Fashola (2nd left), during the minister's inspection of the failed portion of the Apapa-Ijora Bridge in Lagos...recently

The current state of the Apapa-Ijora Bridge where a portion has already caved-in is a disaster waiting to happen if the authorities fail to respond urgently, Davidson Iriekpen writes

Residents of Apapa and those doing one form of business or the other in the town were jolted penultimate Saturday when they woke up to see that a portion of the Apapa-Ijora Bridge has caved-in. The bridge, which is a major entry point into Apapa, where Nigeria’s busiest and most utilised seaports; Wharf, Tincan and Apapa Ports are located, has been in a poor state for over a decade now.

For a long time, virtually everybody who cares and those who know the implications if the bridge collapses have raised the alarm on its poor state with no response from both the federal and Lagos State governments.

At the A.G. Leventis axis of the bridge, the concrete holding the mighty edifice has completely eroded with the iron rods all protruding, causing the portion to be cordoned off highlighted with ‘Danger Signs’ to notify motorists of the looming danger and to prevent accidents, especially for the articulated trucks which on a daily basis ply the bridge.

Apart from the caved-in portion, some of the pillars holding the bridge, according to experts, have suffered structural defects due to frequent fire incidents and erosion that have worn off the concrete parts and exposed the iron rods.

While efforts have been made on many occasions to repair other major bridges like the Third Mainland and Eko Bridges in Lagos, no attempt has ever been made to rehabilitate the Ijora-Apapa Bridge since it was constructed over four decades ago in spite of the fact that it is the busiest bridge in the city. Today, not only is the bridge littered with potholes and craters but retains water and floods when it rains.

Due to the long years of neglect, experts have said all the expansion joints that have helped to keep the bridge in form and facilitate smooth ride are believed to be loose now and have created deep ditches, a development experts warn portends serious danger to the public and goods that often pass through the bridge to and fro Apapa. For most motorists, the impact and the damaging effect of the bridge on their cars is mostly felt any day the bridge is free of its usual gridlock, enabling them to run at about 40 k/ph and above.

Investigation by THISDAY revealed that the bridge has not received any major maintenance for over three decades despite bearing the weights of heavy-duty trucks and tankers carrying dry and wet cargoes in and out of Apapa on a daily basis. Over 10,000 container-laden trucks, petroleum tankers and other articulated trucks ply the bridge every day.

On a daily basis in the last three years, these container-laden trucks, petroleum tankers and other articulated trucks are seen parked and awaiting their slots to enter Apapa to either convey or discharge goods at the ports. Sometimes, some of the trucks spend as much as three days on the bridge without challenge from the authorities.

The state of the bridge deteriorated due to the total collapse of the Oshodi-Apapa Expressway, especially the Tincan first gate and second gate axis. Many observers have described the neglect of the Apapa-Ijora Bridge which is a major gateway to the nation’s major seaports and second largest revenue earner for the government as baffling.

Recently, a civil engineering expert, Afolabi Adedeji, who has been one of the most consistent campaigners for the rehabilitation of the bridge, called for urgent federal government attention if a disaster of monumental dimension is to be averted. Adedeji, managing director of Ethical Business and Management Associates, warned that the continued delay in attending to the dilapidating bridge has made it a disaster in the waiting. According to him, the bridge is one that requires regular checks and maintenance because of pressure coming from the volume of traffic it carries. He warned that Lagos, having evolved from capital city to economic nerve centre of West Africa, the economy of Nigeria would be at risk “if the bridge was allowed to get to a point of failure. If this happens in the morning, the casualty figures will be unimaginable,” Adedeji warned, adding that it was time the Federal Ministry of Works urgently stepped in.

As governor of Lagos State, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, after inspecting the bridge and its adjourning roads, had equally raised the alarm that it was a disaster waiting to happen. He said he had alerted the Federal Ministry of Works on the continuing widening of the expansion joints on the bridge. He lambasted the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)-led federal government for neglecting the bridge and other public infrastructure in Lagos.

“The Apapa-Ijora Bridge expansion joints have widened so dangerously that it is a nightmare to drive on it. I have sent the report of some of the studies we did to the Federal Ministry of Works showing what needs to be done and how much it will cost to do them,” said former Lagos governor, Babatunde Fashola during a visit by the Martin Luther Agwai-led Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme (SURE-P) committee to his office.

But incidentally, as fate would have it, the same Fashola is currently the Minister of Works. Though since he assumed office late last year, not a word has been heard from him on the rehabilitation of the bridge, last Thursday, he inspected the Apapa-Ijora Bridge to see how bad the situation is. For now, observers are waiting to see where the rehabilitation of the gigantic project would start from.

Before now, the impression in some quarters was that the complete neglect of the bridge was because of the lack of synergy between the then PDP-led federal government and the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led Lagos State government.

But that impression to many observers, was erased when they saw that even with the victory of the APC at both the federal and state levels nothing was done on the Ijora-Apapa Bridge.
Even the Lagos State government which generates a huge amount of taxes from Apapa has paid a graveyard silence to the poor state of the bridge.

Recently, the Chairman of the Apapa GRA Residents’ Association (AGRA), Brig. Gen. Sola Ayo-Vaughan (rtd), added his voice to the poor state of the bridge, calling on those concerned to do the needful before a major disaster happens in Lagos. He noted that the joints of the bridge are widened and weak, adding that if it collapses, there would be mayhem, chaos and economic disruption.

He added: “There is imminent danger anytime, if care is not taken with the tonnage on it, it can collapse. Repair is going on now on Eko Bridge but construction repair has not been done on Apapa-Ijora Bridge and it takes more tonnage than any other bridge. It is surprising that NNPC is the highest income earner for the federal government while next to it is the NPA and, the gateway to NPA is neglected.

“It is going to be disastrous both to the oil sector and to owners of goods coming out of the ports. The federal government is pretending not to know or somebody is just not doing his job.” Fear of the bridge’s imminent collapse, he said has driven most motorists to the alternative road under the bridge.

“I go by the side under and come out at the Naval Base, climb the bridge and go on. Some motorists are abandoning it already,” he noted.

The bridge, he said, should be evaluated. “The joints on the bridge keep widening. There is urgent need to carry out repairs on the whole bridge.”

When THISDAY sought the opinion of a Lebanese businessman who resides in Apapa and begged not to have his name in print, he exploded: “I have travelled round the world, no where have I ever seen this except in Nigeria. Thousands of container-laden trucks, petroleum tankers and other articulated trucks parking at the same time on a bridge and they are unchallenged? This is lawlessness taken too far on the part of the drivers and negligence on the part of the government. It is a sin. When the bridge comes down, Nigerians will begin to apportion blame as they usually do.”