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Oguta-Orashi dredging will grow Imo economy, create jobs, boost markets –Princess Akobundu, AUDA-NEPAD boss

Posted on June 7, 2023

The first step in the journey to realising the long desire of the Southeast to have access to the Atlantic Ocean that will facilitate economic development of the region was recently taken on May 11, in Imo State, whose slogan touted to be the Eastern Heartland. 

On that day, Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, flagged-off the typographic survey/dredging of the Orashi River in the the state to Degema and the Atlantic Ocean.

The survey was initiated by Imo State Governor, Hope Uzodimma, to open up the economic corridor in the South East and enhance maritime security in the Niger Delta region.

The project will be executed under the partnership of the Nigerian Navy with a consortium of international companies under a Private Public Partnership (PPP) arrangement. 

Interestingly,  African Union Development Agency-New Partnership for African Development (AUDA-NEPAD), has declared its interest in assisting the state to mobilise funds for the project. In an interview with the Chief Executive of AUDA-NEPAD, Princess Gloria Akobundu, explained that the project is very important as a gateway to boost economic activities in the south east and Nigeria in general. Below, she talks more about this and other related issues. 

You recently made positive remarks on the flag-off of dredging of Oguta/Orashi river. 

Yes, I did, and it was in the place of excitement about the project that I did that. Because it’s only people with long term vision that could see the socioeconomic benefits of such project to Imo sState and Nigeria in general. That project is long overdue and that’s why we are grateful to Imo State governor, Hope Uzodimma, for all his efforts that culminated in the flag-off of the dredging project.

Why are you particularly happy with the governor about this project?

It’s because he has displayed and convinced us that he’s someone who can see tomorrow, someone who has the interest of Imo State and Nigeria at heart. It is a success for me because the project is motivational, innovative and realistic. It is like awakening hope and reality of purpose. The governor, by all standards is a deep thinker and an innovative leader, because it only takes an innovative leader to conceive the idea of reviving a project that looks undoable and unachievable. If you are not proactive, a deep thinker, resourceful and innovative leader, you can’t try such dream. So, I commend the governor for that great vision.

But why was such massive economic project abandoned over the years?

It was perhaps, because of the poor interest or courage of the past leaders to dabble into such huge economic project. First of all, looking at the project holistically, it is scary in the normal eyes. One could easily ask of Imo State’s budget to embark on such gigantic project worth billions of Naira. I even heard the Minister of Trade and Investment asked that question on how the funds would come. But the governor assured him that the project will be actualized. This is simply because he is a constructive person who sees beyond the challenges, drawing strength from the benefits thereof. 

What explanations came from the past leaders of the state about the project?

There was no specific explanation given. But evidently, there was no impressive commitment to start and deliver the project. For instance, some of the past leaders dared to do the project in their own way and understanding but couldn’t. Some gave several explanations years back about the reason for not abandoning the project. From all indications, they all had the vision to start work on the project but couldn’t even make any move due to probably the challenges and explanations beyond their understanding as at that time. But the current governor has courageously dived into the project, and he has even gotten approval from President Muhammadu Buhari, to designate the place a Free Trade Zone (FTZ). I appreciate the President for approving such project irrespective of unforeseen challenges. It takes a proactive and listening leader to also understand the proposal, listen and understand where you are coming from; your objective, aim, what you want to achieve at the end of the day, to be able to key into your vision. So, I congratulate him and also congratulate and thank the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osibanjo, who also from day one played a key role in the actualization and commencement of the project 

How will you convince Nigerians and Imo people that this will not be one of those white elephant projects?

Not at all. Look at the kind of people involved in the project and you will realize that it’s not a ‘white elephant’ project. But like I said earlier, it takes a visionary leader and a deep thinker to understand his environment, identify challenges and proffer solutions. For us in AUDA-NEPAD, it is a realizable project because our mandate is designed for such an intervention project, mobilize resources for such project. Fortunately, the project was also designed for Public, Private Partnership (PPP). This will enable it create wealth for our youths, grow the economy and at the same time ensure quality and good governance. Unarguably, the project is a a win-win thing for Nigeria, for Imo state and for Africa at large. The project will curb insecurity, strengthen the economic growth because Oguta is one of the oil zones and if not protected, not guarded and if not harnessed and positioned for economic development, how else do we want to grow our economy in Nigeria? 

Do you envisage any partnership with the Nigerian Navy?

I learnt the partnership is in existence already. The partnership with the Nigeria Navy is already a kudos to, not just Imo State, but for Nigeria and Africa at large. This project cuts across various communities and rivers straight to the Atlantic Ocean. We are now talking of movement of vessels both the big and small. For some of us that have lived in the Niger Delta region and have moved around there, we know what it means for us to secure the coast. We know what has transpired in the past when you talk of oil theft and insecurity. It is a free zone that could encourage any form of crime, including drugs and movement of illegal items. That place is open but with this particular project it is secured and the border is closed. I pray the country understands that vision. It is a win-win thing for the country. We also like to have a seaport that would make traders and business owners have access to getting heir goods around through the ports within the region. 

