Sanwo-Olu and Breath of Fresh Air in Apapa

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Effort by the Babajide Sanwo-Olu-led Lagos State Government in partnership with the federal government to find a lasting solution to the gridlock in Apapa and bring sanity to the once thriving port city, is yielding results, Writes Eromosele Abiodun

Several years ago, Apapa was a thriving port city. But the last decade has seen the premier port city become a no-go area for visitors, hellish for those who reside there, traumatic for those who work there.
One of the many reasons for the traffic gridlock is the complete collapse of the two-kilometre Wharf Road, which leads from the base of Ijora Bridge into Apapa. This has resulted in a backlog of trucks and tankers on the Ijora Bridge sometimes all the way to Western Avenue and Ikorodu road.

Likewise, the only other access road 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, drivers were forced to park or queue on both the access roads and Apapa environs.
Consequently, roads and bridges that were not meant to be parking spaces for heavy duty vehicles served as parking lots for trailers and articulated vehicles from around the country.

Sanwo-Olu takes action
Following public outcry over the situation in Apapa the Governor of Lagos State, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu started working on making life and work in Apapa more bearable immediately he assumed office. His burning desire to make Apapa habitable made him visit the port town as well as other locations in its environs immediately after he was sworn in. In one of the visits, he was in the company with the Vice President Prof. Yemi Osinbajo. Therefore, while working with the federal government, Mr Sanwo-Olu has galvanised the process of not only clearing the sedentary trucks but also finding a permanent solution to the gridlock.

In his very first week in office, the governor visited Apapa and its environs to assess the lingering traffic gridlock in the area, pledging to find a lasting solution to the menace. In that visit, the Governor, accompanied by his Deputy, Dr. Obafemi Hamzat, and the Head of Service, Hakeem Muri-Okunola, pledged that his administration would work with the federal government and other stakeholders to complete the 1,000-capacity Tin Can Ports Truck Terminal, a facility which could mop a significant number of trucks off the road.

“What is left to complete it is the water system, toilet facility and power supply, which is the aspect left to fix. “All the trucks on the Ijora bridge and others within that axis can use it,” Sanwo-Olu said.
As part of the broader strategy, the governor met port operators who listed challenges confronting them at the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) and Lilly Port Terminal, while suggestions were made on possible solutions.

The governor expressed appreciation to President Muhammadu Buhari for the federal government’s support which confirming that a lasting solution to the problem was in sight.

“We have discovered that the problem of Apapa is multi-faceted; one agency cannot resolve the issue. We have met with security officers and operators on ground. We have seen that the problem is more than what one company can solve,” he said.

Sanwo-Olu also thanked the NPA and Dangote Group for work done on Wharf Road up to the Apapa Ports, but expressed regret that in spite of their intervention, trucks still park on the roads.
He said: “From our interactions with stakeholders, it was discovered that NPA has a concession company, APMT, and we also observed that there is disconnect in the activities of picking and dropping off containers in the Ports. One of the strategies is that we will be engaging with NIMASA, Shippers’ Council, NPA and others to resolve the issue, especially on how they can push the commencement date for the collection of demurrage.”

Sanwo-Olu further solicited the cooperation of the federal government in evacuating illegal squatters occupying open space within the Tin Can Port premises, just as he expressed optimism on a lasting solution in no distant time.
He said: “The final solution is around the corner; we are hoping in due course, we will get all these issues behind us. We need to build another port. We will take it upon ourselves with the support of the NPA to develop the Lekki and Badagry ports.”

In continuation of the efforts to decongest and make the port city transport-friendly, the governor, a few days after, accompanied Osinbajo to visit Apapa.
Osinbajo said the visit to Apapa was a pointer to the readiness of the federal government to work with the Lagos State Government in finding lasting solution to the gridlock that has become an eyesore along the nation’s busiest ports.
“There are several aspects of the task that has to be done in decongesting the port. There have been a lot of infrastructure projects around the Lagos ports initiated by the federal government. Some of these projects have been completed; a lot are still ongoing. However, clearing the roads of trailers and oil tankers is the major issue that is of concern to the people. The good news is, there is considerable improvement in this regard.

“There are short term; mid and long term measures we are putting in place to solve this problem. One of our long-term measures is to decongest the cargo traffic coming in and out of the ports. Apapa port is meant to take 34 million metric tons, but it is currently doing over 80 million metric tons today. There is certainly a need to find an alternative and to expand,” he said.

Osinbajo also disclosed that there was an ongoing dredging of the Warri port in Delta State, as part of the efforts to decongest cargo traffic in Lagos ports.

He added that the standard gauge currently being constructed by the government from Lagos to Kano would be useful in decongesting the Lagos ports. Similarly, Governor Sanwo-Olu said his administration was ready to complement any effort by the federal government to ensure decongestion of the area in order to ease the pains of residents and businesses.

Residents, truckers, importers react
Meanwhile, the effort seems to be yielding fruits as sanity is gradually returning to Apapa. 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 intervention by the Lagos state governor.

An importer, Mr. Oladimeji Benjamin, said the Ijora road to Lagos port complex was totally blocked until the intervention. 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 Sanwo-Olu. We are happy that the governor 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 Sanwo-Olu for the laudable initiative and we hope the federal government will supporthim to do more.”

Also, a resident of Ijora, Fagbemi Badare, pointed out the health hazards they were exposed to before the governor stepped in working with the federal government.

“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 Sanwo-Olu intervened.

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 the governor 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 Sanwo-Olu 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 the governor visited and brought happiness to our homes and neighbourhoods.”

Also, Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) Vice-President, Kayode Farinto, said it was a big relief to all stakeholders as the LASG, has succeeded in putting an end to their hardship with the ongoing efforts.
Farinto described the governor’s effort as laudable praising him for trying to end 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 intervention.

“We were losing over N12 billion every month before the recent effort by the Lagos state government. 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.
On his part, General Coordinator, Council of Maritime Truck Unions Association (COMTUA), and General Manager Operations, Nigerian Association of Road Transport Owners (NARTO), Steven Okafor thanked the LASG for working with all stakeholders to resolve the problem.

He said: “I want to use this opportunity to thank the LASG and the federal government for the wonderful job they have done so far. We are not on the payroll of any government; we are private sector operators, so we say things the way they are. If they are not telling the press the truth, then we will tell you the truth. Our happiness today is that the government has involved the unions in the effort to resolve the problem, which never happened before; we are glad and will continue to give the government kudos.
“We cannot compare what has been achieved in two weeks to any effort put in place in the last few years. We are requesting that the governor continue the good work so that he can completely sanitise the system. Without that, we will go back to where we were or even worse, we need to stabilise what we have now and sustain what they have achieved. Government should please help us and make sure this effort continues.”

Looking ahead
Other stakeholders while commending the governor for the laudable steps he has taken so far, urged him to work with federal government’s agency to ensure that all the shipping companies operating in the country have holding bays or revoke their licences.

The former President of ANLCA, 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, a 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.