With the failure of the federal government to address Apapa gridlock, stakeholders are canvassing new options such as the release of money owed the contractors handling the trailer park and road rehabilitation projects, including the relocation of the tank farms to Badagry where a new deep seaport is being planned, reports Francis Ugwoke
For about a decade, the Apapa gridlock has remained without a lasting solution. Yet, Nigerians have witnessed three successive administrations that made frantic efforts to address the problem without success. The administration of late President Musa Yar’adua made efforts to tackle the problem, engaging some contractors to work on the road from Mile 2 down to Apapa port through Tin Can Island. The Goodluck Jonathan administration had sustained that effort, but as at today, the contractor could only carry out rehabilitation work up till Coconut Bus Stop, a stone-throw from Tin Can Island port, where work stopped. Now, from Coconut area through to Tin Can Port and to the Premier Port, Apapa, has remained a no-go-area for small vehicles. No one, who knows the road very well will ever venture to take it when going into Apapa. The Tin Can road has remained a death-trap with port holes and taken over by trucks going into either Tin Can first or second
Gate . Both sides of the road are bad and only trucks use the road, the result of which includes regular felling of containers loaded on trucks. Commercial buses heading to Apapa from Oshodi or Mile 2 area have their final bus stop at Coconut because of the bad state of the road. Passengers going to Tin Can or Apapa from Coconut have had no choice all these years than to patronise Okada (a local word for commercial motocycles) riders, who are having thriving business as a result of the crisis. For those going into Apapa with cars, the only road has been the Ijora Lilypond bridge. For motorists from Badagry, Festac Town and Satellite Town, they have to go through Orile Iganmu or Boundary, Ajegunle . To access Apapa from these two places, Orile or Ajegunle, takes not less than three hours, depending on the state of traffic for the day. What it means is that for a journey of less than 5-7 minutes from Mile 2, they have to spend more than three hours on the road.
Apart from the federal government , the Lagos State Government made efforts to address the problem, yet the gridlock has remained . From time to time, it would appear that the gridlock had abated, only for a worse situation to come up again. Between January and up till middle of March , it appeared as if the situation improved, but not so as has been witnessed in the past two weeks or so. For those who go to Apapa with their vehicles, the gridlock is unpredictable. One could just run into it and remain there for hours.
The Unending Apapa Nightmare
For residents, business owners and workers in Apapa, expectations were high that the present administration would be fast in addressing the Apapa nightmare considering the importance of the premier port to the national economy. Apapa houses the biggest port in Nigeria with its contribution put at about 75 percent of the total revenue the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) , Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA), Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), among others make annually. The contributions of these agencies to the Federation Account are high. With the dwindling revenue from oil, so much is expected from the sector this year. Apart from the Customs Service which has given itself a revenue target of N1trillion, the Transport Minister, Rotimi Amaechi, has given both NPA and NIMASA an annual revenue target of N500 billion each. With this, many expect that anything affecting the sector ought to be addressed.
How to Address the Gridlock by Senators, NPA
The Minister of Works, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, SAN, had sometime last year raised concern about the road and many expected that the federal government will complete the rehabilitation of the road leading to Tin Can and Apapa soon with the passage of this year’s budget by the National Assembly. While in office as Lagos State Governor, Fashola tried his best to address the gridlock. He had collaborated with the former Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who supervised the Presidential Committee on the Port, but the problem has remained unsolved. In October last year, the Senate had at plenary session called on the federal government to consider long-term plans to end the problem of the road. The Senate called for a technical redesign and expansion of the Apapa-Ijora-Iganmu-Orile-Mile 2 access trunks and the Apapa/Tin Can-Mile 2-Oshodi corridor. The motion was moved by Sen. Oluremi Tinubu and co-sponsored by 106 senators. The senators also called on the NPA to reactivate the rail links for evacuation of containers and petroleum products from the ports. To Senator Tinubu, the perennial logjam on all access roads in the Apapa maritime corridor has negative consequences for Nigeria’s economy. Tinubu had said: “We should be mindful of the huge national security and the human and environmental risks of the present traffic situation in the Apapa maritime axis; It causes deadly fumes and the falling of containers as a result of the bad roads”.
Describing the motion as timely, Senate President Bukola Saraki ,had urged relevant stakeholders to also “look at how the railways will be used to convey containers and petroleum products, as well as moving of petroleum products through the pipelines.” He added: “If the pipelines were working there would be no need for a tank farm in Apapa as we have today. When committees are constituted, the committee responsible would oversee this issue for a lasting solution”.
