues and made recommendations to approve the termination of the contract on the grounds that NGETCL had scuttled the process of selection of the qualified companies.
Dredging of port channels should be taken serious and the contract for dredging should be awarded to a company whose reputation and professional competence has not smeared internationally.