River Niger Dredging: An open letter to Jonathan

The Nupe Congress, a socio cultural organisation for all Nupe people world wide fervently prays for peace and stability in Nigeria. We also pray for greater wisdom and guidance for the Acting President during these trying periods. May Allah grant speedy recovery to President Umaru Musa Yar’adua.

One of the principal rivers of western Africa is the River Niger. It is the third longest river in Africa followed by the Nile and River Congo. River Niger extends for about 4,180 km, and has a drainage basin of about 2,117,700 square km.  The rivers originates from the Guinea Highlands in south eastern Guinea and runs along Mali, alongside the borders of  Benin, entering Nigeria, and finally discharging into the Niger Delta, which is also called the Oil Rivers. It extends all the way up to the Gulf of Guinea, which is in the Atlantic Ocean.

The government of Nigeria started a river dredging project of the Niger River in September 2009 from Baro to Warri. The project was estimated to cost around 36 billion naira and to be completed within a duration of six to eight months, when it was first proposed. The main intention of the project was to remove sediments, silt and other debris along the river for over several hundreds of kilometres and from bottom of the river, such that people will be able to transport goods from isolated settlements located within the interior regions of the Atlantic Ocean to land much easier. Overall, it was assumed that dredging of the Niger River would improve both river and land transportation considerably. Additionally, the government believes that dredging will also reduce shoreline erosion to a great extent and also improve the quality of the water in the river, thus supporting aquatic life and fishing. Removing of excess silt will also result in better river health.

Then President of Nigeria, Umaru Yar’Adua had proposed the project with the purpose that will result in navigation on River Niger all round the year by 2020. Then Nigerian Minister of Transport, Alhaji Ibrahim Bio, who wished to see Nigeria among the top twenty industrialised nations, supported the project.

However, like all other developmental projects, the dredging of the Niger River was faced with some challenges, especially those arising from certain activists who believed that the dredging of the river would bring about negative effects and harm the villagers who were located by the sides of River Niger. They also argue that dredging activities will affect the marine life in those areas by altering the composition of the water body, lead to turbidness and contribute to wide spread contamination of unwanted components as opposed to the proposed benefits by the government. Click here to continue reading.

It would be recalled that President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, in September 2009 at Lokoja, flagged-off the dredging of the lower River Niger. The  =N=36 Billion contract for the project which has been on the drawing board of successive governments in Nigeria for over 45 years was signed in August 2009 by the former Minister of Transportation, Mrs. Deziani Allison-Madueke. At the flag-off of the project Mr. President also announced the approval for the construction of seven additional sea ports to boost socio-economic activities in the country.

The project is a well thought-out giant economic step being actualised by this government. When completed it will tremendously transform the transportation systems in Nigeria, decongest our ports, reduce stress on our roads and revitalize the hitherto comatose inland shipping maritime sub-sector to its full potentials. The project would positively impact the socio-economic lives of the Nupe people and other 152 communities on the banks of the River Niger in eight states, including Anambra, Bayelsa, Delta, Edo, Imo, Kogi, Niger and Rivers.

It will be recalled that President Yar’Adua remarked, while flagging-off the commencement of the project at the dockyard of the National Inland Waterways in Lokoja, that the commencement of the project was a clear manifestation of his administration’s determination to face up to Nigeria’s infrastructural and developmental challenges. To underscore the importance of this project to Nigeria President Umaru Musa Yar’adua inspite of his ill health was physically present at the flag-off ceremony in Lokoja.

The project covers about 572km. It stretches from Warri in Delta State to Baro in Niger State. To ensure that the project is completed within the stipulated time of one year the dredging project was divided into five sections and awarded to five different contracting firms. Mrs. Allison-Madueke, gave the break down of the project as shown in Table A below:

The Nupe Congress takes due notice of the federal government incessant denial of the devastating news that the ACTING President, Goodluck Jonathan held a stakeholders meeting attended by all the Niger-Delta Governors and the Special Adviser to the President on Niger-Delta Affairs, Chief Timi Alaibe on the Federal Government intervention programme for the Niger-Delta, and approved the stoppage and diversion of N19 billion from the on-going dredging of River Niger to finance reclamation of lands, which according to the stakeholders from Niger Delta ought to come first before the dredging.

The Nupe Congress is however worried that the Acting President kinsmen are still singing a discontent tune on the completion of this project on schedule. It is disturbing that the Ijaw National Congress in a full page advertorial published on page 50 of the Nation Newspapers of Monday, March 15, 2010 is calling for “a world class EIA and community engagement programme to create the necessary social capital” prior to the completion of the project which the federal government claims is 50% and even 90% completed for some segments.

We are particularly disturbed because the press statement by the Ijaw National Congress claims that all who is who in the Ijaw nation including a representative of the Acting president were present at the interactive session at the recent Ijaw National Day celebration where this position was adopted by all the Ijaw people.

As we earlier pointed out delaying or attempting to stop any segment of this dredging project by the Acting President is unconstitutional and illegal because appropriation is the prerogative of the National Assembly only. Hence all viaments of funds from one project to another must be approved by the National Assembly.

Due process also demands that projects must follow appropriate guide lines, budgetary provisions, advertisements in national dailies for competitive bidding and transparency through various levels of approvals including the FEC approval before contract award.

In the light of the above the National Assembly is hereby called upon to demand from the Acting President an unequivocal assurances that this project will not be delayed through any scheme such as EIA or community engagement as this has been taken care of in the =N=1.1Billion spent on the dredging project implementation design consultancy awarded to world class consulting firms prior to embarking on the project.

Segment Of The Project Stopped By The Acting President

Table B below shows the segment of the on-going dredging which the Acting President initially ordered to be stopped with immediate effect and the sum of =N=19 Billion meant for the project be shared among the governors from his region. As can be seen from the table below, the segment stopped totalled 388 kilometres representing about 70% of the entire project which covers 572 kilometers.

It could also be observed that the sum of =N=595,656,650.77 was paid to three reputable Designing Consultants which produced the engineering design that supposed to have taken into consideration all environmental issues including shoreline protection to ensure successful project implementation in line with international best practice.

The action of the Acting President in this regard would mean that the consulting engineers omitted the shoreline protection construction and land reclamation in the project implementation design for the dredging work. Hence the need to stop some sections of the dredging project in order to carryout land reclamation and shoreline protection.

As we earlier demanded EFCC must be invited to investigate these consulting firms who collected huge sums of money up to the tune of =N=1.1Billion without carrying out the necessary study as required to guarantee smooth implementation of the project.

In particular the =N=600 Million paid to the consulting firms responsible for  the section ( warri to Ida in Kogi State) of the dredging being stopped must be refunded to the government immediately.

The Nupe Congress is seriously worried that the Acting President clan (Ijaw Nation) is on one hand asking for a review of the project while the federal government through the transport minister is on the other hand giving the nation some bogus and unreliable percentage figures of project completion levels on television and newspapers.

Going by the awesome influence the Ijaw congress wields on the Acting President, their unabated assertion and call for a review of this project portends grave danger to the completion of this laudable project on schedule.  of the powerful Ijaw people critical position against the dredging of the lower river Niger, will sooner than later result in the stoppage of the entire project.

The Federal Government must come clean on this project and avoid making it a vexed national question bordering on the corporate existence of Nigeria and avert crisis of confidence by the people of this country in the present leadership of Nigeria.

Table B below speaks for itself. It comprises the dredging section that is considered the gate way for navigation of the ships coming from the high seas to the hinterland at Baro in Niger State. Therefore the areas in Table B represent the major component of the dredging project which if not implemented at the same time with the remaining sections of the project would render the entire project a failure.