Will the Federal Government’s initiatives on the Apapa gridlock relieve traumatised businesses and residents? ADEYINKA ADERIBIGBE asks
The Buhari administration did what no previous government had done about the Apapa traffic last week. The Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, after a breakfast meeting with captains of industry on how to resolve the traffic congestion of Apapa, hopped onto a helicopter and had an aerial reconnaissance of traffic in the area.
He may not have revealed to anyone yet his feelings when he was high up there, but when he landed, he ordered the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, and the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) Managing Director, Hadiza Bala Usman, to take a holistic look at the components of the causes of the gridlock and “find a quick solution to decongesting traffic in the area”.
When the Buhari administration came in over two years ago, decongesting Apapa was top on the list of its priorities. But Apapa has remained a sore thumb, despite the huge successes of the government’s efforts on the ease of doing business in the country.
The traffic is killing rather than easing business. Besides, a generation of Nigerians, particularly from the ’90s, are gradually losing touch with Apapa, which was once a bustling centre of commerce. Apapa, up till the ’90s, was a beehive of commercial and social activities, being home to Nigeria’s two major sea ports- Apapa and Tin Can. It also has the popular Apapa Amusement and Recreation Park together with its enchanting night life. It was, indeed, a place to be for tourists, young and old.
In the last two decades, however, Apapa has been shorn of all its glorious past as the area has degenerated, leaving a web of collapsed roads, which ensnare residents in intractable traffic daily.
The gridlock has practically crippled businesses and killed tourism. It has also affected private lives. Many residents have relocated from Apapa to escape the nightmare that has made life hellish for many of them.
The two critical roads that service the area – Wharf Road and the Apapa/Oshodi Expressway are terribly bad and inaccessible to port operators, commuters, motorists and the public. This development has also led to huge economic losses.
Apapa’s arterial roads’ neglect by both the Federal Government and the Lagos State has led to huge economic losses. Man hour losses to the congestion, a permanent feature in the area, is said to be in excess of one trillion naira, while the estimated weekly loss to the economy is about N140 billion.
Apapa accounts for more than 80 per cent of all import and export activities in Nigeria. Fashola, at the meeting with Osinbajo, disclosed that the Apapa Ports have witnessed inordinate expansion in capacity over the years. The ports, which have the capacity for handling 34 million metric tonnes of cargoes per annum, now process over 80 million metric tonnes of cargo per annum.
The net effect of the over stretched and unbridled expansion is the congestion, which according to him was made worse by lack of traffic management systems.
The President of Dangote Group, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, had, at a media chat recently, described Apapa as a national embarrassment.
He said the Federal Government loses N140 billion weekly and more than N20 billion daily to the traffic congestion occasioned by the deplorable roads.
The Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) said it generated N898 billion revenue in 2016, a marginal drop from the N904 billion it generated in 2015. This reduction, according to a source, is due to the difficulty in accessing foreign exchange and the removal of the 41 items which forced down the level of activities within the ports.
The bulk of revenue generated by the Customs yearly comes from the two ports in Apapa. An investigation into the activities at the Port by the Senate showed that Nigeria has generated about N37 trillion from the sector over the years. The probe also indicated that if all the leakages are blocked, the port can conveniently finance the nation’s budget.
According to the Senate, Customs alone generates over N800 billion annually, but the government finds it difficult to use N11 billion, a meagre fraction of the N800 billion, to carry out repairs on the roads leading to the two ports.
Principal Partner, Adeyemo Fagbamigbe & Co, a firm of Chartered Surveyors and Estate Managers Mr Olajide Adeyemo, said it is unfortunate that the government would wait to see the entire Apapa locked up as it is presently before getting serious to unlock its traffic and upgrade its infrastructure.
He said the traffic gridlock on the two major roads to the two ports has made any investment unattractive in the area. Developers who are looking for quick returns on investment, he said, will not be interested in investing in Apapa because the place is unattractive and anyone, who invests in the area will be tying down investment.
Corroborating Adeyemo’s view, a security expert Mr Aderemi Ajose, described Apapa as “a tragedy and an investor’s nightmare.”
