Apapa as Messy Metaphor

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Let me start with a confession: THISDAY corporate headquarters is located on Creek Road, Apapa. I’m therefore forced by my commitment to duty, and the need to earn my pay, to drive to Apapa almost everyday. And I can tell you it is never a pleasant experience. I write therefore as an interested party. But were the circumstances of earning a living not have compelled me to have to regularly drive to Apapa, I should, as a Nigerian, be sad (every patriotic Nigerian should be) to see what that part of Lagos, the main artery to the fourth biggest port in Africa, has degenerated into. Indeed no part of Nigeria should be allowed to so waste away. Apapa is a messy metaphor of the dysfunctional state of our federation. It is a breathing example of what years of irresponsible government can cause a nation. It is an indication of the scorn and contempt with which those who profess to be our leaders hold the people. It is an open sore of a city, not to talk of a mega city. Apapa is Nigeria in microcosm – abandoned, chaotic, decadent, and rudderless. It is worse than a jungle; for unlike a jungle, there is no method to Apapa’s madness.

Dear readers, fasten your seatbelts as I take you on a nightmarish drive into Apapa. But first, a little background! Apapa, located west of Lagos Island, lies by the mouth of the lagoon. The Lagos Port Complex, popularly called Wharf, occupies some 120 hectares land area in Apapa. Operated by private firms on behalf of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), the Lagos Port Complex contains a number of ports and terminals for containers and cargos, and has berthing areas, cargo handling facilities, stacking areas, and storage facilities. According to the NPA, under the Lagos Port Complex are 16 jetties, four of which are inactive, five operated solely by the NPA, two jointly by the NPA and NNPC (Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation), one also jointly by the NPA and Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC), and the remaining privately operated. The Tin Can Island port, which has Ro-Ro facilities, is adjacent to the container terminal. So right here in Apapa is Nigeria’s biggest seaport, from where the country earns perhaps its highest revenue outside of crude oil.

Yet, of the two access roads inward and outward Apapa, neither is motorable. Coming in from Ikorodu Road via Ijora Bridge and turning off to the GRA, there is a huge crater by Area B Command of Nigeria Police Force. Driving straight into the commercial area is a far worse crater, deep and wide enough to almost swallow an SUV. Right from Ijora Bridge is a deafening cacophony of horns belting out from heavy-duty vehicles of trailers and fuel tankers and 10-ton trucks occupying almost every inch of a four-lane dual carriageway that could transform into a six-lane or eight-lane, depending on the heaviness of the traffic. At the best of times, descending the bridge from ijora into Apapa, a drive that ordinarily should take less than five minutes, could take two hours; and at the worst of times, four to five hours. As your driver somehow finds a way through the mass of heavy-duty vehicles, you pray and hope, you hope and pray that an unbalanced container would not fall off a trailer on your car, that the driver of the fuel tanker behind you would not doze off, that one of those trucks in almost permanent state of disrepair does not have brake failure. You stay in that car, a sitting duck, looking furtively, at intervals, to your right, then to your left, and thereafter to the back, nervous and snapping at your driver at every unexpected matching on the car brakes, unable to concentrate if reading, or enjoy the music from the car radio. Driving into Apapa is a miserable non-adventure not for the brave, but the crazy.

Accessing Apapa through Tin Can is even worse. What is called the Oshodi-Apapa Expressway is no more than a death trap. From Coconut through Tin Can Island to Liverpool roundabout, different sections of the road either side of the dual carriageway have been cut off. Therefore at every section of this area, vehicles drive one way inward and outward, first on one side, and then on the other. Even the portions of the road that appear motorable are so bad that containers fall from trailers at will and crush motorists unfortunate to be nearby. Driving on the Tin Can route is akin to playing the Russian roulette.

Apapa itself is a community besieged. Most roads in the commercial area have been turned to emergency trailer parks. Trailers and tankers permanently park indiscriminately on Creek Road, Burma Road, Wharf Road, Warehouse Road, Kofo Abayomi Avenue, and Randle Road amongst others. Apapa GRA, which used to be one of the best places to live in Lagos, an area designed for the rich and upwardly mobile, has lost its peace and quiet. On Liverpool Road and Marine Road and Point Road and Oduduwa Way and Park Lane are queues of tankers, some going everywhere and nowhere, and others permanently parked. For residents of Apapa, neither driving out nor returning is anything to look forward to.

