In 2003, the Akwa Ibom State Government of Nigeria began a journey of many miles, a journey that will not only be arduous and expensive but a journey that is promising and prospering if properly sojourned.
The State Government proposed having a deep seaport. It decided to take advantage of the depth Ibaka waters offer- 16.5 meters deep without dredging. But is there a need for a seaport?
Reason for a Seaport
Recent reports show that the seaports currently serving the country, West and Central African sub-region are reaching saturation. In August 2018, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos State had to cry out to the Federal Government to ensure that seaports in other parts of the country become functional to decongest and ease gridlock in Lagos State.
Besides, the need for viable alternatives has become critical for major shipping lines sailing the West African coastlines. With limited land to expand the existing seaports in Lagos and the inhibiting conditions against the development or expansion of other ports, the proposed Ibom Deep Seaport offers an ultra-modern deep seaport with modern cargo handling equipment, facilities and systems that can address the capacity challenges constraining other seaports across the region. The greenfield site has substantial land available for future expansion.
Due to its proximity to target markets in West and Central Africa, neighbouring hinterland countries and major shipping lines calling West/Central Africa, large gateway market size to attract direct vessel services and sizeable transhipment cargo hinterland for feeder shipping network connection, as well as its capacity to handle post and New Panamax vessels at its specialized terminals, the IDSP is in an enviable position to emerge as the first major transhipment hub for the region.
According to Maritime experts, the transhipment container market for the IDSP is estimated to grow from about 1.2 million TEUs in 2021 to about 4 million TEUs in 2040. Immense potentials you may say! But what gives the seaport this vast potential you may wonder.
Features of the Ibom Deep Seaport
Strategically located in the South East of Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria (a leading oil and gas producing state in Nigeria), the approximate coordinates of the IDSP scaled from the British Admiralty Chart No. 1387 are Latitude 4° 32’ 35’’ N; Longitude 8° 14’ 7’’ E and UTM coordinates 415168 m E; 502,199 m N (UTM Zone 32N). According to the project official website, the 2,565 hectares greenfield port area is designed for New Panamax Class vessels with channel (18.24m); turning basin and berth depth (16.72m) and quay length of about 7.5 km. When fully developed, the container terminals will be able to accommodate up to 13 New Panamax Class container vessels and two very large feeder vessels. With immense business potentials that abound, giving the project the attention it requires for its realization would be seen as a wise course of action.
Since its conceptualization, contributions have been made by successive administration towards its realization. Obong Victor Attah's administration designed the seaport. Out of 10 million US Dollars, his administration paid 5 million US Dollars for its designed and had negotiations with São Tomé for the development of Industrial City for the Seaport.
The Akpabio's administration took it up from there. He said he acquired 14, 900 hectares of land for the take-off of the Seaport. Just weeks before the end of his tenure, Akpabio obtained approval from the Federal Executive Council for the commencement of the project. Discerning that time was against him, and that the task for the realization of the project will be in the hands of his successor, Governor Udom Emmanuel, he assured that his successor has the capacity to handle the task.
While commissioning a drainage system in Uyo on 19th May 2015, Governor Akpabio said " As we have commissioned numerous projects today, by the Grace of God we will start the Ibom deep seaport so that Akwa Ibom will be taken to the rest of the world and I am assuring you today that Udom Emmanuel will perform creditably well to make us realize this project and others about to come". Will his successor, Governor Emmanuel live up to expectations?
Governor Emmanuel in the Dock
Just like Biblical Joshua who was given the weighty responsibility of taking the Israelites into the promised land, Governor Emmanuel perhaps understood the expectations ahead of him.
Taking cognizance of the economic benefits the Ibom Deep Seaport Project will have on the people of the state and the country in general, as he took over the administration of the State, Governor Udom Emmanuel put in place motions towards the realization of the project.
14 days into his administration, the Governor inaugurated the first committee of his administration, the Technical Committee for the Actualization of Ibom Deep Seaport Project thus offering clear indication that this is the flagship project for his administration. The Governor ensured that the 10- Man Committee is imbued with men of experience especially as the committee was headed by Barr. Mfon Usoro, a one-time Director-General of Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA). Results were expected.
Six months into office, in November 2015, during a media chat, the State Governor assured that before 2018 runs out, the State should be able to have a deep seaport. Intensive work began. However, a State cannot develop a seaport alone. Seaport development is in the Exclusive List.
The State Governor then had the herculean task of convincing the Federal government on the need to invest in the project. At every opportunity, Governor Emmanuel became enmeshed in preaching the gospel on the gains the Federal Government could have if they invest in the project.
In one of those moments, the result of his gospel bore fruits. While addressing a Town hall meeting of the government and people of the State on Thursday, 2nd March 2017, the Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, announced that Federal Government was fully committed to the Ibom Deep Seaport Project and has made provision of N1 billion in Nigeria Port Authority 2017 budget for the development of the project. He added "This is a project Federal Government is taking seriously". The assurance served as the icing on the cake. It signaled the birth of the long awaited partnership. How did the Udom Emmanuel's administration embrace this development?
The current Transaction Advisers, Global Maritime and Port Services (GMAPS) of Singapore had commenced work on the procurement stage.
