The recent protest by licensed customs agents, freight forwarders and truck drivers over the poor state of the port access roads have vindicated maritime journalists who consistently brought the ills in the maritime industry to the fore.
It is on record that for three days running penultimate month, the nationâ€™s seaports in the Lagos area that account for at least 65 per cent of cargo traffic and port revenue in the country were paralysed following a strike action embarked upon by port users. Apart from the high prices, poor services by service providers, the port users were protesting the deplorable state of the roads in and around Apapa, Lagos.
Besides members of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Association of Maritime Truck Owners (AMATO), and the Amalgamation of Trucking Associations, the organized private sector under the auspices of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), also protested the ills in the nationâ€™s seaports, airports and international borders.
They stated that apart from the untold hardship the traffic gridlock in Apapa causes to business, they disclosed that they have continued to record huge losses due to frequent fall of cargo-laden trucks as a result of the collapsed roads.
Journalists covering the maritime industry under the auspices of the Maritime Journalists Association of Nigeria (MAJAN) had on December 8, 2016 protested the deplorable state of the Apapa roads and the resultant gridlock. Uncomfortable with the perennial Apapa gridlock which had remained unresolved for over ten years,Â MAJAN had embarked on the peaceful protest to draw the attention of the of authorities to the menace which has cost the country trillions of naira in revenue.
Specifically, MAJAN, whose membership is drawn from the print and electronic media, began the protest from Mile 2 and sang solidarity songs to show its disapproval of the development that has taken a huge toll on the country both financiallyÂ and materially.
The protest marched, with placards bearing various inscriptions, took the journalists through the PTML Customs Command, Tin Can Island Port access road to the Nigerian Shippersâ€™ Council (NSC), the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) headquarters, Marina, Lagos and ended up at the Government House, Ikeja.
At the Tin Can Customs Command, MAJAN handed over its protest letter to the Comptroller General, Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Colonel Ibrahim Hameed Ali (rtd), through the Customs Area Controller, Bashar Yusuf, who was represented by its Public Relations Officer (PRO), Mr. Uche Ejesieme.
The PRO said the CAC would have loved to address the protesting journalists but regretted that his boss was in a meeting with some stakeholders outside the area but assured that the letter would be promptly delivered.
At the NPA, Marina headquarters, the protest letter for the Managing Director, Ms. Hadza Bala Usman, was received on her behalf by Mallam Musa lliya, the Assistant General Manager (AGM), Public Affairs, who promised to deliver the letter to his boss.
At the Governorâ€™s office, Alausa, Ikeja, the journalists presented a petition to President Muhammadu Buhari through Governor Akinwunmi Ambode.
President of MAJAN, Mr. Ray Ugochukwu, had regretted that the traffic gridlock in Apapa, apart from killing business, had sent many people to their early graves through motorcycle accidents.
He said this was unacceptable; hence the group had resolved to continue the protest till the menace was totally and comprehensively addressed.
The question on the lips of maritime stakeholders over the years have been, why the neglect of Apapa roads by the Federal Government? The question has remained germane considering that after oil, the ports are the second highest revenue earner for the government. Moreso, Apapa ports account for at least 65 per cent of the total revenue generated by the port system annually. Why canâ€™t the Federal Government give Apapa the Abuja Airport treatment as witnessed recently? How much does the Abuja Airport generate? Is it not serviced with funds from Apapa? Is it because it is the status symbol of the rich? To say the least, the questions are endless.
If only those in authorities know what port users go through in Apapa daily, they will stop paying lip service to issues concerning the area. A typical example will suffice. A ginger exporter travels with his truck from Maiduguri, Borno State to Mile 2 Bridge, Lagos, in three days, a distance of 1,606 kilometers. Then, to get into the Tin Can Island Port (TCIP), a three kilometer drive to ship out his commodity, takes him four days. Apart from this waste of time, he has to bribe his way into the port with at least N2,000 to a consortium of security agencies, who have cashed in on the chaotic situation to rip off truckers.
For the first time, shipping service consumers are speaking in one voice. This is a good omen for the industry. Solution to their demands must not just end in only palliative measures but a permanent answer like the Abuja Airport. Anything to the contrary will tantamount to killing the chicken that lays the golden egg.