Apapa –Oshodi Expressway
With Apapa, the hub of the Nigerian economy becoming a no-go area,Ejiofor Alikelinks the traffic gridlock caused by fuel tankers to the collapse of NNPC-operated refineries and 21 depots across the country
Apapa is undoubtedly Nigeria’s most important commercial centre, being the host town of the country’s major sea ports and tank farms that account for about 80 per cent of petroleum products imported into the country.
But over the years, the status of Apapa as the hub of Nigerian economy has become a nightmare to businesses, office workers, residents, and other people that transact businesses in the area.
The menace of trucks that come into Apapa to lift petroleum products and trucks that carry loaded and empty containers has become a threat to the safety of users of Apapa roads.
The once serene town that played host to the Lebanese and other foreign nationals has become a thorn in the flesh of the people because of the sickening siege of trucks and tankers on the stretch of the road and other available spaces.
Workers whose offices are located in Apapa tell tales of woes everyday as they struggle with tankers and trucks for the limited space on the roads and parking spaces.
These workers and other motorists are sometimes held in traffic gridlock for several hours.
During this logjam, they suffer attacks by social miscreants and armed robbers, who take advantage of the traffic situation to unleash mayhem on hapless road users.
Most of the office workers, who manage to wriggle their ways into Apapa for their daily official activities, are forced to park their vehicles on the main roads as tankers waiting to lift petroleum products have blocked all access roads to their offices.
These cars, which are left at the mercy of weather elements are sometimes vandalised by miscreants and also damaged by tankers struggling to lift fuel from the depots.
The tanker drivers do not help the situation because the level of their lawlessness on the roads is unparalleled.
Several attempts by the Nigerian Navy and other security agents to check their activities have led to violent protests and withdrawal of tankers from lifting products.
Drivers blackmail the government and the people by withdrawing their vehicles from the road to cause fuel scarcity each time they are reprimanded for reckless use of the roads.
The police and the operatives of the Lagos State Transport Management Authority (LASTMA) are so overwhelmed by the activities of the tanker drivers that they resort to seizing cars parked by the side of the roads instead of clearing the tankers that forced the car owners to abandon their cars on the roads.
In fact, the police and other agencies of government that were assigned to maintain law and order have been compromised by the tanker drivers, thus making the whole area chaotic.
Collapse of Refineries, Depots
Right from inception, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) has well-established pipeline network for distribution of petroleum products from the refineries and import facilities to the 21 depots across the country.
With four refineries at Kaduna, Port Harcourt and Warri, which have a combined installed capacity of 445,000 barrels per day and a comprehensive network of pipelines and storage depots strategically located to link these refineries, the NNPC, through its subsidiary, the Pipelines and Products Marketing Company (PPMC), used to account for the bulk of the petroleum products consumed in the country.
The products pipelines have a total length of about 5120 kilometres and products were moved through the pipelines by pumping using mainline and booster pumps.
To boost products supply to all nooks and crannies, a number of pump stations complemented pumping of products to all destinations.
The pipelines and storage depot system along with its mainline and booster pump stations and export/import facilities were well-designed and administered under five operations areas, each with an administrative office headed by an Area Manager.
Port Harcourt area comprises Port Harcourt, Aba, Enugu, Makurdi, and Calabar Depots, as well as the Bonny Export Terminal.
Warri area is made up of Warri Depot; Warri Jetty; Benin Depot; Abudu Pump Station; Auchi Pump Station; Lokoja Pump Station and Escravos Terminal.
Mosimi area comprises Mosimi Depot; Atlas Cove Jetty & Depot; Satellite/ Ejigbo Lagos Depot; Ibadan Depot; Ore Depot and Ilorin Depot
Kaduna area includes Kaduna Depot; Abaji Pump Station; Izom Pump Station; Minna Depot; Suleja Depot; Sarkin Pawa Pump Station; Zaria Pump Station; Kano Depot and Gusau Depot
Finally, the Jos area is made up of Jos Depot; Gombe Depot; Yola Depot; Biu Pump Station; and Maiduguri Depot
When the refineries, depots and pipeline network were still working, petroleum products were either imported or refined locally and received by the PPMC through import jetties and pipelines and distributed through pipelines to the 21 depots that are strategically located.
These products were loaded from the depots and trucked to filling stations through a process of bridging.
Also when the country’s rail system was working, there was also provision for using the rail system to move products from some of the PPMC depots.
PPMC also operated a fleet of marine vessels used for moving products along the coastal water – from Port Harcourt and Warri to Lagos and from Port-Harcourt to Calabar.
Products moved into Lagos through the coastal vessels were discharged at the Atlas Cove where they were received into storage tanks for onward pumping to Mosimi depot near Sagamu in Ogun State from where the products are pumped to other depots such as Ibadan, Ilorin and Ore.
When the NNPC’s depots came under increasing pressure due to the country’s increasing populations, which fuelled demands for petroleum products, there was a throughput arrangement between the corporation and the private marketers for the use of the private depots.
However, the entire NNPC pipeline network has collapsed due to vandalism, thereby making it impossible for products to be pumped to the 21 depots across the country through the lines.
