By Oghene Omonisa
The new job naturally brought joy to Mr. Ufot Essien and his family. He had been jobless since September last year, when he was relieved as the production manager of a manufacturing company at neighbouring Agbara, Ogun State. But the new job came with its own peculiar challenge: the company is located at Apapa, Lagos.
“It was not as if I never knew about the traffic problem in Apapa”, he says. “I used to visit Apapa sometimes before I got the job. I was no stranger to Apapa.”
But those were just visits, which could have been infrequent as he reveals he lives at Iba Estate, Iba, a more convenient location to access his former place of work, and that his wife works with a bank at Igando. His children school within Iba.
Since starting his new job in February as a supervisor in a flour mill company, he has come to confront the horror that is Apapa traffic jam.
“The first challenge I had was deciding not to drive down to work”, says Mr. Essien, “except I will have to leave home by 4a.m. And that will also mean I might have to leave the car at the office and take okada (commercial motor cycle) back home because sometimes one cannot drive forward or backward after being caged in between those terrible tankers, which could be stuck in one place till daybreak. And then you will have to either sleep inside the car or leave it there, with all its risks.”
Apapa is the heart of port activities in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial nerve centre. The suburb and its environs constitute a local government with Apapa as the headquarters. It houses the Lagos Port Complex (LPC) and Tin Can Island Port Complex. The Lagos Port Complex was owned and operated by the Federal Government until March 2005, when it was sold to the Danish firm, A. P. Moller-Maersk (APM) Group for about $1 billion in the concessionary policy of the government of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo.
Adjacent to the Lagos Port Complex is the Tin Can Island Port Complex, which has roll-on/roll-off (ro-ro) facilities. The Complex today is an amalgam of what used to be Roro and Tin Can Island Ports. This merger came with the concession of the terminals in May, 2006.
Spread across Apapa and its environs are terminals and depots. There are also Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) formations all over the suburb, as well as other various government parastatals and agencies like Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON) and National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC).
Ninety percent of Nigeria’s sea imports are done through Apapa’s two ports. The other ports, Warri Port in Delta State, Rivers and Onne Ports in Rivers State and Calabar Port in Cross River State share the remaining 10%.
At Apapa alone, there are a total of 59 petroleum tank farms for storage of petroleum products, which account for 90% of the total imported products into the country. All these, as well as other maritime-related businesses like freight, and clearing and forwarding easily make Apapa a hub of maritime activities.
But Apapa is not only reputed for maritime business. Not unexpectedly, manufacturers have taken advantage of the ports to site companies in the suburb for quick access to imported raw materials and for easy export, making Apapa a leading centre for manufacturing, playing host to leading manufacturing companies like Dangote Sugar Refinery, BUA Group, Honeywell Group among others. There is an industrial estate at Kirikiri, a district of Apapa, which hosts some major Nigerian manufacturing companies like the Coscharis Group. And the suburb is also host to three of Nigeria’s leading national newspapers: Vanguard, This Day and Sun; as well as a major office of MTN Nigeria, one of the leading telecommunications companies in Nigeria.
Maritime activities at Apapa alone constitute a multi-billion dollar industry, considering the fact that the industry is the gateway to the nation’s economy and only second to oil and gas in revenue generation.
Saturday Vanguard investigations revealed that the Nigerian Customs Service alone generates over a billion naira daily in Apapa, not to mention other Federal Government agencies, the Lagos State Government and Apapa Local Government, which are all believed to rake in millions of naira every day in revenues and taxes.
Serving as such a major source of revenue for the three tiers of government, and with such high level economic relevance, residents, business owners and workers at Apapa will certainly be forgiven if they expected Apapa to measure up to Rotterdam, European busiest and leading port city, or South Louisiana, American No. 1. port city. These are cities whose maritime activities are relatively not far off than those of Apapa, be it in tons of cargo handled daily and the sizes of their ports; but they are cities whose administrators, residents and workers will experience nightmares by the simple thought of Apapa-like gridlock being a part of their life. However, it is that same gridlock which has almost become part of every day life in Apapa.
Within Lagos, and even nationwide, Apapa is now better known as that suburb of Lagos which is synonymous with traffic jam.
For residents to refer to a section as synonymous with gridlock only goes to tell the level of Apapa pathetic traffic situation.
