The Lilypond Solution to Apapa Gridlock

1

The conversion of Lilypond Terminal into a Transit Trailer Park (LTTP) by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and the presidential order on Apapa Ports’ decongestion in two weeks are expected to ease the crippling Apapa gridlock and reduce the agony of port users, who will now access the Lagos Port Complex (LPC) in good time, writes Eromosele Abiodun

For several years (critically last two years), Apapa, a once thriving port city, became a no-go area for visitors, hellish for those who reside and work there, and traumatic for business owners and those exporting or importing cargoes.

The primary reason for the traffic gridlock has been the complete collapse of the two-kilometre Wharf Road, which leads from the base of Ijora Bridge entering into Apapa to the entrance of Apapa Port.

This resulted in a backlog of trucks and tankers on the Ijora Bridge sometimes all the way to Western Avenue and Ikorodu road, making it difficult for other road users going in and out of Apapa.

Likewise, the only other access road out of Apapa through the Liverpool Overhead Bridge and Apapa-Mile 2 Expressway is similarly in a state of complete disrepair and blocked by trucks and tankers. With no holding bay in Apapa for trucks and tankers, their drivers were forced to park and queue on not only the access roads into Apapa but the main roads inside Apapa.

Consequently, roads and bridges that were not meant to be parking spaces for heavy duty vehicles, but to serve only as thoroughfares carried the additional burden leading to their regular and speedy deterioration. Before the port concession exercise undertaken by the former President Obasanjo administration, trucks coming to Apapa and Tin Can Ports had holding bays inside the ports for parking and queuing. During the concession exercise, the Bureau of Public Enterprise (BPE) concessioned all the available space inside the ports to the concessionaires.

With the concession of the holding bays, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) designated the Lilypond Terminal in Ijora, which is outside the ports, as the new holding bay for trucks. However, a concessionaire of the Apapa Container Terminal also set its sight on leasing the Lilypond Terminal at Ijora for its excess container cargo.

This effectively pushed the truck drivers patronising Apapa and Tin Can Ports from inside these ports to the streets of Apapa.

NPA Takes Action

Following public outcry over the situation in Apapa, the NPA in collaboration with Dangote Industries Plc and Flour Mills of Nigeria Plc mobilised funds to fix the two-kilometre Wharf Road. The Wharf Road has since been completed and opened to motorists. The reconstruction, which cost N4.34 billion, made life easier to residents and businesses in Apapa. It did not however end the gridlock in Apapa. Frustrated by the situation, the NPA decided to convert the Lilypond Terminal in Ijora to a Transit Trailer Park (TTP). The impact was instantaneous, within a week, the perennial gridlock was reduced by over 50 per cent and boosted revenue. Lilypond terminal, which is located in Ijora, along the Western Avenue, Lagos, was a Dry Port with full complement of Customs and housed other security agencies before it was converted, few weeks ago, to a trailer park by the NPA.

The General Manager, Corporate and Strategic Communications, NPA, Mr. Jatto Adams, told THISDAY that the NPA had to revoke a five -year lease agreement it had earlier entered with Lilypond Container Terminal Limited to bring succour to Nigerians.

According to him, the authority is allowing truck drivers to park their haulage vehicles in the facility after carrying out some expansion work and ascertaining the number of trucks to be accommodated in the yard.

Over 1, 000 trailers, it was gathered, can use the facility in a day. Truck drivers using the facility, Jatto said, are those that have business to do with the ports and “they are not going to pay any amount of money for using the facility for the next months.”

He added that truck drivers were expected to have concluded their business arrangements within 48 hours and remove their vehicles from the facility since they are all on transit trade.

NPA, he said, had adopted an orderly manual call-up system for all the trucks to be parked in the terminal before they access the ports in Lagos to address the traffic issues.

According to him, Lilypond Container Terminal was erroneously concessioned ab-initio; this was because the said terminal does not have a water front for loading and offloading of cargo. “Consequently, after the expiration of the lease, the terminal was, however, reclassified and granted a five-year development lease before it was revoked and converted to a befitting transit trailer park.”