Could this mean breaking the jinx of Southeast not having a seaport?

Absolutely! it’s also a boost when it comes to vessels or ship landing for import or export. Look at what is happening at Apapa Tin Can seaport. look at the traffic, pressure at the port and even the roads, the inconveniences it is causing to the public and private sector around that particular environment. Imagine that the Federal Government decided to make it a seaport or whatever they intend to do because I don’t want to put them on the spot. But if that project is realized and it becomes an open corridor for vessels to come in, for export and import activities, it will serve as a major revenue generating avenue for the country. It is not about Southeast clamouring for such thing, but what is proper to do. Because when we start talking about what the Southeast wants, and others, that’s what is really dividing our country. If we see what is worth doing, let’s do it without the sentiments of region. It’s a Nigerian project that is supposed to be executed and to grow our economy, create jobs and boost our markets. I think it is worth doing without minding where it is been sited. The project that is executed in the west is executed with the Nigerian resources and the tax payer’s are all over the country whether North, South, East or West. Anywhere projects are executed it is Nigerian project which is the way I see it, honestly speaking as a Nigerian. Nigeria needs to be developed speedily and we shouldn’t care what region should have whatever it has but wherever the opportunity to put up a facility that can support the development and economic growth of the country, we shouldn’t hesitate to do so. So, I see the project as a win-win for economic growth, development, job creation and stability of peace and security in the country. 

You are obviously too excited about the project. What is the link between your agency and the project?

Our mandate at AUDA-NEPAD is to ensure there is development and economic growth in Nigeria and Africa. Like I said earlier, AUDA-NEPAD is interested in projects and interventions that add value to the economy, create jobs, curb insecurity and at the same time attract investors into our country. So, it’s a well deserved project that Nigeria needs to embrace and ensure its completion. 

The challenge that comes with such projects is funding. Do you have any suggestion on that? 

The suggestion I have is that a proper feasibility study should be undertaken by the Federal government and other parties. Clear objective by implementation strategist needs to be clearly stated. A team of experts needs to be set up immediately for resource mobilization, management and implementation, because when you are talking of such a huge and massive project, you need to convince investors and those you need onboard to get resources. There must be clearly mapped out plans which, interestingly, the governor confirmed that stage one and stage two have been done, and that they are heading to stage three. I haven’t seen the full documents of that proposal, but people have studied it and there are lots of advice and lots of value and inputs to make it possible because it is a welcomed development that can add life to our economy and it is worth doing. 

A projects like this comes with some form of agitation from host communities. What suggestion do you have on that?

It’s expected, but the people must know that no community or state can grow or develop in the midst of insecurity. The truth remains that the communities and the people need to be the core partners of the success of this project because without that, there would be agitations which could affect the speed of the project and investors might be forced to withdraw. So, it’s important we give peace a chance. That’s the only way we can realize the project. We also need to gain federal government and investor’s confidence, and that would not be done by violence. We also need to support the governor because that is the only way that project can come to its conclusion because if the governor who has the vision, who understands what he wants to achieve, who in his own deep thinking came up with this huge project, if he isn’t there to manage it, then there is a problem for the state. 

What support are you canvasing for the governor?

Number one support is for the governor to be re-elected in the coming state governorship election. He deserves to be re-elected because he has done well in the first tenure. The second support is for the federal government to mobilize fund for the project. The third support is a plea for Nigerian Navy to give that route all necessary support for investors to be able to mobilize resources and actualise the project. So, it is very important. At times, it is good we commend what is commendable as well as we condemn what is meant to be condemned. When a leader is doing well, we commend him or her, and help him or her succeed. We should understand that when you elect a president or governor, you elected him to work for you. Nigeria has employed a president to work for them. A state has employed a governor to work for them and you gave him a stipulated time which is four years and eight years like it will never come and go. President Buhari’s administration has come and gone, and now we are expecting a new president, Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu. Instead of us fighting, blaming and putting down our leaders because the more you put down your leaders the more you put down your country. But if you project your country positively, yes we may have our internal disagreements, but it is better we handle our internal matters internally than projecting our country, our leaders as if we are the worst in the world when it is not so. Nigerians should learn to manage their internal problems without putting down the country.

What’s your achievements in AUDA-NEPAD over the years?

We have done several things to bring back life to the agency. We have carried out our mandate dutifully well. We have carried out reforms and have set up the right structure in the agency. We have conducted second Peer Review of the country, the innovative strengthening of smallholder farmers project is ongoing, our carbon credit and tree planting project is there, the JUNCOA programme and lots of skill acquisition and empowerment programmes in addition to several other interventions that we have done as contributions to the betterment of our society.


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