The Tragedy of Apapa (II)

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SPECIAL REPORT

The death of a LASTMA officer two months ago and of several others due to trauma, the weekly loss of N140 billion revenue, the recent mob attack on two banks are epithets of a failed and neglected port city that once held promise, writes Eromosele Abiodun

The once beautiful Apapa has gradually transformed into a hell on earth. Due to long neglect, Apapa has become Nigeria’s signpost of incompetence, mismanagement, and lack of vision. The roads leading to Nigeria’s premier ports, Apapa and Tincan, are now totally impassable, source of untimely death to and businesses and people alike. Many Apapa-based companies have gone under while some managed to relocate, the inevitable result is massive revenue loss for the government itself, importers and other operators whose livelihood depends on the ports.
Recently, Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, joined numerous port users and businesses to echo the daily suffering and the revenue loss by businesses and government.

Dangote estimated that the country was losing about N140 billion weekly to traffic gridlocks on Apapa-Oshodi Expressway, Lagos, the access road to Nigeria’s main sea ports.

Dangote who spoke to journalists in Lagos, said: “The economy loses more than N20 billion daily and N140 billion weekly. It affects businesses across the country. All our operations in the hinterland in Ilorin, in Kano are operating at 40 per cent maximum capacity.”
Lamenting the state of roads in the country, he added: “Today there is no linkage road going from South West to the North. You have to go all the way through Ajaokuta, Obajana, Lokoja and you have to go by that uncompleted road Obasanjo (ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo) started 13 years ago.”
In the last few weeks, two tragic incidents occurred, indicating that the situation in Apapa will soon implode, and these are the stoning to death of a LASTMA officer and the burning of banks.
Both incidents were directly related to the gridlock in Apapa and were the products of the frustration borne by truck and tanker drivers.
The first was the murder of the LASTMA officer, allegedly by some tanker drivers protesting the death of one of their motor boys, which they blamed on LASTMA officers trying to seize a tanker for wrong parking.
The second was the burning of two banks and destruction of other commercial properties by truck drivers, protesting the killing of a truck driver by a policeman for wrong parking.
With numerous petroleum tank farms in Apapa, no one knows what will trigger the next altercation over the gridlock that can cause a meltdown and massive destruction in Apapa.

Apapa is home to Nigeria’s key ports (Apapa and Tin Can); numerous petroleum tank farms, media organisations (THISDAY Newspaper and BusinessDay), numerous manufacturing concerns, businesses and residents.
In the last few years, particularly in the last two months, Apapa has become a no-go area for visitors, hellish for those who reside and work there, and traumatic for business owners and those exporting or importing goods.
The primary reason for the gridlock has been the complete collapse of the Wharf Road which leads from the base of Ijora Bridge entering into Apapa to the entrance of Apapa Port.
This has resulted in a long queue of trucks and tankers on the Ijora Bridge, which sometimes extends all the way to Western Avenue making it difficult for other road users to go in and out of Apapa.
Likewise, the only other access road out of Apapa through the Liverpool Overhead Bridge and Apapa-Mile 2 Expressway is similarly in a state of complete disrepair and blocked by trucks and tankers.

Wrong Premise
Efforts are being made to decongest the traffic on Apapa road, but these are misdirected, as authorities believe that Wharf Road and the Apapa – Mile 2 Expressway will resolve the gridlock in Apapa.
But that approach fails to answer the question why these roads have gravely  deteriorated; many readily blame the prevalence of tank farms in Apapa for this.
Yes, tank farms in Apapa have brought about a fleet of tankers coming from many parts of Nigeria to lift petroleum products.
When you add these tankers to the trucks going to the port and the trucks coming to the manufacturing concerns and other vehicles that have cause to be in Apapa, the eventual convergence on Apapa roads is like Armageddon.
The right premise for tackling the traffic crisis is in realising that the trucks and tankers that flood Apapa on a daily basis are forced to park and queue on the roads.

Holding Bay Palaver
With no holding bay in Apapa for trucks and tankers, their drivers are forced to park on the access roads into Apapa and main roads inside Apapa.
So, roads and bridges not meant to be parking spaces for heavy-duty vehicles have been subjected to the unbearable weight of the trucks and tankers.
This makes life hellish for both occupants of trucks and vehicles and has turned Apapa into a nightmare for all but the government which continues to collect trillions of Naira as taxes, duties and charges.
Before the port concession exercise undertaken by the Obasanjo administration, trucks coming to Apapa and Tin Can Ports had holding bays inside these ports for parking and queuing.
During the port concession exercise, the Bureau of Public Enterprise (BPE) and the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) went on to concession every available space inside these ports to private companies.
With the concession of their holding bays inside Apapa and Tin Can Ports, the NPA designated the Lilypond Terminal in Ijora which is outside the ports, as the new holding bay for trucks.