The Managing Director of NPA, Habib Abdullahi, on the other hand also in December raised his voice for the provision of adequate rail lines to link the Lagos ports and other major cities. Addressing the members of the Senate Committee on Marine who visited as a follow-up to the motion from the Senate, Abdullahi said his organisation was the most affected. He recalled that in the past, cargoes from the ports were moved to other parts of the country through rail. He urged relevant agencies to do something by reviving rail links to the ports, promising that his orgnisation was ready to complement the efforts of other agencies saddled with the responsibilities of providing rail links. The former Governor of Zamfara State, Senator Yerima Ahmed Sani, during the visit expressed concern that the situation had remained the same. Incidentally, most of the top government officials touring the Apapa port are taken round with boats from Marina so that they usually do not experience the problem going through Ijora bridge. When they opt to go on road, some of them drive against traffic on one-way, with their security details and siren-blaring convoy.
Menace of Tankers
One of the things that have contributed to the Apapa traffic menace is the presence of tanker drivers who park on the roads, bridges leading to the tank farms indiscriminately. This is one major problem that both the Lagos State Government and the Nigerian Navy have tried to solve without success. Sometimes, it would appear the problem is over only for it to resurface. Last year, the Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, had threatened to sanction the truck drivers who park on the road leading to the port, but this did not work. He had disclosed that the state government was going to set up a special task force to deal with tanker drivers who violate the order against parking on the bridge. While the order appeared to have worked for some time with the Naval personnel and LASTMA officials taking charge and controlling traffic, the situation later became worse. Ambode is unhappy that the trailer park located near the Tin Can Island part which has been under construction for seven years was yet to be completed by the federal government. He had appealed to the President to do something so that the contractor who had abandoned the job for lack of funding could come back. Similarly, other members of the National Assembly who visited the ports had also urged the Works Ministry to release fund owed the contractors handling the trailer park and the Tin Can road project so that they can complete the job.
State of Rail Links to the Ports
In all the ports in Lagos, only Apapa has a rail link which is supposed to be moving containers to the Inland Container Depot (ICD) in Kaduna. But sources said the rail service is not operating optimally. A source said the rail operates once in a while moving few containers, as against operating weekly or daily. The rail service was resuscitated about two years ago. Apart from Apapa, Tin Can Island port does not have any functional rail link.
Panacea for Apapa Gridlock, by Stakeholders
As a way out of the Apapa gridlock, stakeholders are of the view that President Muhammadu Buhari should order the release of the money owed the contractors handling the road projects in the area as well as the trailer park under construction. Releasing the fund, according to Alhaji Auwalu Ilu, Managing Director of Ilutex Nigeria Limited, a firm of stevedores, will facilitate early completion of the two projects. Similarly, frontline freight forwarder and President of the National Council of Managing Directors of Customs Agents (NCMDCA), Mr. Lucky Amiwero, holds the view that NPA should do something about rehabilitating the access roads in the port area. Amiwero said doing this will go a long way in saving containers that are falling off the trucks while moving out of the ports. NPA recently moved to limit the number of trucks entering the nation’s ports by registering only road worthy ones. This measure according to the General Manager, Western Ports of the NPA, Chief Michael Ajayi, was for security and safety purposes. Ajayi said the NPA would register only trucks that are certified as road worthy to operate in the Lagos ports, saying this will check the incidence of breakdowns of such vehicles along the Apapa access road.
Another stakeholder and former Chairman, Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN), Iju Tony Nwabunike, was also of the view that another approach to address the traffic congestion in Lagos would be for all the tank farms to relocate from Apapa to other safer places. Relocation of the tank farms, Nwabunike argued would mean that all the tankers coming to Apapa would simply stop coming, a situation he said would create room for free traffic and safety of life and property. He said that the nightmare created by the gridlock was such that President Buhari needs to act to address once and for all as part of the change agenda of his administration. Nwabunike said: “Apart from the traffic congestion in Apapa that has wreaked havoc on businesses, made residents uncomfortable, the presence of tank farms in Apapa is very risky considering the security implication with insurgency in the country. So the tank farms need to be relocated to safer places with less human traffic for the sake of residents, other business owners and workers in Apapa. This government should take this serious considering the security of life and property. You may also wish to know that because of the tank farms and the attendant congestion, value of properties has fallen in Apapa, and until this problem is addressed, owners of properties in the area will continue to experience depreciation in value. So government needs to act fast”.
President of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Dr. Eugene Nweke, said government should consider relocating the tank farms to Badagry because of the planned establishment of deep seaport in the area. With a large expanse of land that will be made available for the deep seaport project, he said, a large portion of the area could house all the tank farms in Apapa. Since the deep seaport is planned to accommodate any type of vessel, Nweke said vessels coming to the seaport could easily discharge to the tank farms.