Apapa, Nigeria’s premier port city, has been in the news for the wrong reason in the last 10 years as the most difficult destination in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial nerve centre. But life and living in the sprawling city continue because its inhabitants see hope of a better tomorrow.
Though President Muhammadu Buhari’s ‘Next Well’ remains largely nebulous and confusing, Nigerians are settling with that mantra simply because it is predicated on hope of better things to come and, consciously or unconsciously, the citizens have allowed themselves to be guided and even ruled by hope which, in religious parlance, is called faith.
The Christian book which serves as a code of conduct for the faithful, The Bible, remains the best literature ever written by man, more so in the exactitude and authority of its teachings, especially as they touch on man and his condition, hopes, aspirations, expectations and even frustration.
When Apostle Paul, in his epistle to the Roman converts (Rm 5: 3-5), admonished them to “rejoice in your suffering, knowing that suffering begets endurance; endurance begets character, character begets hope, and hope does not disappoint us,” little did he know that his admonition, given over 2000 years ago, would garner as much universal relevance as suffering has become a universal phenomenon.
In Nigeria, hope, as elucidated by Paul, is a potent survival weapon because it is the reason many families are still clinging onto life in spite of suffering that has pushed them to the brinks, almost to the point of implosion. Hope remains the reason many prisoners of conscience, such as Leah Karibu, have continued to endure excruciating pain.
That hope, which underlies Buhari’s Next Level, is also the reason Apapa, where pain is palpable, suffering is pervasive just as environmental degradation is deep, still retains residents and keeps business owners, port operators and motorists expecting a better deal in the Next Level.
One taskforce after another and several stakeholder meetings dating back to 2010 when Goodluck Jonathan was president and Mike Onolememen was Minister of Works, Apapa remains a national disgrace, according to Kabiru Gaya, chairman, Senate Committee on Works.
Since 2012, vehicular movement in and out of Apapa metropolis, which houses the major economic gateways, Apapa and Tin-Can Island seaports, has been tough as the traffic gridlock into the port city, worsened without any hope in sight.
Alarmingly, the traffic situation continued to increase by the day as majority of the trucks going to the seaports and oil tank farms scattered all over the city were forced to pass through Ijora-Apapa-Wharf road, following the Federal Government’s inability to repair the failed Apapa-Oshodi Expressway, alternative access into Apapa.
Also, the failure of traffic managers put in place by the Federal Government to control traffic on the bridges and roads in Apapa, compounded the traffic situation. The situation was such that the recently introduced manual call-up system for trucks, to streamline the number of container-carrying trucks and trailers on the bridges to Apapa, also failed.
investigation shows the Federal Government is yet to be committed to repairing the roads as well as ameliorating the plights of Apapa residents and port users, who spend substantial amount of their daily man-hour on the road, in order to have access into Apapa.
It has become very worrisome that government generates trillions of Naira from the ports annually, but has failed to invest a fraction of that revenue into the development of road infrastructure leading to the ports.
For instance, in 2017 and 2018 alone, available statistics revealed that the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) generated over N2 trillion in revenue and the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) declared revenue of over N350 billion. This is aside the hundreds of billions of Naira worth of revenue generated annually by agencies like the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON).
“Seaports in Nigeria are the goose that lay the golden eggs for the Federal Government, yet the government has failed to invest in the development of port infrastructure especially roads”, said Tony Anakebe, managing director of Gold-Link Investment Ltd, a Lagos-based clearing and forwarding company.
Anakebe noted that many Nigerians have lost their lives due to the risk involved in travelling on the bad roads in Apapa amid tankers and trailers. He added that government must wake-up to their responsibilities of fixing the roads and providing transit parks for heavy vehicles, if Nigeria’s Ease of Doing Business Ranking must improve.
we also discovered that the persistent traffic congestion on the port roads has been piling up cost of doing business for shippers and manufacturers, whose goods and raw materials spend days and weeks before getting to their warehouses.
If these consignments spend longer days in the ports without clearing, it compels shippers to pay more to shipping companies as demurrage for not returning the empty containers as and when due, and they also pay storage charges to terminal operators for occupying space in the terminal.
Recall that prior to port concession, Apapa port used to accommodate almost 60 percent of the trucks that are parked on the highway today. Then, truckers had holding bay inside the port, where they parked pending when they got another job after offloading the empty containers.
“Port terminals were concessioned, without reserving holding-bay for truckers to park”, said Jonathan Nicol, president, Shippers Association of Lagos State, who advised the incoming government to expedite action in building truck transit parks around the ports.
