Not many would believe that the newly-inaugurated Baro River Port in Niger State, was the first colonial port in Nigeria, as the new structure is inclined to modern ports operations.
Baro Port is an inland water port regarded as the first settlement of the Governor-General of Nigeria, Lord Lugard, in 1912. It was frequently visited by tourists who want to explore the history of colonial Nigeria.
Lugard and his co-explorers arrived at Baro, then a small village at the bank of one of the tributaries of the River Niger, during the course of their voyage, which led to the establishment of an inland river port. At the port, warehouses used by the Europeans to store goods were strategically located. Besides the port, lies a plateau hill, where Lugard found a conducive dwelling place.
However, as development progressed, the glory of the port faded away, and Nigeria began to build bigger, deeper and more befitting seaports across the country, leaving Baro River Port to its fate.
Just as Baro was struggling to survive, the Onitsha River Port, Anambra State; Lokoja River Port, Kogi State; and Oguta Port in Imo State, are also longing for rehabilitation. These facilities, at their full capacity can boost the states economies, while also reducing pressure on the roads and attendant wear and tear, and decongest the now-crowded Lagos ports.
Sometimes in 2012, former President Goodluck Jonathan approved the rehabilitation of the port by Messrs CGGC Global Projects Limited, at the cost of N2.5 billion. But the contractor handling the cargo equipment found it difficult to deliver due to the bad roads.
Although the Baro Port lies on the bank of River Niger, but no one can access the road during the rainy season, as it was cut-off by gullies.
The access road leading to the River Port from the Gegu Expressway in Kogi State is not motorable, but the management of the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) exploited its local engineers, who put up palliative measures that aided the completion of the project.
However, operators believe that even though the port has been inaugurated, there is an urgent need to also rehabilitate the access road, if the project is to be of any economic value to the nation.
President Mohammadu Buhari, while inaugurating the project at the weekend promised to rehabilitate the roads leading to the Baro River Port and its environs, if given an opportunity of a second term in office.
The rehabilitation of the port rekindled the hope of a turnaround in the fortunes of the state and its adjoining communities.
Buhari said he has personal attachment to Baro River Port project, because he assisted in the design of the complex when he was Chairman of the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF).
He said the port would enhance intermodal transportation connectivity in the country, adding that it would also reduce pressure from big trucks off the road, and create huge employment opportunities for Nigerians, while also decongesting other busy ports.
The Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, commended the President for directing them to complete all the abandoned projects, including the Baro River Port.
The Managing Director, NIWA, Olorunnimbe Mamora, thanked Mr President for personally inaugurating the facility, which was the first colonial port in Nigeria.
Happy that the port rehabilitation was completed under this administration, Mamora said it is a veritable outlet to ensure seamless transportation of goods, services and passengers in the country, while also creating an intermodal transportation system and facilitating socio-cultural relationship, commerce, trade, and agricultural development.
The Baro River Port was built by Chinese firm – CGCC Global Project Nigeria Limited, at a total cost of N6 billion.
It is equipped with a mobile harbour crane, transit shed, administrative block, fire hydrant system, water treatment plant, reach stacker, 100KVA power generating set, and three numbers forklifts of various tonnages.
In the colonial era, Baro was a thriving River Port and had a railway line, which were used for evacuation of farm produce and mineral resources. It was also a trading hub between Nigeria and neighbouring countries through the inland waterways transportation mode.
Mamora, who assumed office as NIWA helmsman in October 2018, said the Onitsha River Port has already been rehabilitated, while the Oguta and Lokoja ports are in the final stages of completion.
He earlier confirmed that the concession arrangements for the ports have been completed, and the concessionaires would soon start operation.
“NIWA opened the financial bids for the Onitsha port concession on July 3, 2018, and has picked the most competent concessionaire. Any moment from now, the concessionaire will take over Onitsha port, and activity will commence in earnest,” he stated.