By Moses Akarhan
The frequency of flooding in Benue State has been alarming with resultant mortality, morbidity; damage to properties and public infrastructure, hence the clarion call for dredging of the River Benue.
Year-in, year-out, the need to dredge River Benue increases as communities that surround the natural flow of the river are susceptible to annual flooding during the rainy season due to accumulated silt, sand and debris which formed a bottleneck, hence the need for proper maintenance. Any time a major rain event occurs, the bottleneck restricts free flow of water and the river rises above its banks and flood local businesses and dwellings, causing millions of dollars in property damage and possible loss of lives. Dredging the river is therefore, necessary to maintain the natural flow and limit the potential for disaster.
River Benue is a large river with many islands and sand bars. Dredging the river to improve navigability was part of the Late President Umaru Yar’adua’s seven point plan to enhance the Nigerian economy.
The River is part of 3,000km of navigable watercourses that provide the main access routes for agricultural products to the coast.
Beckett Rankine was appointed to advise on introducing improvements to the River Benue for better navigation. The work included carrying out mathematical modeling of the river, designing dredging and river training works to improve the navigational depth during the dry season.
The project covered 227km of the river from Lokoja to Makurdi. Dredging will help develop all year navigability and reduce congestion at Lagos and Port Harcourt Sea Ports by providing cheaper and more reliable water transportation. Being 300km from the sea, this was an unusual project for Beckett Rankine.
During the 2017 budget defence before members of the Senate Committee on Marine Transport in Abuja, the then Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, said the Federal Government has awarded contract for the dredging of the critical part of River Benue and that work will soon commence. He said the project was fallout of the decision of the Federal Government to maximize the use of the resources of 12 major rivers in the country.
The minister added that the capital dredging of the Lower River Niger from Warri to Baro, covering a distance of 572 kilometres had also commenced. He said the government was determined to encourage a river dependent sustainable economic development through marine transportation.
In a chart with newsmen in Lagos in July 2018, the then Acting Managing Director, National Inland Waterways (NIWA), Danladi Ibrahim, disclosed that the Federal Government commenced arrangements to dredge the River Benue with expectations that the project would mature for implementation come 2019. He said; “Although, the agency is yet to come up with the financial implication, the government has drawn a master plan to commence the dredging next year”.
The then Acting MD is quoted in the media as saying that the dredging of River Benue would complement the River Niger channel and boost commercial activities around the river ports, which are expected to take off by the end of 2018. “Because River Benue has not been dredged, the burden is now on River Niger, therefore, we also have a master plan to dredge River Benue by next year”.
On the financial implications, he said: “In fact, we are starting afresh because it was long time that the dredging of River Benue has been awarded, definitely that cannot stand the present day reality, so in 2019, and we are starting a fresh procurement process.”
Despite the federal government’s contract reportedly awarded for the dredging of the River Benue, the project is not yet viable. Since the award of the contract, the contractor has not mobilized to site. This worries Benue people particularly the Governor, Samuel Ortom, who is reported in the media as crying foul over unexecuted contract for the dredging of River Benue and challenging National Assembly members of the state’s extraction to revisit the contract awarded by the deceased President UmaruYar’Adua for the dredging of River Benue but was not executed.
Ortom gave the charge in Makurdi after he inspected areas submerged by flood during the rainy season. He charged the lawmakers to join forces and make a case for Benue, lamenting that the contractor had not done anything since the contract was awarded.
“The contractor has done nothing, yet he is not brought to book. Our people keep suffering because the river is not dredged.
“Find out the status of the contract; why has it not taken off? If you do that, you will do the state a lot of good,” Ortom said.
He stressed that Benue communities would continue to suffer from flooding until the River Benue is dredged.
Playing host to the Presidential committee on flood disaster management led by its Chairman, Professor Emmanuel Adanu at the Benue Peoples House, Makurdi recently, Governor Samuel Ortom advocated for the dredging of Rivers Benue and Katsina Ala in order to contain the devastating effects of floods in the state.
“If the two Rivers are dredged they can contain the water that is usually released from the Lagdo dam in Cameroon and the state would not have to experience the kind of flood disasters it has experienced over the years”
The importance of dredging the River Benue cannot be over emphasized and the time is now to avoid the reoccurrence of flood disaster in the state.