Adams added that the Managing Director of NPA, Ms. Hadiza Bala Usman, had taken a bold step to ensure that the TTP would be managed by public private partnership (PPP) after going through the procurement process.

The spokesman added that NPA had provided short, medium, and long-term solutions to the gridlock. For instance, Adams said the present management of NPA had also engaged the support services of the Federal Ministry of Works, Power and Housing, Dangote Group and Flour Mills of Nigeria to reconstruct the road from end of Ijora Bridge to Lagos Port Complex to improve NPA’s services to customers.

Adams stated that under the long-term solutions provided, the Federal Ministry of Transportation was working assiduously to ensure that containers were evacuated to the hinterland through the rail system being put in place by the Federal Government.

Residents, Importers’ View

When THISDAY visited the Lagos Port Complex last week, trailers and other heavy-duty vehicles were no longer parked indiscriminately on top of Ijora Bridge, making traffic on the major road leading to the LPC not hellish.

Stakeholders said the current situation was one that had made life easy and bearable for them, particularly for port users and Lagosians living in Apapa, Ijora, Ajegunle, Orile and Surulere. Importers, port users, stakeholders and residents of Apapa, who spoke with THISDAY lamented endlessly at how tankers and trailers made their roads impassable and their lives miserable before the conversion of the Lilypond terminal to a transit trailer park.

An importer, Mr. Oladimeji Benjamin, said the Ijora road to Lagos port complex was totally blocked. He said: “We could not drive in or drive out of the port. For me to come to Apapa, I took my vehicle to CMS, paid N500.00 to park the vehicle, go to the jetty and paid another N150.00 to Apapa from CMS. From there, I took N100.00 bike to LPC to carry out my business.

“That is how many of us operated in Apapa before the current intervention by the NPA. We are happy that the NPA has come to our aid.

It takes me less than 10 minutes now to drive from Ojuelegba to LPC gate in Apapa. That is fantastic. We give kudos to NPA for this laudable initiative and we hope the federal government will support the NPA to do more.”

Also, a resident of Ijora, Fagbemi Badare, pointed out the health hazards they were exposed to before the NPA turned the Lilypond terminal to a Truck Transit Park.

“The notorious truck drivers have deliberately turned the walk-way, our drainages and the bridge into their toilets. You can imagine the filth and health risk such nasty and dastardly acts exposed our wives, children and aged parents, most especially at night and during the rainy season, “he said.

Similarly, a resident of Apapa, Mrs Esther Olaoluwa, told THISDAY that words were not enough to express their pains before the TTP, Ijora was conceived and delivered for use by the NPA.

She said: “No one can imagine the pains we the residents of Apapa and its environs went through. We suffered so much pains going and coming back to our homes. What we experienced here cannot be compared to what the commuters and motorists faced on the roads during the sad period.

“The entire Apapa Community was kept under subjugation by the federal, state and the local governments before that woman in NPA came to our rescue. It was so terrible. Our community was defaced by the tankers and trailers that parked indiscriminately on the major road leading to our place of abode.”

Olaoluwa, who is a secondary school teacher, noted that the two-week ultimatum given by the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo in early February this year for the trucks to be cleared out of the Apapa roads was not as effective as the current step taken by the NPA because “the order was abused by the security personnel deployed to the job. They saw it as avenue to exploit the truck drivers.

“After the order given by Osinbajo, the Ijora/ Apapa corridor was still overwhelmed by trailers and tankers. From the Ijora Bridge to Ojuelegba, the situation was shameful for our nation. Heavy-duty vehicles took over a good portion of our expressway and the security personnel seemed helpless until a woman turned the Lilypond terminal to TTP and brought happiness to our homes and neighbourhoods. That tells you that what a man can do, a woman can do better.”

Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) Vice-President, Kayode Farinto, said it was a big relief to all stakeholders as the NPA, had succeeded in putting an end to their hardship with the conversion of terminal to a park.