Traffic jam is understandably a part of Lagos, the city being not only densely populated with over 10 million people (2006 census puts it at 9.013 million), it is also a port city, heavily commercialized and industrialized. Traffic jam is therefore expected, especially during rush hours. But unlike many densely populated cities of the developed world, the transport system in Lagos is poorly managed, clearly evident from the poor and inadequate roads, lack of maintenance and traffic officials who collect gratification from bus drivers and look the other way when they drive against traffic or stop at the centre of the road to pick passengers.
Apapa logjam is not about spending a few minutes moving at a snail pace or an hour on a ride that ought to have taken 15 minutes. It is about spending up to 12 hours on a trip that normally is supposed to be less than 30 minutes, or even passing the night in your car, or abandoning your car on the road altogether.
Commuters are now known to alight from buses and trek down to their destinations.
One could either enter Apapa using its major entry route, the Oshodi/Apapa Expressway, or Ijora/Apapa Expressway, both of which are hellholes to drive in due to the unpleasant traffic condition. Exiting through these routes is as hellish as entering.
On the Oshodi/Apapa Expressway, the no-motion traffic normally begins on the stretch from Rainbow to the Mile 2/Berger/Kirikiri axis of the road up to Apapa Wharf, with tankers, trailers and other articulated vehicles completely seizing the road, leaving other motorists and road users at the mercy of the elements.
The gridlock has become part of Apapa for years. However, no one could imagine that the situation will get to the present worrisome situation.
Tales of woes
Residents, landlords, business owners, workers and visitors to Apapa hold different agonizing tales occasioned by the now famous gridlock in the suburb.
“My tenants are leaving”, cries Alhaja Sekinah Abolore, an old landlady. Her house, a block of four flats at Yunus Street, Apapa, she says, is her major source of living. When asked how many tenants she had, she says they used to be three, but one left in March. “She’s not yet married, but has a fiance”, the old lady reveals. “She said her boyfriend said he no longer finds Apapa conducive to visit her. She said she was moving to Amuwo Odofin. Now, the other two are planning to leave.”
“My saddest experience in this matter was the day I was returning home from work”, Mr. Julius Obada, a technician with CFAO Equipment, Apapa recalls. “It was about 7pm. It had rained heavily that day, which compounded the hold up. But the rain had reduced to drizzles. I was supposed to get to Mile 2, but could not stand the slow traffic. There were lines of tankers driving against the traffic and blocking the road. So, I alighted at Sanya and decided to walk down. Just after the Kirikiri Bridge, I crossed the road and stepped over the median, wanting to cross to the other side.
“As I paused, my nostrils were suddenly attacked by an offensive smell. It was almost dark, and I could not see very well. Then I recognized the smell. It was that of human faeces, and I had stepped on it. I switched the light of my phone. My brother, the thing had stained my shoes and rubbed on the bottom of my trousers. At that moment I almost died. I did not know what to do. Whether to remove my trousers or to keep on walking. I could feel myself smelling of faeces, another person’s faeces for that matter. I just crossed over, took okada and straight home to Agboju. I just condemned the trousers.”
Mr. Obada claims he later learned that tanker drivers who pass the night in their vehicles or on the pavement in their bid to lift products, now use the road as toilet. “That constitutes health hazards, very unhealthy”, he says. “I honestly fell sick that day.”’
Miss Michelle Edozie’s story is as pathetic as it is interesting. She had been living at Maza-Maza before she got a job last year, as a receptionist/computer operator with a company at Kirikiri. But her mother, a single parent, had to move to the village recently, and Miss Edozie went to live with her aunty at Apapa.
Now, unlike when she was with her mother, she started coming late some times. And when her boss queries her, she often say it is due to Apapa traffic. It took her aunty coming to the office for her boss to be convinced that the receptionist/computer operator has actually relocated to Apapa and was not cooking up Apapa-residence story to back up her new lateness habit.
Major factors that can be identified as responsible for the gridlock include the large concentration of tank farms at Apapa, malfunctioning refineries, dearth of parking bays, bad roads, on-going but intermittent maintenance of the road, corruption and lawlessness.
Most of the 59 tank farms located at Apapa are on the Apapa end of the Oshodi/Apapa Expressway. Due to the long loading process, tanker drivers have to queue, and as there are no parking bays, the various queues extend towards the road. As many as there are tankers, so also do these long queues extend further backward, forming queues on the ever busy road. But it is quite unfortunately that the tanker drivers have constituted themselves into law by parking indiscriminately on the expressway, thereby completely blocking the road and constituting nuisance to other road users.
