News Stories in 1st Quarter 2007 Edition of DDH Magazine
Getting Calabar, River Niger and Harbour dredging right in Nigeria.
In the life of the Obasanjo administration since 1999, some major dredging projects commissioned have provoked skepticism instead of hope. Foremost here is the dredging of the 84 kilometre Calabar channel given to the duo of Jan de Nul and Van Oord in 2006. Many observers doubt that a good work can be done due to the topography of the region. All such concerns, to date, go unventilated.
The second case is the recent muted award of the river Niger dredging contract to Royal Westminster Dredging late last year. Reactions here have been nonchalant as observers first noted the seeming lack of orchestration and openness about the process coupled with the oft-repeated argument of proneness of the terrain to rapid siltation. An antidote to this could be regular maintenance dredging, a culture whose demands do not seem to sit well in the character of Nigerian public administrators. Thus, there is justifiable grounds for skepticism. The government, instead of addressing the technical issues, went ahead last December to announce a set of pet projects like schools, health care amenities and bore hole water facilities, perhaps to appease the host communities. Each community was to choose one from the basket. This is like the colonials giving mirrors to tribal chiefs in order to plunder their estates by disguise. In this Niger dredging instance, except for the touted reputation of the awardee, the rest of the award process and the specific objectives of the N29b project are yet to be given widespread dissemination. Is it because of any fears of incipient failure to attain the desired goals? The awardee has also played along with the game of subtle denial by keeping mum over a part of the public commonwealth that has been delivered to its kitty.
The third case of public sector dredging in this discourse is that of Nigerian seaports. Dredging here stems from the decadent civil service orientation the Nigerian Ports Authority is now trying very hard to leave behind. It has created joint venture companies, Lagos Channel Management Company and Bonny Channel Management Ltd, acclaimed to have the backing of specialist or expert dredging consultants. But is the object of deepening quayside and broad channel depths being achieved? This is a very crucial question in this era when private terminal operators expect to put in place conditions for superships to smoothly come in, discharge in good time and sail without worrying abut running aground.
Thus, the lead question among many Nigerian observers of the industry is can Nigeria’s army of expatriate dredging concerns deliver top quality, proven, international standard dredge projects or will some tendency of the buccaneer instincts they used during the military regimes continue? At the Bar beach (which is a Lagos State Government project), is it shore protection or land reclamation of 1.5 kilometres for the building of a tourist wonderland as initially mouthed by state officials? This is one project that is also hazily defined, perhaps as a fallout of diverse politics of the day. In some parts of Europe and North America where whole cities depend on the mercy of effective dredging to exist, we would suppose that laws and active governance compel the fair delivery of awarded dredge contracts, unlike the first Calabar dredging project awarded by the Abacha regime or the first River Niger dredging contract awarded by the PTF in 1997. In final analysis therefore, while critics of Nigerian projects are entitled to their doubts, the onus lies heavily on the multinational companies to deliver on the jobs and prove their mettle beyong the mere mention of their names