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The traffic gridlock in Apapa, home of Nigeria’s premier seaports, is threatening maritime and other businesses in the area. Consequently, the Lagos State government, the Federal Government and stakeholders have devised measures for tackling the challenge, reports Pita Ochai
Lagos, the commercial capital of Nigeria, is noted for traffic jam. However, the recent traffic gridlock in Apapa, home to the nation’s premier seaports, has become a cause for concern to residents, corporate business, maritime and allied workers as well as government agencies. What has made the Apapa gridlock more worrisome was the recent alarm by Ilesanmi Alade, the Flag Officer Commanding, Western Naval Command, Nigerian Navy, about the security threat posed by the logjam. “The Apapa gridlock has affected a lot of businesses and created security problems in this particular area and we are most concerned, given the security situation in the country,” Alade said.
Alade’s alarm which came on the heels of the recent report that Boko Haram has penetrated Lagos, is indeed quite instructive. It was reliably gathered that a female suicide bomber reportedly detonated explosives on June 25 in Apapa. The explosion killed four people. Although the government initially claimed that the carnage was caused by petroleum tanker fire, the fact that Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, later claimed responsibility for the bombing is a cause for anxiety. There is no doubt that with the chaos associated with the Apapa gridlock, any terrorist attack in that area will be disastrous.
Even before Alade’s alarm, the United States Coast Guard, had sometime last year, after noticing the porous arrangements at the ports in Lagos, gave the federal government a 90-day ultimatum to put proper security measures in place or face “the stoppage of sail of vessels to Nigeria.”
The gridlock has been exacerbated by failed roads, and the riotous gathering of tankers and container-bearing trucks waiting to load petroleum products and goods at the ports. The long queue of petrol tankers and trucks clogging Apapa roads, which cause motorists and commuters to be stuck in one spot for hours, make them sitting ducks for terrorists. In this riotous situation, it is easy for terrorists to operate. Apart from the security threat which the gridlock poses, it is also causing the economy too much pain. As the major gateway to the Nigerian seaports, the Apapa port reportedly rakes in over N1 trillion annually into public treasury through various taxes, levies and tariffs.
Many are wondering why the Federal Government has continued to pay lip service in fixing the roads that leads to two major seaports from which it rakes in trillions of revenue annually. Princess Vicky Haastrup, chairman, Seaport Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN), said that the gridlock in Apapa has over the years taken its toll on operations at the Lagos Port Complex (LPC), Apapa and the Tin Can Island Port Complex (TCIPC).
The Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) said that the perennial gridlock on the Apapa-Oshodi expressway and other access roads leading to the ports in Lagos is destroying businesses and the nation’s economy. The President of LCCI, Mr Remi Bello lamented the total collapse of transportation logistics and access to the major ports in the country – Apapa and Tin Can Island Port complexes.
Bello said getting to the ports has become an unprecedented nightmare; moving out of the ports is even a greater nightmare. According to him, the entire system including the delivery of empty containers and the evacuation of cargo is totally dysfunctional. He said: “To fix these, there is urgent need to relocate the tank farms to the outskirts of the city. Current location of the tank farms is a major factor in the huge traffic congestion. They also constitute a serious safety hazards to citizens.” According to him, there is an urgent need to revive the rail system for the purpose of evacuating cargo from the Lagos ports; urgent need to make the refineries functional to reduce importation of petroleum products which will reduce the convergence of tankers at the various ports and an urgent need to improve the reliability, safety and integrity of pipelines across the country as a means of moving petroleum products. This, he added, is the most efficient and cost effective mode of transportation of petroleum products.
Bello noted that this development has impacted negatively on the private sector and the entire economy, especially in frequent accidents resulting from fallen containers in transit due to the poor state of the roads and high demurrage resulting from the slow evacuation of cargo. He said that charges by haulage vehicles had increased astronomically due to the long travel and turnaround time resulting from the slow pace of cargo evacuation from the ports. He also decried the adverse impact on the welfare of residents in the area and the risk posed by bridges and flyovers along the axis which carry heavy load of stationary vehicles, including tankers for several hours.
In the past, both the Lagos State and the federal governments had taken some measures to decongest the roads but such measures are mere palliatives. Every year, the Presidential Taskforce on Maritime makes effort to clear the port link roads of traffic grid, only for the menace to re-surface few weeks later. Indeed, the link roads to the ports have been a major source of politicking between the federal and the Lagos State governments. The Lagos State government has often accused the Federal Government of paying lip service to the access roads to the ports despite its huge economic importance to the country.
The blame game
Governor of Lagos State, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, said during a recent inspection of the traffic congestion on the Oshodi- Apapa expressway that while the state was committed to solving the Apapa traffic, it expects the Federal Government to give a lasting action to the problem to enable motorists find their way in and out of Apapa.
Fashola stated that concessioning the ports does not stop at signing of the agreement, but that the federal government must take responsibility for management and maintenance of its facilities within Apapa.
According to him, the ports and major roads at the moment are grossly mismanaged resulting in pain for residents, businesses and motorists.
He said this was clearly a multi-agency problem, stressing that probably the various agencies of the Federal Government are not coordinating the activities at the ports as expected.
“It has been a very uncomfortable experience in their various offices and homes. As you can see, it has become difficult to remove refuse. I do not know why a country can treat its commercial capital like this. I do not know what kind of leadership continues to allow this kind of eyesore in Apapa and its environs. But clearly, we have heard from those who know the business that if NNPC, for example, pumps to Ibadan and oil depots, this place will decongest. So, why are they not doing it,” he queried.
