Boosting Abia Economy Through Inland Container Depot

By Okechukwu Keshi Ukegbu
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The sharp and continuous fall of oil prices globally has forced governments to deploy the resources and potentials that abound within their territories to achieve economic growth. Abia State is keying into this trend and this informed the recent inauguration of Inland Dry Port Project Implementation Committee. The depot is sited at Avor Ntigha in Isiala Ngwa North Local Government Area of the state.

This action, according to Gov. Okezie Ikpeazu is aimed at opening access to trade and commerce in the state. It was also informed by the state’s desire to develop avenues that would support inflow of businesses.

It is indeed cheering news for the people of the Abia State and their South East neighbours because of the depot’s economic implication. In 2007, the then Minister of Transportation, Chief Cornelius Adebayo, during the ground breaking ceremony of the project said that the depot when completed would create 100,000 jobs. The ground breaking ceremony of the Abia Inland Cargo Depot followed that of Kano and Jos ICDs.

The project, a 50,000 TEU (containers) port facility, would serve Aba, Onitsha,Enugu, Ebonyi, Imo, Delta and Benue states. One of the features of the port was that it would receive containerised cargo by rail from Port Harcourt and the federal government had by that time commencedthe modernisation of the railway into standard gauge from Lagos to Kano line, while that of Port Harcourt to Jos and to Maiduguri line was expected to take- off.

Unarguably, Aba is the commercial hub of the South East and the idea behind the establishment of the dry port was to save importers the trouble of traveling to the coast for their business transactions thereby bring goods closer to the owners.

It will be recalled that the Abia Inland Cargo Depot, among other ICDs, was a product of the Build Operate and Transfer (BOOT) agreement the federal government signed with concessionaires in 2006. The agreement, which identifies the federal government as the guarantor and concessionaires as operators, stipulates that private investors would be licensed to build Dry ports at designated sites, operate them for stipulated time and transfer ownership to the federal government. The system enables private investors to partner with the government in providing port facilities.

Other ICDs were sited at Zawachiki village, Kano State; Eronnu in Egbeda LGA of Oyo State; Heipang, Barkin Ladi, Plateau; and Galanbi , Bauchi State.

Fortunately, however, Eastgate Inland Terminal Limited, the concessionaires of Abia ICD were the first among other ICDs to be issued Certificate of Occupancy by Nigeria Shippers Council in 2008, and in 2009, the agreement for the commencement of the physical development was signed.

Despite assurances by Adebayo during the ground breaking ceremony of the project in 2007 that government expected the Abia ICD to be ready for business within 30 months; the facility is yet to come on stream. It will waste of energy and mental resources here arguing what led to the delay of the facility to take- off, but the most importantly thing is the pledge by Gov. Okezie Ikpeazu that the state would deploy maximum support for Nigeria Shippers Council and the concessionaires, Eastgate Inland Container Limited towards the realization of the project.

Our confidence is enforced by Ikpeazu’s disposition to deploy available infrastructures and facilities for the economic advancement of the state. The governor has in several occasions emphasized the need for the state to explore other options that could “open up access, ease trade, and probably help the Abia people, who are predominantly importers”.

These reasons and other reasons summed up justify why serious attention should be accorded the facility as the government had explained that it has carefully made sure that those who are going to drive the facility are the people that possess the required capacity to attract the needed attention and support that would facilitate the take- off of the project.

There is a passionate appeal from the governor to well meaning individuals who have positive ideas to contribute such directly to the government or the committee.”We expect every person that is patriotic, every person that has Abia State at heart, to make suggestions to them directly or to the State government and we want to encourage all arms of government to dissolve all differences and make sure that we give support to this committee, because their success amounts to our collective success and it is Abia people that would be the beneficiaries at the end of the day,” Ikpeazu said.

Inland Container Depot was first introduced in the country in 1979 when the then Elder Dempster Lines led other members of the United Kingdom West Africa Liner Conference (UKWAL), to team up with the National Insurance Corporation (NICON) to establish an ICD in Kano, under the management of Inland Container Nigeria Ltd (ICNL).

Another Inland Container Depot was established in Kaduna but the two ICDs were plagued with several problems which led to their closure. After their collapse, the managers of the Kano/Kaduna ICDs appealed to the federalgovernment to resuscitate them and the matter was referred to the Shippers’ Council, thus marking the beginning of the involvement of the Council in the promotion of ICDs as a component transport infrastructure for hinterland shippers.

Ukegbu is the Senior Special Assistant (SSA) to Gov. Ikpeazu on media.