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Onitsha River Port Concession faces setback over financing and dredging

Hopes for better business and trade facilitation in the Southeast may have suffered a setback. Universal Elison, the concessionaire of the Onitsha River Ports, has raised alarm over the unfriendly interest rates cut by the banks on the purchase of ocean-going vessels and tugboats. boats and dredging from Lagos to Onitsha.

LEADERSHIP reports that the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) had on April 20, 2023, announced the concession of the Onitsha River Port, Anambra State, to a private concessionaire for 30 years.

According to NIWA, granting concessions would ease pressure on the government and generate revenue as the concessioning company would pay royalties to the government.

But at a stakeholders meeting with the Minister of Marine and Blue Economy, Adegboyega Oyetola, in Lagos last week, representative of the concessionaire, Bernadine Eloka, said the operators are facing financing challenges as banks charge 40 percent interest annually.
Eloka, who is also Chief Executive Officer of Clarion Bonded Terminal, lamented the bottlenecks in obtaining barge registration and licensing by the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA), adding that the process is fraught with bureaucracy and frustrations.

“Another challenge is financing; the Barge that is now financed by one of our banks has an interest rate of 40 percent per year. We started negotiations and reduced it to 30% interest. The CVFF has yet to be distributed and I believe that we should be one of the beneficiaries of that fund.

“We operate customs terminals transporting containers from Lagos, Port Harcourt, Onne to Onitsha. I represent the concessionaire of Onitsha River Ports; With the Universal Elison we move an average of 500 containers per month from Lagos, Port Harcourt and Onne, and we do this journey by road. We want the government to open the dredging operations from Lagos to Onitsha and from Port Harcourt to Onitsha before the end of the year.”

“We have just completed the construction of another seagoing barge and tugboat which we intend to use to commence operations in Onne, Calabar and Port Harcourt. We are mapping strategies for dredging, but this cannot be done without the support of the federal government,” said Eloka
However, she stated that the concessionaire would like the Ministry of Marine and Blue Economy to make registration and licensing for barges and tugs seamless and cost-effective.

“Some of the issues that we want the ministry to help facilitate and make our operations seamless and cost-effective are the issue of obtaining registration and licensing. We know we cannot operate our ships without them being registered and licensed, but it has been very difficult, time-consuming and frustrating procedures and processes.

“Another challenge is financing; the Barge that is now financed by one of our banks has an interest rate of 40 percent per year. We started negotiations and reduced the interest rate to 30 percent. The CVFF has yet to be distributed and I believe that we should be one of the beneficiaries of that fund.

“We operate customs terminals transporting containers from Lagos, Port Harcourt, Onne to Onitsha.

“I represent the concessionaire of Onitsha River Ports; With the Universal Elison we move an average of 500 containers per month from Lagos, Port Harcourt and Onne, and we do this journey by road. We want the government to open the dredging operations from Lagos to Onitsha and from Port Harcourt to Onitsha before the end of the year.