According to Fashola, if the Federal Ministry of Works can fix Creek Road, Apapa-Oshodi expressway and Tin Can Island, people living and working in these areas will feel some relief. “The reality is that once there is congestion in one part, it falls back and locks everybody in. The problem is not what is in Apapa. It is also about what is on Tin Can Island as well. You will see even the bridge coming into Apapa now is threatened. It is just incomprehensible to me. I have never seen a country that behaves like this in its commercial capital,” he fumed.
However Fashola vowed not to give up on Apapa gridlock. “This is our job…We will not give up. We are working on inner roads. About seven or eight roads are under construction. It is now a problem even for our contractor to get equipment in, to supply materials and construct inner-city roads that we are committed. It is a problem, simply because of the failure of the Federal Government,” he said. To ease the suffering of port users and residents of Apapa, the Lagos State government has commenced the construction of about eight access roads within Apapa Local Government Area to help divert motorists using the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway from the traffic gridlock on the road.
As the pains of the Apapa gridlock hit harder on the users of the road, the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN) has threatened to ground all operations at the ports if the federal government refuses to evacuate all petrol tankers and other heavy duty vehicles along the access roads to the seaports. The union, in a petition to the federal government through the Minister of Transport, Senator Idris Umar, also demanded the relocation of all the tank farms and rehabilitation of all the access roads to the seaports.
In the petition dated July 9, 2014, MWUN, through its Secretary General, Aham Ubani, lamented that incessant gridlock on the Oshodi-Apapa Expressway had practically shut down economic activities on the Oshodi-Apapa axis. The petition read: “We observe with dismay that petrol tankers and trailers have permanently taken over the access roads to our seaports; Apapa and Tin Can Island Ports in particular. The resultant gridlock caused by the indiscriminate parking of the petrol tankers and trailers that daily want to load petrol from the tank farms along the access roads to the seaports has made movement of people and goods in and out of our seaports and work places within the Apapa industrial and commercial area impossible. The deep potholes along the roads which are better described as gullies have now turned death traps is another contributory factor to the unprecedented grid lock that daily occur on the roads.”
But during his own inspection of Apapa road, Senator Musiliu Obanikoro, Minister of State for Defence dismissed the claim by the Lagos State government that the Federal Government was the cause of the gridlock in the Apapa area. “I am not going to join Lagos State in the blame game, what is important for me is my responsibility to the good people of Lagos State. I implore Lagos State government to join hands with the Nigerian Ports Authority to find a lasting solution to this problem,” he said.
He explained that the Federal Government has taken steps to tackle the traffic gridlock. He said that ensuring free flow of traffic within the Apapa area was one of the measures the Federal Government adopted to check the threats by Boko Haram insurgents. He said security threat was the main reason the Nigerian Navy was getting involved in clearing the traffic gridlock in the Apapa area. He said the areas where the force would deploy its personnel included Mile 2, Berger up to Tincan Island, Ijora, Liverpool, Marine Beach and all the roads leading to Apapa. He said vehicles that deliberately blocked the road and prevented easy flow of traffic would be towed, adding that the Nigerian Navy was working with officials of the Lagos State Traffic Management Agency (LASTMA) to ensure obstructions on the roads leading to Apapa were removed.
In order to find a lasting solution to the perennial traffic gridlock at Apapa-Mile 2- Oshodi expressway, stakeholders recently met at Nigeria Navy Service, Beecroft , Navy yard Apapa to identify causes of the traffic problems. They called for a routing system for containerised and petrol tankers and the optimal utilisation of the holding bay in Apapa Ports to address the problem.
The chairman and convener of the meeting, NNS Beecrooft Commander, Commodore Ovenseri Emmanuel Uwadiae said that the stakeholders were determined to complement the efforts of Julius Berger Plc, which the Federal Controller of Works confirmed, has resumed work on the Apapa road. Uwadiae said the gridlock was unacceptable given the centrality of the area to the economy and home to the busiest port in the country.
He explained that representatives of the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA), the Federal Controller of Works, Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA), National Association of Road Transport Owners (NARTO), Road Transport Employers Association (RTEAN), National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), the Police, and the Association of Maritime Truck Owners (AMATO), among others, agreed that freeing the area would be good for business. He said while LASTMA has been charged with ensuring an effective routing system, NPA will handle the optimisation of the holding bay at the ports which seem to be operating below capacity.
Other decisions reached, he said, were the need for the NPA to direct concessionaires at the ports to increase their capacities to prevent congestion, and the allocation of a column of the road for any truck intending to load or offload at the ports and the tank farms. Uwadiae added that any truck found outside the approved column would be towed. The fifth resolution was for tanker and truck unions to stop the collection dues at the ports’ general areas, which, according to him, is a major cause of delays and gridlock.
Mr. Babatunde Edu , General Manager of LASTMA said LASTMA would continue to do all within its powers to ensure the free flow of traffic in and around Apapa and the tank farms.“We would work more on the areas discovered at this meeting for the purpose of ensuring that things work as planned. Traffic is a work in progress and we are determined to ensure a reduction in travel time from what presently obtains. We are happy that Julius Berger has expressed its readiness to come and repair the road, we shall work with them to manage the traffic along with their scheduled plan of action. Once this is done, we will not have any gridlock,” Edu said.