Apapa Traffic Gridlock May Hurt AfCFTA’s Gains, Operators Warn

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Dike Onwuamaeze

Some members of the organised private sector (OPS) have decried the lack of political will to address the perennial traffic congestion around the Apapa ports, saying the gridlock could hurt the expected gains from the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement.

Speaking in separate interviews with THISDAY, they stressed that the challenges associated with moving cargoes in and outside the ports could defeat the federal government’s desire to diversify the economy and affect the expected benefits from Nigeria’s participation in the AfCFTA agreement.

Traffic has worsened in Apapa and its environs in the past few weeks following the disruption of the electronic call-up system (ETO) introduced about two months ago by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) with the support of the Lagos State Government to ensure free flow of vehicular movements.

THISDAY’s investigation had revealed that security agents, who were said to have frustrated all efforts to restore sanity to the port city, were cashing in on the situation to extort articulated vehicles’ drivers.
Even the efforts of a presidential task team failed.

But the Director-General of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Dr. Muda Yusuf, told THISDAY yesterday that, “if the Apapa traffic gridlock continues, our international trade process stands the risk of being completely paralysed.

“The Apapa corridor accounts for an estimated 70 per cent of international merchandise trade- imports and exports. Therefore, this portends disturbing signals for the outlook for Nigeria’s participation in the AFCFTA. It is impossible to undertake any meaningful trade without an efficient maritime logistics chain.”

The LCCI added that the burdensome processes and traffic jam at the Apapa ports have continued to stifle productivity of the real sector of the economy and have, “worsened the plight of many importers, exporters, traders, and manufacturer, as movement in and out of the ports remain a challenge and escalating haulage fees.”

Speaking in the same vein, the Director General of the Nigeria-America Chamber of Commerce (NACC), Mr. Sola Obadimu, told THISDAY that the economic effects of the traffic gridlock in Apapa axis is multi-dimensional and wondered why “there is no political will to confront it.”

Obadimu stated that Nigeria’s participation in the AfCFTA would not make sense if the country could not ensure effective port processes and services for export of its manufactured goods at efficient cost.

He said: “Nigeria can never be competitive under the AfCFTA by having its functioning ports in Lagos alone. The question is why struggle with the ports in Lagos when we have a coast line that stretches from Badagry to Calabar and could have developed at least five standard ports that can take any vessel if they are well dredged.

“The basic principle is that we need to earn foreign exchange by exporting more. But with the situation as it is, the country will be losing opportunity to earn foreign exchange and by so doing the Naira will be losing value; inflation will be going up and the economy will be crumbling. Moreover, the intention to diversify the economy will remain a lip service.”

The Director General of the Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association (NECA), Mr. Timothy Olawale, also told THISDAY that the telling consequences of the Apapa traffic gridlock on businesses could only be imagined, especially for those involved in the importation of sensitive raw materials for manufacture of finished products.

Olawale said: “We note that when these goods and raw materials are finally retrieved, they may have been destroyed due to temperature excursions and assuming that they are not destroyed, the long exposure to the elements raised serious quality challenges on those imported raw materials and finished products.”
He urged government to give the problem the serious attention it deserved, adding that the initial euphoria that greeted the introduction of the e-call-up system to solve the logjam quickly fizzled out and the gridlock appeared to be worsening by the day.

The NECA urged government “to consider train services within Apapa axis and from Apapa to other parts of the country because of its positive economic implications.”
Speaking in the same vein, the Director General of the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG), Mr. Laoye Jaiyesola, stated that as long as the Apapa traffic jam remained, Nigerian made goods would never be competitive in both the domestic and foreign markets.

Jaiyesola said: “For us we have been pleading that it should be resolved. It is very sad that it has remained the way it is and in fact has gotten worse. We never had it so bad.
“But the solution is to develop other ports. Apart from Lagos there is Onne Port, there is Warri Port. Why will these ports not become operational so that Lagos would be decongested? Secondly, what is holding back linking these ports with rail services?”

For the Director General of Institute of Directors (IoD) Nigeria, Mr. Dele Alani, the gridlock at Apapa seemed to be a problem that has defied all solutions that were proffered by previous and current administrations.
Alani said: “What is not in doubt is that the gridlock in Apapa has adversely affected businesses. Incidentally, for an import dependent economy like Nigeria, the effect of the Apapa gridlock is felt by virtually all sectors of the economy.”

He called for the identification of the root causes of the problem to avoid proffering and applying cosmetic solutions and suggested the resuscitation of ports located outside Lagos State as the most effective solution.
Similarly, The Director General of the Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA), Ambassador Ayo Olukanni, noted that “the impact of current situation on the economy is crippling. And as the voice of business in Nigeria, we call on governments to find an enduring solution to this problem because of its negative impact on the economy,” adding that “it is sad that government allowed the traffic gridlock in Apapa area to last this long.”

Olukanni proposed regular roundtable by heads of freight forwarders, maritime transport union, customs and Federal Road Safety Commission to discuss issues as they arise and ensure that truck drivers obey the laws.
He also requested that the rail system, which is now coming up, should be expedited to help in moving cargo in and out of ports and that trucks without the Terminal Delivery Order should not be allowed into the port while “other sea ports in the country should be utilised,” he said.