Babatola Oke writes that NPA, in alliance with others, is working hard to make the ports accessible

As a long-standing player in Nigeria’s maritime space I have watched the traffic gridlock along the Apapa axis progressively deteriorate and grow into the colossal national embarrassment over the years.

Since I started conducting business in the Apapa area in 1998, access roads into that part of Lagos have never been anything that reflect the revenue that the country reap from the natural endowments in the two ports as well as the multi- billion-naira investments in the area.

I have thought about this year-on-end and it has continued to appear to me that successive government has been at a loss as to what to do about this situation that has not only brought monumental losses to the national economy and damage to the environment but is resulting in serious human hardship. Even so it has continued to get worse and has finally reached a shameful head lately. How does a country priding itself as the foremost on the Africa continent allow its premium port facilities to become such eyesores? That is not to say that no effort has been made to reverse the situation, but these have been largely palliative measures that provide no sustainable solutions. The roads have always come out worse than they were before these series of initiatives and life around the area, expectedly more tortuous.

Not even the hope that the swearing in of President Muhammadu Buhari would improve things has materialized and many people have given up on the prospects that government would get its act together as it concerns improving the hellish congestions that exist in Apapa.

This is even more so when you read stories about the government bodies trading blame on who should do what to terminate this disgraceful situation that faces Nigeria. One has heard for instance the Nigerian Ports Authority and the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing bicker over whether it is the roads or the volume of cargo coming into the ports for which they do not have holding capacity that is responsible for the congestions. So you wonder how agencies of the same government, responsible for the welfare of the citizens are unable to sit down and solve this problem permanently. I have been particularly peeved at the NPA for the seeming failure to take the initiative and save Nigeria the shame that Apapa has become. This is more so when the completion of rehabilitation of the Wharf Road, which the NPA commendably spearheaded in collaboration with Messrs AG Dangote and Flour Mills of Nigeria did not contribute anything significant to the actual decongestion of Apapa. Even though it had coughed out a whopping N1.8b in this collaboration, the fact that this congestion has persisted made stakeholders in Apapa expect that the NPA would at that time put up an aggressive plan that attend to holding trucks which have become a nuisance on the expressway.

But it seems the NPA is doing its best to find a solution to the bewildering situation in Apapa and that is heartwarming. The recent news about conversion of the Lilypond Container Terminal into a truck park gave a deep sense of relief that the NPA is seriously set to deal with this issue. If NPA is deliberate at improving the call-up system for truck gaining access into the ports for cargo evacuation and removal as it introduced in 2018 as feelers indicate, then we would be on the path to resolving the perennial congestion in Apapa. The call up system, which is said to have been delayed due to the need to protect the shorelines at the Tin Can Island Port will take trucks off the road and free up more space to enhance free flow of traffic along the Apapa port access road.

And just before the end of last week, news filtered in that the NPA had signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with a company, A.P Moller capital on how to exploit the waterways for the movement of cargo. This is really not a new initiative given that the NPA has sometime last year spoken about its licensing companies to evacuate containers to the Ikorodu Lighter Terminal. This current arrangement is reportedly considering to extend the use of barges to evacuate containers from the ports beyond Ikorodu to Epe. Public-private partnerships like this one is what one is expects of liberalized entities like the NPA.

One assumes however that the NPA realises that the combination of Lilypond and the new initiative with A.P will not sufficiently take care of this congestion challenge. There are many private parks on that road and the NPA should not relent in the effort that it made last year to license private park operators.

Attributing the congestion in Lagos because of inactivity in other ports in the country is largely debatable because the port business is usually determined by the most convenient location for port users. As such, rather than suggesting that more traffic in Onne, Warri and Calabar would have direct effect on traffic congestion in Lagos, Nigeria should work to make the ports in Lagos competitive. Even then, one has heard about efforts that are being made to improve service delivery at these ports. Was a contract for the dredging of the channel into the Warri Ports not awarded last year?

Given the positive steps the NPA has taken so far, I advise that it should pursue the recently signed contract between the federal government and Dangote AG for the construction of the Apapa Oshodi Expressway. The government should create the enabling environment for greater private sector involvement and take great advantage of the inland waterways and rail network in the evacuation of cargo to and from the ports.

I am persuaded that as we optimize multi-modal means of transportation of goods and cargo from the port, we would minimize vehicular traffic, and the Apapa gridlock will become a thing of the past.

Oke, a licensed freight forwarder, wrote from Lagos