The unabated Apapa gridlock crippling the economic hub of the nation in Lagos State is a leadership problem, writes Bennett Oghifo
People who live and work in Apapa know that it is one big jungle out there, with zero government presence. It is every man for himself, and the fittest survive on Apapa roads. Those who must be in Apapa for whatever reason, go in and out with a lot of trepidation, because they never know what they will meet. The situation in Apapa is a bad reason for residents and workers to have heart diseases and uncontrollable blood pressures. The roads to and in Apapa are rough and tough. Daily, it gets worse in Apapa. The once pristine community will likely shut down any time soon.
Curiously, the Lagos State Governor, Akiwunmi Ambode is not oblivious of the dire situation in Apapa. This is confirmed by his recent Town Hall meeting, during which he expressed concern about the state of Apapa and also sought alternative means of transporting petroleum products from Lagos to other parts of the country. Pray it is all not rhetoric.
Once upon six years ago, when the rot began, the state government boasted that all it needed was three days only to clear it, if the federal government allowed it. It is history now that nothing happened, even after a high-powered delegation of the federal government and Lagos State top officials assessed the situation.
But Apapa is Ambode’s town now, and as governor, it is his responsibility to set things straight, which perhaps informed his Town Hall meeting essentially on how to deal with the situation. Though he is known to always keep his promise as he did with the ongoing reconstruction of the International Airport Road that was designated as a federal government property, he has not done anything he told Lagos people he would do right in Apapa.
The governor should realise that the federal government would not fix Lagos, particularly Apapa, for him, because of limited funds and because other parts of the nation demand equal recognition and intervention projects.
For instance, the Tin Can Trucks and Trailer Park is still uncompleted five years after the construction began and the rail transportation there operates in fits and starts. The Ministries of Power, Works and Housing and Transportation are cash strapped and definitely, cannot rescue Apapa from going down the drain and becoming a ghost town.
Besides, danger looms, as some of the bridges that Lagos is so proud of could collapse from dead weight exerted by immobile high-capacity trucks. If and when this happens, Ambode, the first responder, would be blamed and left holding the bag. It is his town, at least for now.
The governor must therefore take a cue from business mogul and President of the Dangote Group, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, who felt it necessary to reconstruct the Wharf Road in Apapa using concrete, because of the heavy loads coming out of the Ports. He knows that if Apapa shuts down it would hurt his businesses and other smaller businesses and he did not want that to happen.
Regrettably, Apapa residents, particularly those of the GRA Association, have shouted themselves hoarse for the government to correct the situation. Their conclusion is that the government is likely deaf.
The residents of Apapa, under the umbrella of Apapa GRA Residents Association (AGRA), have over the years, appealed to the state government to provide necessary infrastructure and get rid of unwanted non-residents, who pose security risks to the well-being of the residents, according to its Chairman, Brig-Gen Sola Ayo-Vaughan (Rtd).
He said: “AGRA had to seek enforcement of the statutory laws governing Apapa in court. The court ruled in April 2013 compelling the Lagos State to enforce the law within a month after the judgment. Till date, Lagos State is yet to act.” Apapa is also not immune to fire, said Vaughan. “With the nation’s poor safety record, ill-equipped firefighting outfits and slow response to disasters, if a fire of high magnitude breaks out from the freighters, land and sea, the calamity that will ensue will be highly devastating.
“The disaster will not be limited to one area. It will form a ring from Kirikiri waters through Tin Can Island, Apapa to Ijora. The residents of these locations will be trapped. The ring will form a furnace in which the populace may be incinerated. The Navy Town and the Naval Base in Apapa may not be spared. The catastrophe will be worse than the havoc wrecked by the volcanic eruption from Mt Tambora in present day Indonesia in 1812. For residents of Apapa, there may be no escape; even through the creeks.”
The ports located in Apapa and Tin Can Island, he said are major revenue earners for the federal government and second only to the NNPC. Yet, the access roads to these ports are in a poor state due to lack of maintenance.
“They are full of potholes and, in some places, the asphalt has disappeared. Broken down trailers, fuel tankers and other heavy-duty vehicles are a common sight and form a permanent feature. They constitute obstacles to vehicular movement, and attempts to avoid these obstacles often cause heavy-laden tankers and trailers to keel over, occasionally resulting in the spilling of their contents as was the case on January 7.
“These unfortunate incidents occur almost on a daily basis on Tin Can Island-Oshodi-Isolo expressway and the bridge linking Apapa with the other parts of Lagos Mainland. In some cases, people are crushed in their cars when containers fall off their carriers often resulting in fatalities.”
The roads leading to the ports are Federal Roads situated in Lagos State. Residents of Apapa and environs are domiciled in Lagos. Lagos State provides and maintains street lights for roads linking all parts of the mainland to Lagos Island but at night, Apapa is in darkness. There are no street lights. The major, arterial and minor roads are not lit at night.
The safety of the bridge linking Apapa from Ijora and Costain needs evaluation. The exit to Mobil Road and the Naval Base has been closed for over 10 years, perhaps, to avoid imminent collapse. The joints on the bridge keep widening. There is urgent need to carry out repairs on the whole bridge.
The Third Mainland Bridge, constructed 20 years after, with less tonnage crossing it, has been closed down twice for evaluation and repairs. Road mishaps and calamities are not caused by bad roads and the lack of maintenance and infrastructure alone. Most of the vehicles, including private vehicles, are not roadworthy. Less than 20% of tankers and trailers plying Apapa roads are roadworthy. This is why brake failure is prevalent.
Some vehicles ply the roads without headlamps while about 90% of heavy-duty vehicles are without rear lights. Lagos State attempted to introduce the issuance of “Certificate of Road Worthiness” to deter non-roadworthy vehicles from plying the roads some years ago but rescinded the decision, perhaps for fear of the electorate or blackmail from NUPENG/NURTW and other stakeholders. Yet, the state government owes the populace a duty pertaining to safety on the roads by preventing all categories of non-roadworthy vehicles from plying the roads.
Most of the disasters in Nigeria are man-made, induced by warped religious beliefs or depravity, greed and poverty. There are terrorists in the North, kidnappers and pirates in the East and South-south while that of the South-west is confined mostly to Apapa. While security forces are needed to prevent or stop the carnage in other parts, the federal and state governments only need to direct the relevant ministries and other agencies responsible for the provision and maintenance of infrastructure in Apapa and environs to do their job properly and caringly.
With effective maintenance of law and order, the Apapa area could be more conducive to residency and the conduct of business. The dynamism of business should be a blessing to the populace and not a curse, Vaughan explained further.
As things stand, Ambode must take charge of Apapa to avert any form of tragedy and to restore the confidence of residents and investors in the ability of the government to have positive impact on their lives.