However, AP Moller, the successful concessionaire of the Apapa Container Terminal also set its sights on leasing the Lilypond Terminal at Ijora for its excess container cargo.
This effectively pushed the truck drivers patronising Apapa and Tin Can Ports from inside these ports to the streets of Apapa and to also occupying the two access roads in and out of Apapa.
With these trucks now parking and queuing on the streets of Apapa, joined by the 3,000 trucks coming weekly to Lagos to lift petroleum products from tank farms in Apapa, these roads do not stand a chance.
With these deteriorating roads, which daily bear the load of the trucks and tankers, bad roads in addition to traffic congestion have turned Apapa into a nightmare for all.

The Way Out
According to experts, what is needed is a holding bay to serve as a receiving point for all trucks and tankers coming into Apapa, either to patronise the ports, tank farms and other manufacturing concerns.
From this holding bay, these trucks and tankers can be released on a need basis to either go to the ports to discharge containers and pick up cargo or go and load petroleum products or goods.
This will free up the access roads into Apapa, the roads within Apapa from serving as parking and queuing places; improve the life span of these roads and provide access to other road users.
The solution therefore is to terminate AP Moller’s lease of Lilypond Terminal at Ijora and restore the facility to what it was designated for by the NPA, a holding bay for trucks and tankers.
The tragedy is whether AP Moller, a key beneficiary of demurrage charges due to the current traffic gridlock in Apapa, will be willing to help solve a problem that it indirectly facilitated.

Rising Cost to Importers
It is not just AP Moller that is benefiting from the Apapa situation, other terminal operators do. As a matter of fact, the cost of clearing cargo in the ports has gone up by as much as 35 per cent.
Chairman, Shippers Association of Lagos, Mr Jonathan Nichol told THISDAY that the cost of local transportation has gone up uncontrollably by 51 per cent or more.
“For instance, the cost of a truck to Ikeja before now was N65, 000.00. Same truck charges between N185, 000 and N200, 000 a trip. Trucks are gradually rejecting imports cargo for export cargo; wood, for instance from Bauchi and Ondo States for between N800, 000 and N1.2million a trip. It suits the truck owners better because of the turnabout trip which is more economical to them. Three drivers waiting on the queue as a result of inhuman conditions which increased their blood pressure lost their lives on their steering,” he said.
Demurrages, he stated, had gone up as well, a result of inability to vacate released containers due to lack of trucks.

He added, “Customs unreceipted incidental expenses remain unchanged.  Demands are high as officers do not know when they will be transferred from lucrative terminals out of Lagos. Shippers are at the receiving end as far as imports are concerned.
“Most of the Government Port regulatory Organisations do not have answers to the present dilemma on the ground.  The Nigerian Ports Authority is always trying their little best to facilitate the easy way of doing business which is yet to have a human face.”
Nichol added that clearance of goods was getting more expensive due to collapse of the port access roads.
“APM Terminal now moves containers by rail to Iddo Train Terminal to be transferred to designated off-dock terminals. Some Importers take delivery of their consignments direct from Iddo and return empty containers back through the rail services to the Port.  However, the receiving end of the empty containers are not cooperating enough to offload the trucks on queue all around Apapa, thereby blocking the inward routes into the Apapa Ports. Most of the Containers including export cargo are trapped in the queue.  It takes three to four days for trucks to gain access into the ports to offload their empty containers,” he said.

Terminal Operators Decry Situation
In the same vein, terminal operators decried the poor state of Apapa roads, stressing that it had negatively affected port operations.
Spokesman for the Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN), Bolaji Akinola told THISDAY that, “The severely damaged state of the Ijora-Wharf road and Apapa-Oshodi expressway has for many years constituted a huge drawback on the efficiency of our ports. While various terminal operators have invested heavily in man, machine and processes to ensure efficiency in their various terminals, the poor state of the roads and the preponderance of rickety vehicles mean that delivery and evacuation of cargo from the port has not been as efficient as one would hope.

“So yes, the bad state of the roads has negatively affected terminal operators and other port users. In addition to the bad roads, there is an absence of efficient traffic control. For instance, years ago under the term of Chief Adebayo Sarumi as the NPA Managing Director, we had a dedicated standing committee headed by Ms. Aina Egharevba who was Apapa Port Manager at the time, taking charge of traffic control. The committee had trained security and traffic officers working with it. They had base stations and tow trucks.
“They worked in shifts 24/7 to ensure free flow of traffic. So even though the road was bad, there was free flow of traffic unlike the chaos we see on the roads these days. No one seems to be in charge of traffic control. It is everyman for himself. It is most unfortunate. The situation has even been aggravated by the repair work on Wharf road. While the repair is commendable, though long overdue, the absence of traffic control makes things difficult for us.”

