From PAT ASADU, Nsukka
Residents of the gate-way commercial town of Obollo-Afor, Udenu Local Government Area of Enugu State and other stakeholders in the State, have appealed to Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi to use his good offices to prevail on the federal government to complete the Obollo-Afor Dry Port (ODP) flagged off five years ago by the Buhari Administration.
Residents and groups who spoke with AbeyaNews were unanimous in their views that the proposed dry port at Obollo-Afor was too strategic for businesses from the North and South East to be abandoned, five years after it was flagged off.
Obollo-Afor is located on the boundary between Enugu State in the South East and Benue State in North Central and is, therefore, one of the most strategic transit points for goods and services in the country, especially in relation to goods and services between the northern and eastern parts of the country.
The idea of a dry port or trailer transit park at Obollo-Afor, AbeyaNews gathered, was conceived as part of the federal government’s effort to bridge the travel time in the transportation of goods and services between the northern and eastern parts, by having a middle point for collection of goods coming from the North by their owners from different parts of the East, thereby enhancing efficiency in the transportation of such goods and services and reducing the wear and tear of the impact of heavy duty trucks on roads across the South East.
But five years after the project was flagged off by Governor Ugwuanyi at a ceremony hosted by the Executive Secretary/CEO of Nigerian Shippers Council, Hassan Bello, the project has all but been abandoned.
A resident and businessman at Obollo-Afor, Mr. Titus Urama, in a chat with AbeyaNews, described the dry port project as “a lofty project that should not be allowed to die.”
“When the project was awarded in 2015, we were so happy because as a businessmen, this will cut down our cost of transportation to Onitsha or Lagos to buy goods. However, we are so much disappointed to be seeing the project practically slipping off our fingers. We know that the project was awarded by the federal government but we appeal to the State government to intervene and laise with the federal government and prevail on Abuja to complete the project,” he lamented in a chat with AbeyaNews.
Another resident, Chief Godwin Eze argued, in an interview with our reporter, that the construction of the dry port was long overdue given the strategic position as a gate-way town between the North and the East that Obollo-Afor occupies in the South East zone.
“Obollo-Afor needs a dry port. This will help create easier access to goods and services by the teeming consumers and businesses in the South East part of Nigeria,” he said, adding: “We never expected that by now, the dry port would not have been completed. Nevertheless, we appeal to Enugu State government to intervene and join hands with the federal government so that the project will become a reality.”
When AbeyaNews visited the site of the project at Obollo-Afor, the only sign of it was a gigantic billboard announcing the proposed dryport, although the place was not exactly lying fallow as many market women were seen selling vegetables, fruits and other commodities on the foreground of the yet-to-be-started port.
AbeyaNews recalls that at the inception of the President Muhammadu Buhari Administration in 2015, the Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC) mapped out strategic locations in the country for Inland Dry Ports, among which was that of Obollo Afor.
During an official visit to the Governor of Enugu State, Rt. Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, the Executive Secretary/CEO of the Nigeria Shpper’s Council (NSC), Hassan Bello had harped on the importance of the Dry port at Obollo-Afor to the State and the entire South East region, saying the project was dear to the federal government.
Bello said the port, a seaport equivalent, when built, with its ancillary services, would impact positively on the economy of Enugu State and the South East as a whole as it would ultimately become an export free trade zone, which would invariably create over 3,000 job opportunities for the State and its environs.
Bello further stated that “when fully operational, the dryport in Obollo-Afor, Udenu LGA is expected to boost business transactions in the South-East and decongest Onne and Port Harcourt Wharfs.”
He stated that the Council would also build a Truck Transit Park (TTP) to provide temporary rest locations where truck drivers would conveniently park their vehicles.
According to him, the park would comprise restrooms, restaurants and other basic supplies such as oil and spare parts for servicing of vehicles.
However, five years after, this lofty project is all but forgotten and the site lying practically fallow.
AbeyaNews checks revealed that the Nigeria Shippers Council (NSC) engaged the services of Catamaran Nigeria Limited to act as Transaction Advisors to anchor pre-development phase as well as provide assistance to the Ministry of Transportation in procuring a credible and capable concessionaire that would undertake the development of the Truck Transit Park (TTP) facility, but nothing has happened ever since their engagement till now.
However, lending its voice to the appeal, Enugu Socio-cultural group, Igbo Nsukka United Front (INUF) has also pleaded with Governor Ugwuanyi to intervene in any way possible to get the project off the ground.
In a letter to the Governor entitled The Berthing Of The Largest Container Vessel In Onne Seaport And The Need To Revive The Abandoned Obollo-Afor Dryport, the group wrote: “We are pleading with the relevant authorities, Nigeria Shippers Council and all the stakeholders of Igbo Nsukka, especially the State Government, our representatives in the National Assembly, Abuja, to, as a matter of urgency, synergize and facilitate the immediate revival, construction and completion of the dryport at Obollo-Afor, Udenu LGA.”
The letter further posited that “such an important infrastructure that is capable of bringing unprecedented level of economic development not only to Igbo Nsukka area but also to the entire South East region, shouldn’t be left to remain fallow or (perpetually) on the drawing table.”