The result? Many people have relocated from Apapa, abandoning houses they own while renting properties in other areas of town. Property prices have crashed. Many businesses have closed shop. The Lebanese who operated the restaurants and supermarkets and nightclubs and generally kept Apapa bubbling 24 hours have since moved on. A battalion of Okada commercial motorcyclists has cornered the transportation business within Apapa, breaking arms and legs and waists in the process. Creek Road is an environmental disaster waiting to happen, a potential incubator of cholera. Piles of refuse are not only assembled on the road, parcels of human waste are packaged in fast food packs and cellophane bags and newspaper or magazine pages and thrown around indiscriminately by tanker drivers who have made the roadside their bedroom and bathroom and restroom. There is a very choking smell of urine pervading the atmosphere with a swarm of flies dancing on wet patches and dry patches of urine here and there. It is incredible that a government could claim to be in place in a society that allows this anomaly unchecked. Even wild animals show a higher level of civilization by isolating an area for waste discharge. In the daily bedlam that community has become, some persons have died of cardiac arrest right behind the steering wheel, not unlikely from accumulated toll from the stress of working in, or being resident of, Apapa. Containers falling off trailers have crushed some others. Many have been victims of attacks from hoodlums and robbers.

The Apapa problem is a creation of the Federal Government. It started in the early years of the second term of the Obasanjo administration. That was when the NPA and its supervising Ministry of Transport at the time gave out some land areas from the Lagos Port Complex to some oil firms to use as Fuel Tank Farms. Today, there are no less than four tank farms in Apapa from where an average of 3,000 tankers daily load petroleum products to other parts of the country. In its decision-making process, the government made no parking provision for the tankers. Tanker drivers thereafter began parking their vehicles on the highway and the inner roads. They not only ignored the protestations of companies whose businesses were affected, they resorted to violence and strikes when the state government in collaboration with some federal government agencies tried to establish some order. The situation became worse when the Trailer Park inside the Ports Complex was taken over by the concessionaire operating the port. It was double jeopardy as trailers joined the tankers in parking on the roads.

Successive governments since then have been unable to find a creative solution both in the short term, and in the long, to resolve the problem. Five newspapers, which had their offices on that axis, from Airport Road – The Guardian, Punch, The Sun, Vanguard and THISDAY – began a sustained campaign of bringing government attention to the problem. More than 12 years after, it is like winking in the dark. The late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, in apparent response to an editorial in THISDAY, sent one of his ministers down to Lagos for an on the spot assessment. From the airport, that minister got as far as Coconut before he was arrested by the immovable traffic despite the best efforts of a team of gun-wielding mobile policemen in siren-blaring pilot car. The matter was in abeyance until former President Goodluck Jonathan set up an inter-ministerial committee headed by then Coordinating Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. In collaboration with the Lagos State government, the committee worked out an arrangement in which a team of police, army and navy personnel were to ensure a lane was kept free for vehicular movement. That arrangement barely lasted a month before it collapsed as the security agents on the beat turned it to a moneymaking game.

Throughout those years, then Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola made a song and dance of the issue, blaming the federal government, then controlled by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), for creating the mess, refusing to clear it, and obstructing the state government from doing the needful. Fashola made the Apapa situation a handy campaign weapon against the PDP. By a stroke of good fortune, however, Fashola’s party, APC (All Progressive Congress) won at the centre and he was put in charge of a ministry under whose remit it is to reconstruct Apapa access roads. Suprisingly, Fashola has lost his voice on Apapa since he became Works, Power and Housing minister. Incidentally, the minister is of the same party as Akinwunmi Ambode, his successor in Lagos. There can be no excuse, as he was wont to lament when he was governor, that Apapa was one more example of how the PDP controlled federal government was fighting the opposition controlled government in Lagos. Two years on as minister, the situation in Apapa is worse. What has happened to Fashola’s campaign rhetorics? Why is the APC government not taking responsibility for this mess? What have the people done to deserve such contempt? Even if the federal government were not disposed to fix Apapa as social service, should it not consider it as an economic imperative – improve the ease of doing business in the Lagos Port Complex with an eye on increased revenue? Or has Fashola given up?