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In November 2014, the Goodluck Jonathan administration awarded the contract for the dredging of the Calabar Port Channel to enable large vessels call at the port. But the initial euphoria that greeted the event has turned out to be premature. The local chapter of the Nigerian Shippers Association recently voiced its concerns over the state of the project. “After two unsuccessful dredging attempts we are convinced that a third one cannot go unchecked,” said Mike Ogodo, President of the Cross River State chapter of the Shippers Association. “We cannot continue to bury our heads in sand like the ostrich. We have decided to act like adults and stakeholders and collectively ask very simple and basic questions about the progress, if any, with the execution of this contract.”
The simple truth is that the contract, like the two earlier ones before it, has once again been abandoned. According to reports, the first contract for the dredging of the channel was awarded by the late General Sani Abacha regime in 1996 to a little known Chinese company to the tune of N3 billion. Ten years later in 2006, the uncompleted project was again awarded by the President Olusegun Obasanjo administration to two Dutch companies at the cost of $56 million.
However, the high rate of siltation at the port perhaps made nonsense of their effort. Calabar Channel Management (CCM) won the latest contract and it is alleged that the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) which signed the papers on behalf of the federal government has paid the full contract sum of N20 billion. Even though CCM reportedly deployed the full complement of its equipment – dredgers, survey vessels, buoyage tenders, wreck removal crane, all, to the water channel, the impact is yet to be
felt. Even much more disturbing, the contractors are no longer on site.
Last week, the shippers association challenged the company to “tell Nigerians how much of the tax payers’ money they had collected for the job and how much work they had done.” But the NPA said that its management ensured that both the contract and the payment are guided by strict compliance to due process. It said that payment was effected “only after they verified that what was presented tallies with the work done and in accordance with the Joint Venture agreement.” 
The Calabar Port which occupies about 38 hectares of land was built to promote trade in the Eastern and Northern states of Nigeria. But the 84-nautical mile access to the port suffers from low depth. It stands at 5.4 metres on low water and 6.4 metres on high water, making it particularly difficult to accommodate big vessels.
By the agreement signed by the NPA, the Bureau of Public Enterprises and the concessionaires, the port depth is expected to be dredged to 9.8 metres. That is yet to be attained while the economy around the port continues to flow at low ebb. “The economies of the South-south, South-east and North-central for whom the Calabar Port was meant to promote have been under- served and short-changed for two decades,” said Ogodo.
Indeed, the current state of the port is harming businesses both for the private sector as well as the Cross River State government. Cargoes meant for Calabar port are routed through the already congested Lagos ports to their various destinations in the Eastern states. Moreover, the state of the port is having crippling effects on the Calabar export processing zone which has been overtaken by tank farms.
Yet stakeholders say if the port is dredged it could even be transformed into a hub of the west and central African oil and gas logistics because of its nearness to Equatorial Guinea and Cameroun. But until the right depth is attained, the Calabar Port will continue to suffer from low patronage.  

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