9 years after sod-turning: When will Erunmu dry port project be completed?

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ErunmuSince its sod was turned in 2008, the Erunmu dry port project has remained in perpetual slumber. A project with prospects of creation of thousands of jobs and generation of billions of revenue for Oyo state, the South West geopolitical zone and the country, in its entirety, remains unaccomplished due to various factors. In this piece, WALE AKINSELURE examines the factors that have bedeviled the realization of the project, especially amid fears of Erunmu residents that plans of the Oyo state government to set up another Inland Dry port in the state, might put a final nail on the coffin of the initial Erunmu dry port project.

With cycloramic patterns of “Aso Ebi”, variegated shades of “gele”, rhythmic “bata” dance steps, eyelashes layered with “tiro”, hands and feet etched in “laali”, red and white powdered faces and magnificent hairstyles, the people of Erunmu community, in Egbeda local government area of Oyo state on Monday August 11, 2008, turned out enmasse for the epochal turning of sod for the Inland Container Depot, Erunmu.  For a project inaugurated in 2003, the fanfare that greeted the turning of sod by the then Minister of State for Transportation, Prince Okechukwu Emeka, of the Ernest Shonekan federal government, accompanied by the then Oyo state governor, Adebayo Alao Akala, was in order.

Inland Container Depots (ICDs) are dry ports equipped for handling and temporary storage of containerized cargo as well as empties, whereby hinterland customers can receive port services conveniently and closer to their premises. Salivating for the multiplier effects of having a container depot in their town, several families combined to surrender 121 hectares of their farmland for the project. According to a community dweller, Mr Ademola Adewole, the community put up a festival at the turning of the sod because they believed that their dream was set to be actualized. Each passing day after that fanfare, Erunmu community have continued to decry that unfolding events and the posture of the stakeholders point to a project that never actually took off and in need of resurrection from the crypt of neglect.

The federal government, through the Nigerian Shippers’ Council promoted the concept of Inland Container Depots (ICDs), now known as Inland dry ports, as a seaport equivalent on the hinterland, to decongest the seaports and facilitate import and export business. The ICDs are expected to receive containers by rail or road from the seaport for examination and clearance by customs and other concerned authorities. It is also expected to have loading and off-loading equipment to handle containers.

In this light, the Erunmu dry port, at a capacity of 50,000 containers, was concessioned to Catamaran logistics to drive in investors and partners for the project. The Oyo state government, as another stakeholder, acquired land for the project and during the Alao Akala administration, compensation was paid to the land owners and Certificate of Occupancy handed over to the federal government. According to Executive Secretary, Bureau of Investment Promotion, Mr Yinka Fatoki, the Oyo state government paid over N30million as part of the N100 million takeoff grant required for the project.

Owners of land forfeited for the project, like Mr Onaolapo Adekola, however, are disgruntled that they may had made the wrong decision to give away their land, with the project yet to see the light of the day, after 14 years. This is against the backdrop of the fact that farming is the major preoccupation of people of Erunmu and land is considered most precious. Adekola said, “It’s painful for us to leave that expanse of land for over 14 years and nothing has been done on the land. Government should make use of the land that we volunteered for their use and stop allowing the land to remain fallow. We could have been able to sell our land now at higher rates. No one can farm on the land. No one can build on the land. Farming is our major preoccupation here so it pains us to see our land lying fallow and not used.”

ErunmuSimilarly, another land owner, who is a retiree of The Polytechnic Ibadan, Mr Yusuf Ajayi, said, “In expectation that government would immediately begin work, we all left our land. We all accepted to leave our land because it will be beneficial to everyone in Erunmu, Oyo state and the federal government. We have remained expectant since 2004 yet nothing has happened. When enumeration of crops was done, I received a compensation of N130,000 for my 10 acres of land. Some received less than N20,000.

On the project site, as of now, the concessionaire, Catamaran logistics, has built a stacking bay for containers, a house for generating set, fence, borehole and offices meant officials of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Nigerian Customs Services (NCS), Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) and Security Agencies. However, these structures are enmeshed in a site overgrown with weeds, while the expected investors not on site.  Catamaran logistics had attributed the stall of the project to the fact that main rail line connecting Lagos to Ibadan was being rehabilitated which will pave way for the company to construct the much needed 1.5 kilometres rail side line that will link the project site to the Lagos-Ibadan rail.

Erunmu indigenes through the Erunmu dry port committee headed by its Chairman, Mr Theophilius Yadeka, have fingered lack of commitment and capacity of the concessionaire, Catamaran logistics, as reasons for the abandonment of the project. This, Yadeka, noted was exemplified by the failure of Managing Director, Chief Layi Are, to heed to its calls to attend meetings to explain the challenges being faced.

“When we observed that the project had been stalled, we took several steps to include writing letters to the state and federal government. We had meetings with government officials. On many occasions, we called on the concessionaire, Catamaran logistics headed by Chief Layi Are, for meeting, but he never showed up. We then called on him to tell us what challenges he was facing in carrying out the project for the committee to assist him, but he never turned up. During the President Goodluck Jonathan’s regime, we were invited for a meeting with the federal government in Abuja. This prompted President Jonathan to send the then Federal Minister of Transport to speak with us. He was in Erunmu for three days, decried the bushy state of the site, and remarked that that the concessionaire should have ensured the progress of the project,” Yadeka said.

