Edo State Government and a Chinese company, China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) have signed a deal for the development of a river port in Gelegele, Benin City, the state capital.

The sealing of the deal came several months of intense engagements of the parties on the viability of a seaport in Benin City.

The State Governor, Godwin Obaseki, while signing the agreement on the sidelines of the2018 Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), with Li Yi, Vice President of CHEC, projected that the port project had the potential of diverting about 30 percent of the cargoes being handled by Lagos ports to the state.

In addition to the port pact, the parties also signed the final investment agreement to develop the Benin Industrial Park with CHEC and the pact to develop a modular refinery in the state.

Commenting on the agreements during a post-pact interactive session with journalists at the Nigerian Embassy in Beijing, China, Obaseki gave further details on the deals which include, building of a port on the Benin River, dredging of the river which is a channel of about 40 kilometres, and the construction of a link road to the Benin bye-pass.

The governor explained that the Benin River when completed would link the Lekki Deep Seaport, help decongest the ports in Lagos State, open up Edo State to the international market by serving as a hub for import and export trade.

Obaseki clarified further: “The company we are working with is the largest investor in the Lekki Deep Seaport. The Benin River Port is going to be a sister port to the Lekki Deep Sea Port. We expect that up to 30 per cent cargo going to the Lekki Deep Seaport would be meant for Benin port.

“We are investing massively on agriculture particularly in areas like oil palm, rubber, cassava, fruits and all range of agricultural produce which need to be processed and exported outside the country.

“There are companies operating in the state and are seeking to export their products. The port will provide opportunity not only to export agricultural produce but also some of the products that are now being manufactured in our area

“Another advantage is that once you create the infrastructure, there is the possibility that other industries would spring up in the state. This opportunity is going to rapidly help in diversifying the economy of Nigeria”, Obaseki added.

The Benin Industrial Park is expected to create over 170,000 direct and indirect jobs on completion, and will be home to over 1000 companies and will generate an excess of over $3 billion annually.

Shortly before going to the FOCAC Summit, Obaseki approved the release of N700 million for the Benin Refinery project, as part of her contribution to the project.

Work is expected to start on the multi-billion naira refinery project following the agreement signed with Peiyang Chemical Equipment Company of China (PCC) in China.

The governor said that his administration’s investment drive in China and elsewhere was conceived to reduce the state’s dependence on oil and set it on the path of sustainable growth driven by a solid industrial base.

He enthused: “We are excited about the Modular Refinery project and the project is going to transform the state’s economy and position us as a hub for fabrication of refinery parts with the setting up of fabrication yard to groom local capacity in that sector.”