WITH UCHE NNADOZIE
One of the problems we have in this part of the world is the inability of governments to optimize the utility of the water bodies we have. But more importantly is to also say that our inland waters are many but not very useful in the manner we think they are. Our biggest inland water bodies are the Rives Niger and Benue. And to some extent the Lake Chad. There are hundreds of other inland water channels that should have been very resourceful for us, however they are just there. They are not navigable. When any water body isn’t navigable it presents very ugly scenarios that leaves us scratching our heads especially in the area of transportation. Yet someone will ask what we have done with our navigable waters at this time, much less what we would have done with what we don’t have.
The Nile and Congo rivers are such a sumptuous body of inland water ways. Egypt is practically synonymous with the Nile. Its wealth is ferried through that water but more importantly the Nile’s alluvial soil makes it possible to cultivate all year round in the banks of the long river. For thousands of years, the Nile has saved the desert country from feminine as a result of the preeminence of the Nile to its economy in the area of agriculture alone. The Congo is what you call a river with might and power. It is so powerful that at the place it meets with the Atlantic, the force of the river pushes the Atlantic waters several kilometers into the sea with its earthy brown colour. Electricity, agriculture, transportation (where possible) are supposed to be by-products of that great river. But wars have not allowed the Congo take full charge of the potential that the Congo offers.
Here in Nigeria, the Niger produces electricity for us, dams for irrigation and Stone Age transportation. Yes, the Niger gave the country her name, and states like Kwara and Niger derive their names from it, yet its agricultural (including crops and fishery) potential is stunted. We are not exploring the Niger to its capacity. There is so much more that the river can offer up and down her majestic length and breath. By now there should be a proper world class resort, complete with a five star hotel around where the Niger and the Benue meet. Thankfully, such a facility can be sited on either side of the rivers. So those rivers are centres of tourism too. And of course, this has the potential of expanding the purses of any of the states that own the lands on either side of both rivers. With a rail track already tens of kilometers away in Ajaokuta from Warri and the port there, this is a veritable place to diversify our tourism resources. There, fresh water fishes and ocean economy will meet for an interaction that will produce a lot of money.
More defining is the expansion of the river and the dredging that will ensure a smart port is sited around that confluence. The same way we should have another functioning port around Onitsha and another one between Onitsha and where the great river begins to tear up into what we have today as the Niger delta. The dredging that will take place will open us the river as a veritable and reliable mode of easy transportation featuring medium sized ships and light boats. There should be twenty four hour navigation on the river Niger through all its length within and outside the country; the same for the Benue River. People should take cheap transportation on water from Asaba to Lokoja or even further to Jebba without hassle. People should be able to take a boat ride from Makurdi, down to somewhere near Yenegoa with minimal costs. This will unite our people more, boast businesses and encourage real inter-connectivity.
Investing in this kind of venture covers many sectors or subsectors. We have the tourism and hospitality sector with the development of resorts and hotels of international standards, then smaller hotels and guest houses. There is the improvement of and redevelopment of electricity generating dams and of course dams for irrigation. There is also the development of high capacity transport systems that ferry goods and normal taxi services. The development of inland ports is another money spinning venture. These activities will produce thousands of jobs, create new jobs, impact on the lives of people and help the revenue efforts of states and federal governments. But who will bail the cat in this kind of venture. This is supposed to be a multi layer and joint venture activity that will completely change the ecosystem of the areas in and around these rivers.
But something more critical is the value or lack of same that we put on the drinking water in our homes and offices. Governments at all levels appear to have contracted out public water supply to private sector places who are making a kill by produces all manner of liquids they call water and sell at whatever prices they chose. Our governments no longer care about water supply. There is almost no effort to make water available to homes and offices. Clean pipe-borne water is now a luxury. And it amazes me how we cannot relate high incidences of disease affliction to our sources of water supply. Lower middle to middle class people install their own boreholes to generate water in their homes. Nobody cares to check or test the water. We just drink anything and happen on hospitals. We cannot continue like this.
We need to sit down to hold a national water resource summit. We need to find what to do with our body of waters whether inland or underground water. The clock is ticking.