On 24th of December 2017, the procurement Process for the Seaport development was approved by Ministerial Project Development Steering Committee ( MPDSC). On the 8th of January 2018, the Request for Qualification (RFQ) from interested investors was published.
According to the Akwa Ibom State Commissioner for Housing and Special Duties, Mr Akan Okon, this was done through a virtual data room.
The Commissioner says that at the end of the exercise, 174 downloads of the RFQ were received. Out of that 174, he explains that only 40 bidders registered that they will submit their RFQ but at the end of the day, only eight were able to submit their RFQ.
Okon says that based on the submission, on the 20th of March, 2018, that RFQ was opened and evaluation done by MPDSC. He offered insight to the fact that at the end of the evaluation, three of the companies were pre-qualified, meaning that they met the requirement that was published. The three international firms who met the requirements are the consortium of Bollore and Power China, China Road Breach Corporation, CRBC and China Harbour Engineering Company of Nigeria. You may wonder then, at what level does this development keep the project?
The Commissioner explains " At this stage, we have been able to come up with the preferred bidder and the reserved bidder for the project and as soon as this is approved, the full business case will be sent to the Federal Executive Council for further approval. I can assure you that as soon as that is done, the construction of the project will commence.”
Elucidating further, Okon states “The Federal Government through the Federal Ministry of Transport set up Ministerial Project Development Steering Committee (MPDSC) which is made up of representatives from the same Ministry, the Nigeria Port Authority (NPA), ICRC, the programme Manager, representatives of ICPC and EFCC, members of the Technical Committee and Akwa Ibom State Government. Every process leading to where we are now is being approved by the Federal Ministry of Transportation."
He adds that before the end of the year, they should come to the end of the entire transaction since everyone involved in the project was showing great commitment.
Interestingly, the Commissioner announces that with the level reached with the project and government's timetable, by the end of November 2018, the groundbreaking of the project should take place. But is the Federal government also ready for its commencement? In his recent visit to Akwa Ibom State Government House, after the bid conference of the project, the Chairman, Project Development Steering Committee and Director, Maritime Services, Federal Ministry of Transportation, Sani Umar Galadanchi said the Minister of Transportation has passion for the project and promised to continue to work with the state Technical Committee and other stakeholders to achieve result.
He added, " this project is not just for Akwa Ibom State, it is for the country and Africa in general. I wish to inform you that we have been working in a way that by God's grace, the project may commence sooner than later."
Nevertheless, for such magnitude of project to thrive when it commence, there must be certain supportive imperatives put in place by the State government. Has provision been made for them?
In June 2018, while brainstorming with stakeholders and Investors at Government House, Uyo over the realization of the project, the State Executive noted that the State Government had met with the communities and fulfill all their obligations.
On road infrastructure, work has began on 55.1km,12 Lane Superhighway leading to Ibom Deep Seaport.
This is a carriageway which starts from Esit Urua in Eket/ Ukpenekan Junction in Ibeno , criss -crosses Esit Eket, Mbo and ends at East west road in Oron Metropolis with a Fly-Over that empties into Uyo-Oron Daulized Road .
The project is a State government project undertaken by the Udom Emmanuel's administration under the Alternative Project Funding Approach. It is prosecuted by Elba construction firm. According to the Akwa Ibom State Commissioner for Works, Akparawa Ephraim Inyang, the project is specially designed to serve the seaport, taking cognizance of its durability to withstand heavy duty trucks.
The Chairman of the Committee for the realization of the Ibom Deep seaport, Barr Mfon Usoro adds that in collaboration with the Federal government, the State is vested with the task of developing 2565 hectares for the project. She says the State Government has acquired a license for a free trade zone which is part of the building blocks for an industrial city. She explains that the industrial city will have features like agriculture, oil and gas, petrochemicals, marine-related industries, auto assembly plants, power plants, as well as real estate developments.
Barr Usoro mentions that plans are in motion by the Udom Emmanuel's administration to relocate residents around the site of this project to a more comfortable location as the project is set to begin in full scale.
Assessing contributions made towards the project, an indigene of Mbo, the host community of the project, Dr Emmanuel Ekuwem who also serve the State as the Secretary to the Akwa Ibom State government notes that the strides attained by the Udom Emmanuel's administration towards the realization of the project has been plausible.
In his remark recently in his office in Uyo when he played host to the people of his community, under the aegis of Uda Community Development Union, Ekuwem added “His Excellency, the Governor has spent Millions of Dollars on the Ibom Deep Seaport. It is a fact. There are seven steps to this seaport. We are now on step seven which is the last step."
Also bearing her mind on the project, the Technical Committee Chairman for the Realization of the Project, Barr Mfon Usoro says past leaders of the State deserve commendations for the initiative and contributions they have made towards the project. She adds that Governor Udom Emmanuel has lived up to expectation evidenced in the strides he has achieved in the project within his three years in office. The Chairman further points out that the Udom Emmanuel's administration is also deserving of commendation over his commitment, strategic push and go-getting spirit, a gesture she insist is responsible for the critical milestone attained in the implementation of the Ibom Deep Seaport (IDSP) project.