All Roads Lead to Apapa
Originally, locally-refined products and imported ones were pumped into the 21 depots across the country where they were loaded into trucks and transported to filling stations.
But with the collapse of the pipeline network, the 21 depots were abandoned.
The problem was worsened by the failure of the refineries due to non-maintenance, forcing the country to depend solely on imported petroleum products.
The country has ports in Calabar, Lagos, and Port Harcourt for vessels that bring in imported products into the country.
However, due to the location of most private depots in Lagos and the strategic location of Lagos, most importers of petroleum products would prefer that their imported cargoes discharge at Lagos depots in Apapa.
Security concern, especially militancy and sea piracy in the Niger Delta also contributed to the preference for the Apapa ports by marketers and other independent importers.
With this development, Apapa ports, which were designed to receive about 10 per cent of petroleum products imported and consumed in the country, was overstretched to account for over 80 per cent of petroleum products imported and consumed in the country.
This has led to the movement of tankers from all parts of the country into Apapa to lift petroleum products.
Tankers, which would have lifted petroleum products from the Enugu, Kano or Kaduna depots if the NNPC, refineries, pipelines and depots were working, come all the way to Apapa to carry products as dangerous as petrol.
The over-dependence on Apapa for supply of petroleum products, not only led to traffic jam on the roads but also congestion of vessels in the high seas as more volume of goods are imported into the country, with no space for vessels to berth.
Recent Efforts to Clear Congestion
Recently, the situation at Apapa attracted the setting up of a Presidential Committee on the Decongestion of the road, which cleared all the tankers.
Speaking recently at THISDAY Corporate Headquarters, Head of the Committee and Special Adviser to the President on Performance Monitoring and Evaluation, Prof. Sylvester Monye, said the clearing of the expressway was in continuation of President Goodluck Jonathan’s promise to create a conducive atmosphere for business in the country.
Monye said with the two ports located on the route in addition to the many businesses along the expressway, the Federal Government considered the havoc the congestion caused by tanker and truck drivers on the road inimical to the economic development of the country.
On how to sustain the feat, he said: “Now, to make it sustainable, we have been consulting all the state governments. The Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister for Finance, and her Transport counterpart have been to Lagos so many times. Last week, we finished our consultation and met with the governor of Lagos State and he agreed to support us 100 per cent. This is some sort of partnership with both state and Federal Government on matters of common interest.”
Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, had led a team of senior government officials to inspect the Apapa-Oshodi expressway, preparatory for the action of clearing the menace.
Monye said the ship owners, National Union of Petroleum and Gas Workers (NUPENG) and the security agencies were taken along in order to ensure that the decongestion of the expressway was sustainable.
On the menace of petroleum tankers on the route, Monye said: “Well, I am delighted to say also that if you go through that road today, there is not even one tanker on the road. I had an interaction with some media houses and while I was there, they called the Lagos State chapter of NUPENG to ask specifically what they thought about the initiative and he said they will comply. The most critical thing for us to understand is that any problem we have, is man-made and not made from heaven and it is the indiscipline of tankers, trucks and trailers who block the road.
“They just tell you I came to lift oil and because the oil is not ready, they just stay on the road. But there has to be a system in place that only tankers ready to be loaded are allowed to come to the tank farms, and not coming to wait for weeks, thus blocking the roads. What the government is saying is that look, people of Lagos and residents of Apapa deserve the right to free access to their premises and residences,” he said.
Monye said enforcement would not pose any problem because the Inspector General of Police, Muhammad Abubakar was coordinating from Abuja through the Commissioner of Police in Lagos State stressing that, “this is a presidential directive, the president specially directed that the initiative must go on but of course, one of the things we have done is to ensure that Lagos State infrastructure is also redeployed towards the same objective. We met with the governor and he deployed his own officers including LASTMA, the Task Force that cleared Oshodi are part of this initiative and so we are working together in order to sustain this initiative.”
This is a full team working for the good of Lagos State. So we hope that with this level of cooperation, it will be sustained.
“Secondly, we are expecting that as we clear the road, LASTMA takes over and so it is not just us clearing and walking away but LASTMA taking a position and maintaining order.
Indeed, briefing the media on the nature of the operation that cleared the trucks.
However, the relief experienced by motorists and residents of Apapa as a result of the recent intervention of the presidential committee was short-lived because only the symptom was addressed, while the disease was left to worsen.
The traffic congestion in Apapa is a symptom of the failure of the NNPC to fix the refineries, pipeline network and depots and unless this disease is cured, Nigerians and foreigners, who do business in Apapa will continue to suffer traffic logjam.
No presidential or executive directive can clear the traffic menace at Apapa, unless alternative source of products supply and distribution across the country is provided.
One of the suggested solutions was to place a ban on further construction of tank farms by the government but this would not have much impact as no new tank farm projects are on-going.
The people are not only the victims of the menace as the government has also cried out over the issue.
The Vice-Chairman, Apapa Local Government Council, Mrs. Bolaji Dada, was recently quoted in a media report as saying that the traffic congestion was having a very bad impact on the economy of the council.