On what the roads have cost the operators, he said, “It is difficult to quantify really. How do you put a figure to that? Is it the loss of man-hour or the impact on the psyche of employees? Apapa is government’s cash cow but unfortunately successive governments’ attitude to infrastructure around the port is disheartening. But you may recall that someone recently said the loss was running into N20 billion daily. I’m unable to verify this figure but I know that everybody is a loser in the chaotic circumstance that we found ourselves.

“The situation is even a lot dicier for terminal operators with huge overheads, and have certain humongous financial commitments to government. If the situation continues like this, port congestion is inevitable and that could cost us more than $100 million (over N30 billion) annually. It happened before port concession and that was the price we all paid.
“We cannot afford the return of congestion and that is why NPA must take the lead by setting up a standing committee to take charge of traffic control as it used to be. Traffic officials should be deployed in large numbers to work under the committee. They need to work in shifts of eight hours each and daily allowances should be paid to them. Their welfare also used to be taken care of at the time and we had free flow of traffic.”
All said, there may have been an easy way out of the terrible situation in Apapa, which is the rail line. Apart from the rhetoric by the Minister of Transportation, nobody seem to be looking at that direction. For those who may not know, there is a railway line linking the port to other parts of the country. However, like everything Nigeria, the facilities and several investments by past government have been allowed to rot away, leaving innocent Nigerians to suffer untold hardship and untimely death.

Government Officials Avoid Apapa
To add insult to injury, the same government whose responsibility it is to fix the roads now avoid the road like a plague each time they have an event in the Apapa axis.
Recently, at the inauguration of the largest jetty in Africa, five federal government ministers, Ibe Kachikwu, Okechukwu Enelama, Rotimi Amaechi, Raji Fashola and Idi Serika of Petroleum, Trade and Investment, Transportation, Power, Works and Housing and Aviation, came by boat to the event.
The same goes for heads of major government agencies in the maritime sector. For instance, the Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority  (NPA) , Hadiza Bala-Usman, comes to Apapa ports by boat for any event. just last week at the inauguration of a clinic an Executive Director at the NPA who came with the NPA MD boastfully told the people in attendance that Usman’s entourage were going back to Marina by boat. The same goes for the Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA, Dr. Dakuku Peterside who sources at NIMASA said barely comes to the office.

Ambode, What is the State Government Doing About Apapa?

It is a wonder how Apapa came to this sorry state of being a total neglect by all levels of government – from federal to local. The most horrific aspect of it all is that Apapa is within Lagos State and the government collects revenue daily from all users of the Ports in Apapa, but regrettably, the state government has shown little interest in the plight of Apapa residents and those doing business in the port city.
Ambode seems not to have noticed the complete collapse of many of the roads in Apapa since he became governor. It is very convenient for him to turn a blind eye as Apapa rots away. Fashola whose brief it is to fix the roads has so far failed the nation on this score. But Ambode shares a moral burden since it is Lagosians who suffer the daily grind of navigating this hell-on-earth road.

When will the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola wake up to his responsibility of finding lasting solution to the Apapa tragedy?
Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Okechukwu Enelamah wants investors from outside Nigeria, but where are the roads they will use to evacuate their goods?
The road to the Tin Can Port from Berger Bridge on the Mile 2 to Liverpool stretch of the Oshodi-Apapa Road is a death trap.

Luckily, Alhaji Aliko Dangote has come to the nation’s rescue by taking the responsibility of reconstructing the Barracks-Wharf stretch of the Ijora- Wharf road as corporate social responsibility. The government must understand that nobody is asking for palliative works on these roads, Nigerians want you to repair the roads to international standard. Anyway, when will the Federal Executive Council meet on the state of Apapa?
The state of Apapa roads is a shame to Nigeria.

  • Anne Mumuney

    Apapa is simply a metaphor for Nigeria, a hotbed of corruption, oozing rot and decay. As a resident for over 40 years, I can see it has decayed the way Nigeria has. If there is no genuine political will to clean up the mess, then, it will surely crumble. Just like Nigeria, the solutions to Apapa’s problems are simple and uncomplicated, but just like the country, we don’t want order and sanity, for, corruption and rot thrives in chaos. Thank you Thisday for constantly keeping up the pressure to change.