A developer who does not want his name published said three years after his firm finished developing terrace apartments for a client in the area, the houses have remained unoccupied.
Many Nigerians have traced the genesis of the crisis at Apapa to the privatisation of the Ports, which saw the concessionning of ports facilities to private firms. With the takeover of the holding bays inside the ports by private firms, the containerised trucks and trailers, belonging to private operators, with no capacity to own holding bay, have resorted to parking on the roads.
The situation is compounded by deplorable road network, which has made Apapa inaccessible.
The collapse of the only truck road into Apapa -the Apapa/Oshodi Expressway, has forced trucks to now access Apapa through Ojuelegba, leaving a trail of traffic gridlock on the old Ikorodu road. Founder of Safety Without Borders, Mr Patrick Adenusi said coupled with the bad roads, Apapa is crippled by total lack of traffic management.
“For the past seven weeks, I have been directly involved in controlling traffic at Apapa. Many tanker drivers do enlist the support of military officers, to drive against oncoming traffic. Just last Thursday, I insisted that no such would happen at Marine Beach. I stopped all those being aided by military officers from moving and forced them to take the right route. So, I believe if we have a better traffic management and ensured that everyone sticks to it, the gridlock would reduce.” he said.
Adenusi said the government should be commended for at least, waking up to its responsibilities to do something urgently about Apapa before it becomes cut off from the rest of Lagos. “Imagine the magnitude of any tragedy that would be recorded if nothing is done to contain the traffic and government leaves the two main accesses to the area totally impassable?,”he asked.
Stakeholders, who met with Osinbajo at the stakeholders meetings, which included Alhaji Aliko Dangote, for the Dangote Group; Chairman, Honeywell Group, Dr. Oba Otudeko; and BUA Group Chairman, Alhaji Abdulsamad Rabiu, made commitments to intervene in the road repair as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). While the Dangote Group, in collaboration with Flour Mills of Nigeria will carry out palliative works and reconstruct some major sections of the Apapa road, which is expected to be completed by June/July 2018, Honeywell Group will construct a trailer park, while BUA Group will carry out construction works on the Tin Can road.
Tasks to be discharged by the Ministry of Works and the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) include: stopping all shipping companies from operating holding bays within the Apapa Port location, and the stoppage of tanks farms operations within the Apapa area.
The NPA is to begin the process of licensing access to trailer parks and port location via a call up system to all trailer driver and operators, and the publication of an advertisement seeking for expression of interests from private sector to operate trailer parks and holding bays within the Tin Can Island area.
The NPA and the Ministry are to cap their intervention with the establishment of a task force to manage the flow of traffic within the Apapa and Tin Can Island environs.
Lagos State Acting Commissioner of Police, Mr Imohimi Edgal, said the Task Force, which is made up of all arms of the security forces and traffic management, have met and visited Apapa to assess the situation. This, he said, is a prelude to the taking off of the controlling the traffic in and out of Apapa in line with the Presidential order by the Vice President.
The National Chairman, Petroleum Tanker Drivers (PTD) of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas (NUPENG) Alhaji Salmon Oladiti, described the decision to establish trucks parks at strategic locations across the country as one that would greatly reduce pressure on the road and promote the lives of all drivers.
Oladiti said the PTD will not only support such initiative, but will work with any investor in ensuring that it becomes successful because it would have positive impact on the lives of its members.
“The decision is timely and would further help to develop land transport system in the country,”he said, adding that drivers must be made to feel like human beings and treated as such. “It would ensure that no driver sleeps on the road,” Oladiti said.
Adenusi said the road promised by Dangote is, however, being hampered by unforeseen challenges.
“A gas pipeline presently lies right on the road. The pipeline, which belongs to a major gas firm supplying gas to industries within the port, is presently preventing works on the road. He said presently, a new redesigning is being done to relocate the gas pipeline to make way for the continuation of the project,” he said.
While efforts are being made to tackle the main Apapa roads, Adenusi also urged that similar attention be given to fixing the Apapa/Oshodi Expressway.
Experts called for the extension of speed rail services into the ports terminals with appropriate policy directing patronage by terminal operators and shipping agents.
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