Monday Editorial

The Presidential task force should ensure sanity prevails at the ports

Access to the nation’s premium port has remained paralysed for as long as anyone cares to remember. But there was some sense of relief last week as the protracted traffic gridlock eased off considerably thanks to a recent presidential order for the removal of all impediments to free flow of traffic around the Apapa port and environs. Headed by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, the task force is working to develop an efficient and effective management plan for the entire port area traffic including cargo, fuel distribution, and business district traffic. In addition, the task force would ensure the permanent removal of all stationary trucks on the highway, and the development of a manual truck call-up system, pending the introduction of the electronic truck call-up system.

For effectiveness, the Lagos State Traffic Management Agency (LASTMA) was made the arrowhead of the fresh offensive to decongest the roads while the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) has converted the Lilypond Container Terminal, a dry port with capacity for over 1000 trailers, as a transit park. “We acknowledge the enormity of the assignment of the task force, and we are committed to resolving this issue in line with the presidential directive”, said Dr Jumoke Oduwole, SSA to the president on industry, trade and investment.  

Indeed, the impact within the first few days was instantaneous as the sense of crisis receded remarkably. The cratered Oshodi-Apapa Expressway as well as Ikorodu Road up to Western Avenue reportedly was cleared of many of the articulated trucks and tankers. But that seemed the best for now. The bridges adjacent to the ports were yet to feel the full impact as trucks parked on them still constituted considerable menace to the free flow of traffic.

For more than a decade, the Apapa gridlock has defied solution. The access roads to the nation’s seaports –Tincan and Apapa- were in deplorable state and abandoned. Thus for years, the Oshodi-Apapa dual expressway was paralysed by container-bearing trucks, trailers and petroleum tankers whose drivers paid scant attention to environmental regulations. With no holding bay for trucks and tankers, the drivers were forced to park and queue not only on the access roads but any space available in Apapa. As a result, millions of containers laden with cargoes were often stranded at the port complex due largely to the inability of importers to evacuate them.

But the logjam was not only a national embarrassment; it was a serious threat to national security, the economy, health and the environment. The impossible traffic condition saw to the crippling of commercial and industrial activities in Apapa and environs while the cost goods from the ports rose astronomically as a result of the difficulties in getting them out. Besides, the hours spent on traffic on a daily basis impacted negatively on health and productivity of many commuters.

The years were particularly disturbing because there was no sustained effort to tackle the menace on the gateway to the country’s economy. Ad hoc measures occasionally conjured up failed to resolve the crisis.  Even the rehabilitation of the two-kilometre Wharf Road by NPA, Dangote Industries and others could not instil order to the chaotic traffic. A government seriously in need of cash deliberately had allowed the revenue potential of the Lagos ports – one of the busiest in Africa – to be imperilled.

Thus the challenge before the task force is first to get its logistics and management right to ensure the effort is sustainable. Trucks and tankers’ drivers must be beaten into line. Both the road repairs and the decongestion of the port should be treated as clear national emergencies requiring the mobilisation of all known institutional resources to restore sanity in and around the ports. Everything must be put in to prevent a return to chaos.