By David Iorja (ABUJA)
Given its overall potential to promote trade and investment, among other benefits, the Oguta Lake-Orashi River Dredging Project is a game-changer for Imo State, Nigeria and the West Coast of Africa, according to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, SAN.
Prof. Osinbajo stated this today in Oguta, Imo State, at the flag-off of the Pre-Dredging Hydrographic Survey of the proposed Sea Access Route from Oguta Lake through the Orashi River to the Atlantic Ocean.
The project is a collaboration between the Imo State Government, the Nigerian Navy, and a consortium of technical partners. It was initiated, approved and set in motion under the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari alongside the Imo State Governor, Senator Hope Uzodimma.
Speaking about the importance of the project, the Vice President said “there are projects and there are projects. But this project is unique. This is an economic transformation project, it is a game changer for Imo state, Nigeria and the West Coast of Africa. It is one of those one-of-a-kind projects whose benefits have always been glaring, but vision, courage and tenacity were required to bring it to fruition.
“This project will fulfil its promise of radical transformation, not only for the economy of the Southeast, but for our nation as a whole,” the VP added.
Prof. Osinbajo added that by enhancing coastal connectivity and facilitating seamless transportation, the dredging of the Oguta Lake-Orashi River project will promote trade and investment, spur growth in multiple sectors including shipping, manufacturing, and agriculture, and offer numerous opportunities for the people.
“Today, we aim to revive this once vibrant and economically strategic channel, furthering job creation and sustainable growth in Imo State and the entire Southeast region,” the Vice President, who was the Special Guest of Honour at the event, was quoted in a statement by his spokesman, Mr Laolu Akande..
Speaking further, Prof. Osinbajo announced that President Muhammadu Buhari had, a few days ago, granted the request of Governor Uzodinma to declare Oguta/Ohaji/Egbema and its environs as an Oil and Gas Free Trade Zone, saying it would drive commercial activities.
“This proposed Free Trade Zone has one of the largest hydrocarbon deposits in the country. Again this is another clear winner.
“The synergy between the dredged sea route and the free trade zone will deliver enormous commercial benefits.”
According to the Vice President, the Oguta Lake-Orashi River Development Project will also enable the Nigerian Navy to protect Nigeria’s coastlines and to curb crude oil theft, illegal bunkering and other criminal activities that appear to have taken advantage of the difficulty of the terrain for the operational use of naval platforms.
“A secure environment paves the way for a thriving business landscape and increased revenue for all parties, including States and the Federal Government.
“As improved access to the sea stimulates exports and imports, the coastal communities in these parts will be better positioned to reap the rewards of increased trade and income. There is no better time to have set this in motion.”
Assuring the Imo State government of the support of the Federal Government to actualize the project, Prof. Osinbajo called on host communities to join hands with the government to bring it to fruition.
“But none of this can be done without the full support of the community who, without doubt, remain invaluable partners in unlocking the vast potential of the region.
“Your participation, understanding, and cooperation are essential in overcoming any challenge that may arise during the implementation phase.
“I urge you all to join hands with the government and stakeholders involved to ensure a seamless execution that benefits everyone.
“By working together, we can create a vibrant economic corridor that will transform our community and benefit us for generations.”
Pointing out that Gov. Uzodinma has continued to collaborate with the Federal Government to execute projects for the benefit of the people of the state, the Vice President commended the governor for the foresight he has exhibited in delivering infrastructure in the state.
“This project, for example, could not have been done without the blessing of the President, the Oil and Gas Free Zone also needed and obtained Presidential approval.
“The last time I was here in Imo, it was to commission a garment industry shared facility for Imo youths, donated by the Federal Government under our MSME Clinics programme.
“Not long after, His Excellency, the President also graced this land personally to commission key road projects. And so, we must commend His Excellency, Senator Hope Uzodimma, the Governor of Imo State, for his wise, creative and focused leadership.”
In his remarks, Gov. Uzodinma, while expressing his gratitude to the Buhari Administration for making the initiation of the project possible said that preliminary studies were conducted before the flag-off of the Pre-dredging Hydrographic Survey.
“The survey being flagged off today involves the determination and mapping of the existing water depth all through the proposed sea route from Oguta Lake to Orashi to Degema and finally to the Atlantic Ocean,” Gov. Uzodinma said.
Also, the Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Awwal Gambao pledged the support of the Nigerian Navy for the project, saying the force would produce updated charts that would culminate in the next phase of the project which is the dredging of the river access route.
Among other dignitaries that spoke at the event were the Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Lucky Irabor, the Obi of Onitsha, His Royal Majesty Igwe Nnaemeka Achebe and the Ooni of Ife, His Royal Majesty, Oba Enitan Adeyeye Ogunwusi.