However, there are other fears of the Erumu community that the project might not only be abandoned but dead. This is due to fears that the state government may be committed to the establishment of another dry port at another location in Ibadan. This is against the backdrop of the federal government’s 2006 Inland Dry Port Project where it approved the establishment of Inland Dry ports in the six geo-political zones in the country. Through a gazette No 30, Vol. 94 of 21st May, 2007, dry ports were to be sited in Aba, Ibadan, Jos, Kano, Funtua and Maiduguri to be built on Public Private Partnership using the Build Own Operate and Transfer Model for a period ranging from 25 to 30 years. The Nigerian Shippers’ Council was then saddled with the responsibility for the implementation, regulation, monitoring and coordination of the operations of the IDPs in the country.

Few years after the Federal Government signed a new agreement with the concessionaires of the Inland Container Depots (ICDs) also called Dry Port projects in the country with a two-year time frame to begin operations or lose their licences, the Kaduna ICD has been completed while that of Jos is to commence operation before the end of the year. However, the concessionaires of the Ibadan ICD project, Catamaran Logistics Limited is yet to show that it had secured any investor for the project despite the expression of interest to the Erunmu community by some investors, including the Chinese construction giant, China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC).

At a seminar organized by the Nigerian Shippers’ Council, South West Zonal Coordinating Office, held in Ibadan, representatives of Erunmu community, led by Chief Adetunji Adio, acknowledged these fears, calling on the federal government to give an ultimatum to Catamaran logistics to begin the work in the shortest possible time or revoke the contract and award it to another company. They premised this call on the fact that several investors continued to approach the community requesting to partner with Catamaran logistics to take over the project entirely.

“We are appealing to the federal government to compel Catamaran logistics to complete this project within a reasonable time or withdraw the contract give it to some of those showing interest to take over the project. It will generate employment for our years, increase income for the state. The government should give Catamaran logistics an ultimatum to work on the site or concession it to other interested partners,” Adetunji said.

Their fears might also not be unconnected with the fact that the state has sought approval of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council for another inland dry port site apart from the current Erunmu dry port site. Investigations into why the state government seeks another dry port site range from positions that the current Erunmu dry port site is of a sandy terrain and may not be not good enough to host the proposed dry port to that Catamaran logistics, which is a consortium, has a huge percentage of its shares owned by a former governor who is holding tight and preventing new partners, such that the incumbent governor will not commission the Erunmu ICD project.

On whether a state can have more than one dry port site, South West Zonal Coordinator, Nigerian Shippers’ Council, Mr Anifowose Olurotimi said what was imperative was the viability of the projects not the number. Anifowose argued that no law restricted a state to having more than one Inland dry port. He maintained that the Nigerian Shippers’ Council was not unaware of the reservations of Erunmu indigenes about the pace with which Catamaran logistics handled the project, but noted that it had to be cautious in heeding to calls for revocation of Catamaran’s contract.

“It is very possible for a state to have more than one dry port. Oyo state is working on getting approval for another inland dry port site apart from the one initially given to Catamaran logistics. The processes of approval are not that easy to come by. What is important is the viability of the dry ports not the number of dry ports in a state. There is no law that says there must be only one Inland dry port in a state.”

“It is possible that that new project is equally sited in Erunmu. The state government won’t be insensitive to know that the interest of the Erunmu people must not be jeopardized. The community has expressed their reservation with which Catamaran logistics is going about the project and the Shippers Council is aware. The process of revocation is not what can be sorted out now but efforts are ongoing to ensure that the Erunmu Inland Dry port is brought to fruition,” Anifowose said. Amid these reservations, however, the Managing Director of Catamaran Logistics, Chief Layi Are has at several stakeholders’ meetings maintained that it remained committed to delivering a world class Inland dry port in Erunmu.

However, Special Adviser to Governor Abiola Ajimobi on Projects, Mrs Tolu Shadipe, said the state was poised to put more pressure on the federal government and concessionaire handling the Erunmu dry port project to ensure the realization of the project. In the same vein, Executive Secretary, Bureau of Investment Promotion, Mr Yinka Fatoki avowed that the state government had done a lot to ensure that a dry port project comes to fruition. He said, “There are firm arrangements to ensure that a dry port in Erunmu comes to be. This will be activated by the third quarter of next year, 2018.”

Residents of Erumu like Mr Akanji Adesina count the gains of completion of the project to the community, the state and the federal government to include employment and revenue generation. “Our children will be saved from roaming about and be engaged. Our women will be able to do various businesses. Eight states in the South West own this property. Fixing this deport will provide a lot of revenue for the state. The cry about inadequate funds to pay salaries will also be addressed. Local, state and federal government will benefit from this project in terms of Internally Generated Revenue,” Akanji said.

The post 9 years after sod-turning: When will Erunmu dry port project be completed? appeared first on Tribune.

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