Farinto said the effort was part of the laudable efforts of the NPA to end the gridlock in Apapa, boost the ease of doing business and make the port a hub of international trade in West and Central Africa.

He claimed his members were losing over N12 billion every month before the TTP was introduced.

“We were losing over N12 billion every month before the NPA came up with the idea of TTP at Ijora. Initially, we were paying N50,000 to ferry our containers out of the port, but when the gridlock became seemingly intractable, we were paying between N450,000 and N500,000 locally while up-country was N1 million,” he said.

Looking Ahead

Stakeholders while commending the NPA for the laudable efforts it has taken so far, urged the agency to ensure that all the shipping companies operating in the country have holding bays or revoke their licences.

The former President of ANLCA, Prince Olayiwola Shittu, accused the terminal operators at the Lagos sea ports of largely being responsible for the sorry situation. He said their connivance with the shipping companies to use their facility as holding bays, was a major issue that needed to be addressed by the NPA to solve the problem permanently.

Shittu said there was need for installation, configuration and deployment of a purpose-built Truck Call-up System across all ports, terminals and container holding bays in the country.

Also, Maritime Lawyer and University Don, Dr Dipo Alaka, said that NPA or its agent needs to install electronic call-up system, deploy Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags, readers and related infrastructure on all certified trucks, terminal access gates and trailer park access gates to facilitate the real-time monitoring and tracking of truck movements around the Lagos sea ports and its environ.

He berated the deplorable situation of the Oshodi/Apapa port access roads and urged the federal government to address the issue.

Alaka said over 60 per cent of trucks loitering daily at Apapa had no business to transact at Lagos Port and that NPA and other agencies at the ports must collaborate in finding a lasting solution to the problem.

He said the concession of the port was skewed in favour of the terminal operators and done without operational guidelines. The situation, he added, made it difficult to control and penalise the terminal operators.

Icing on the Cake

Meanwhile, in a move stakeholders described as the icing on the cake, the presidency Wednesday gave a two-week deadline for the removal of all impediments to free flow of traffic and all congestion around the Apapa port and its environs.

It also ordered operators of trucks and tankers parked along access roads to the ports to vacate the area within 72 hours.

A statement from the Office of the Vice-President in Abuja, said the directive was the fallout of an emergency meeting convened by President Muhammadu Buhari on April 25, this year and presided over Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo.

The statement, issued by Osinbajo’s spokesman, Mr. Laolu Akande, said the meeting came up with solutions to protracted gridlock around Lagos ports, which has continued to impede both port operations and comfort of residents.

In pursuit of resolutions at the meeting, the statement said a presidential task force, chaired by Osinbajo, was constituted to restore law and order to Apapa and its environs within two weeks. The taskforce is expected to file a progress report to the president.

The taskforce has as its terms of reference, the development of an efficient and effective management plan on traffic in the area; enforcement of permanent removal of all stationary trucks on the highway; the development of an effective manual truck call-up system pending the introduction of the electronic truck call-up system, among others.

“A presidential directive has been issued for the immediate clearing up of the Apapa gridlock and the restoration of law and order to Apapa and its environs within two weeks.

The directive mandates the immediate removal of all trucks from the bridges and roads within Apapa and all adjoining streets leading into the Apapa axis.

“To facilitate this important assignment, operators of trucks and tankers have also been directed to vacate the port access roads within the next 72 hours.

“This directive follows an emergency meeting convened by President Muhammadu Buhari and chaired by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo (SAN) on the 25th of April, 2019. The meeting proffered lasting solutions to the gridlock around the Lagos ports, as the traffic congestion has continued to restrict all operations and livelihood in the area,” the statement said.

According to the statement, the presidential taskforce has included on its terms of reference, the development of an efficient and effective management plan for the entire port area traffic, including the cargo, fuel distribution and business district traffic; enforcing the permanent removal of all stationary trucks on the highway, and the development of an effective manual truck call-up system, pending the introduction of the electronic truck call-up system.