THE NEED FOR DREDGERS TO FLOOD THE
NIGER DELTA AREA
Much has been said about the quantum of dredging that has to go on in the Niger Delta if physical development is to succeed in that marshy part of the world. But as many experienced commentators have pointed out, the number of dredgers now working in the area to achieve the set milestones is far too few to make the desired impact. The situation is not helped by the fact that many new dredges acquired by dredging contractors end up at the hands of the oil majors to satisfy their ever-increasing needs for opening or deepening canals, reclamation, maintenance of waterways leading to their fields or to develop green areas. Again, the needs of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) now seems to take up the second place of contractor's preference after the oil majors, and for them, it's mainly for road construction in scattered areas that do not in any way represent a wholistic or congruent development of the delta areas a region. This leaves the question, “when and how does the federal and state governments intend to implement the so-called Niger Delta development master plan whose talk has reached high heavens?” This is because of the undeniable need for scores, perhaps hundreds, of dredgers to be mobilized immediately for the area if the plan is to be achieved even in the next five to ten years.
We are talking about an area made up virtually of islands, with accessibility problems; where even shallow barges cannot go without channel widening and deepening. Then these islands are mainly mangrove, which, for the most parts, have to be completely reclaimed if projects like schools, clinics, standard residential houses or even water boreholes are to be built. Not to talk of making roads or bridges within them, or between contiguous communities!
In fact, the federal and state governments will be overwhelmed by the harsh realities that will confront the master plan once the budget is approved and ready to be implemented. Therefore, now is the time for these various levels of authority, including the NDDC, to buckle up and begin to put machinery on the ground. Nothing stops the NDDC (because of its long-term mandate) from acquiring big dredgers for sand stockpiling; all the jobs do not have to be contracted out. And for the seven coastal Niger Delta states, nothing stops them from acquiring various categories of dredgers and establishing proper dredging departments in their ministries of works. Since their terrain is perennially riverine, such dredging departments should be able to work with dredging contractors, if the projects are contracted out, to ensure that their states can monitor work done and ensure that value is delivered for money. And if such departments are set up, nothing stops their workers from getting basic training in various aspects of routine dredging to clear canals, deepen waterways or even reclaim small patches that might not justify a contract award.
As for the federal government, since all its dredging projects are huge multi-million dollar issues like the Rive Niger dredging, it may be plausible to always use contractors. But ought not NIWA (the National Inland Waterways Authority), whose purview is inland waterways, be in the business of owning and maintaining dredgers and using same for some of the works it contracts out. All hands must be on deck if the physical development or inland water transportation problems posed by our natural endowments are to be converted to opportunities for growth.