He said the parks would enable truckers and port authorities to make use of electronic call up system in streamlining the number of trucks coming into the ports vis-à-vis Apapa metropolis on a daily basis.
Pundits have also blamed the indiscriminate licensing and locating of oil tank farms around the Apapa metropolis for adding to the Apapa traffic problem, which port users and commuters face on the roads to Apapa.
Based on that, President Muhammadu Buhari administration in the next four years needs to either revive the refineries or make use of pipeline in evacuation of petroleum products to stop tankers from coming to Apapa.
“If the Federal Government reconstructs the bad portions of the roads leading to Apapa up to Lagos-Ibadan Expressway with these tank farms still here, the tankers will continue to convert the roads to park and Apapa problem will persist,” Anakebe said.
In terms of cost implication on haulage, it has been discovered that moving import and export cargoes in and out of the ports in Apapa and Tin-Can Island have more than doubled in recent time largely due to the persistent traffic congestion.
For instance, taking 20 foot containers from Tin-Can and Apapa ports to any warehouse in Lagos that used to cost between N80- N120,000.00, now cost N400,000.00; while 40 foot container that used to cost like N250,000.00, now cost N700,000.00
On the other hand, moving 20 ft and 40 ft containers from Lagos to the north that used to cost between N500,000.00 and N600,000.00; now cost between N900,000.00 to N1 million and N1.3 million in some cases while consignment to the south-east, which used to cost N250,000 now cost between N550,000.00 and 750, 000.00.
findings have shown that the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC), the agency in charge of developing the rail system as well as rail operations, has failed to tap into the opportunities inherent in the movement of over 120 million metric tons of cargo available to be moved annually across the country.
As a result, businesses especially exporters and importers record losses due to high cost of moving their cargoes from either the hinterland to port cities or port cities to the hinterland.
Therefore, if the incoming government pays serious attention to having an effective railway system, shippers would save lots of money on haulage of cargoes.
“Time has come for the Federal Government to fully involve the private sector in the development of railway system. Over the years, the Federal Government has been making plans to concession the management of the railway to private operators. Thus, the need to fast track this move for greater benefit for Nigerian businesses,” said Emma Nwabunwanne, a Lagos-based importer.
There has also been the existence of multiple security checkpoints manned by officers of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Nigerian Navy, Nigerian Police Force (NPF), Nigerian Army and other security operatives along the roads leading to the Apapa Ports, which has started taking toll on businesses.
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Originally, security operative were installed on the port roads by government to ensure sanity through proper control of traffic congestion within Apapa metropolis but the essence is becoming almost defeated as these officers use the opportunity to feather their own nest.
“These multiple checkpoints that came up in the last three years have helped in increasing the rate of corruption in the port system”, Anakebe confirmed.
“Corruption will continue to thrive in our ports if these checkpoints are allowed. It has become very absurd that when a Custom officer releases a container in Apapa, on getting to Area B, which is few meters away, the truck driver will encounter more than three Customs’ checkpoints and the cargo owner must grease their palm before passing,” he disclosed.
When Yemi Osinbajo as Acting President, came to Apapa and gave a 72-hour order to the security agencies to clear the gridlock on roads and bridges in the port city to no avail, all stakeholders, especially the residents and the stakeholders, knew that it would take long before respite came their way.
But disillusioned as they are, all eyes are on Buhari’s Next Level because, until the Senate Committee visited at the weekend to seek solution to the gridlock, nobody seemed to be interested, at all government levels, in Apapa and its choking problems.
“We have more or less resigned to fate in the matters of Apapa; we have been told that things will get better when we get to the next level; even if we have our doubts, we have no choice but to believe them because all stakeholders, except the government which has all the powers, are at the end of their tether in terms of solution to this problem,” lamented a resident who craved anonymity.
According to him, the Next Level solution to Apapa gridlock should be looking at a whole lot of issues beginning with infrastructure and port access. Expectedly, the new Trailer Park on Apapa-Oshodi Expressway will be completed and opened by month end while the reconstruction of the expressway is underway.
But that will not be all. Though Ayo Vaughan, chairman, Apapa GRA Resident Association says Apapa master-plan has been distorted, the Next Level approach to the problem should revisit its regeneration strategy which seeks to restore the original structure and feature of the port city.
“Revisiting the original master plan and following it through, just like providing the necessary roads infrastructure, may not be the solution to this problem, but just a part it. The numerous tank farms and indiscriminate building of structures even on rail lines have to be reconsidered with a view to doing away with them,” the anonymous resident said.
Source: By Chuka Uroko & Amaka Anagor-Ewuzie