“The Lagos State Government has long directed that they should use only the service lane”, says a clearing and forwarding agent at Apapa. “They are the major cause of the hold up”, he concludes.
A few years ago, the Lagos State Government had indeed ordered that the tanker drivers should remain on the service lane while they queue to load. But they clearly never took the order seriously until a fatal accident involving a petroleum tanker driver, which claimed the lives of three persons and destroyed 36 vehicles in the Mile 2 area of the state.
The tanker driver involved in the accident had lost control of his vehicle and spilled the petroleum product it was carrying on the road, thus causing an explosion.
After handing down a 72-hour ultimatum to the drivers to stop indiscriminate parking on the road, and to stay only on the service lane as they queue to load, and to stop constituting themselves into nuisance to other road users, the Lagos State Commissioner for Transportation, Comrade Kayode Opeifa, after the expiration of the ultimatum, had to personally lead a monitoring team comprising top government officials from the Ministries of Transportation and Environment, Lagos State Task Force, Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA), Vehicle Inspection Officers (VIOs), Park Monitoring Committee, and members of the Abandoned and Disused Vehicles Committee, to clear the road.
Not surprisingly, decency had returned to the expressway, and the traffic became free, but it was only for a few days, as the drivers returned to their old lawlessness some days later.
The large concentration of tank farms at Apapa is easily one of the major factors responsible for the Apapa gridlock. Because Lagos seems to enjoy the monopoly of fuel importation into the country, and Apapa hosts the two ports in the city, tankers come from all over the country to load fuel in Lagos, thereby over-stressing the Lagos ports.
Apart from the Port at Onne in Rivers State, the other seaports located at Port Harcourt, Calabar, Warri and Koko are, mildly put, existing only in name. Freight forwarders in the Eastern ports regularly reel out the challenges facing their operations, and often accuse the Federal Government of churning out policies that deliberately target the strangulation of operations in the Eastern ports.
Some time ago, Mr. Eluagu who is the Public Relations Officer of the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents, ANLCA, Onne Seaport Chapter, has alleged that the Federal Government was encouraging capital flight to Lagos by its deliberate policy of strangulating the Eastern ports, claiming that the “government is deliberately strangulating and frustrating the business activities in the Eastern ports, thereby creating capital flight to Lagos”, and that although “the two port at Onne which were concessioned to Messrs INTELS Services, can handle oil and gas related cargo, many importers prefer to use the Lagos ports because of the disparity in freight charges which is tilted in favour of users of Lagos ports.”
Speaking during the week on the Apapa gridlock, Mr. Bolaji Akinola, the Spokesman for the Seaport Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN), said that the tank farms must be decentralised as a major solution to the problem of traffic jams in Apapa.
He noted that the association had always suggested that petroleum products could be piped closer to different geo-political zones, moved through rail wagons and barges to avoid the extended pressure on the road.
Also speaking on the subject, Mr. Lucky Amiwero, President of the National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA), said the concentration of tank farms at Apapa was not in the interest of the maritime industry.
He said the nation should first consider critical actions like building of refineries, rather than remaining import-dependent for petroleum products.
In the same vein, Mr. Nasir Mohammed, the Port Manager, Lagos Port Complex, Apapa, said the traffic situation degenerated because petrol tankers come for loading simultaneously from across the country.
He said that the NPA had continued to work with the security and traffic agencies, to resolve the imbroglio to enable trucks to have free access to the ports.
The port manager, however, expressed fears that activities in the port may be greatly affected if the situation persisted.
Nigerian refineries are said to be less than 20% of capacity utilization, not enough to meet Nigeria’s high consumption rate. If the refineries were to be functional, even if only up to 50%, there will certainly not be need for fuel importation, let alone over-concentration of tank farms in only one city. And the issue of over-stressing the Oshodi/Apapa Expressway might not have risen.
Speaking recently, Lagos Zonal Chairman of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), the parent body of Petroleum Tanker Drivers, PTD, Mr. Tokunbo Korodo, said that tanker drivers could not automatically end the congestion. “We are pained and equally affected by the continuing loss of man-hours in the traffic and collapse of businesses within Apapa due to the congestion”, he said.
Mr. Korodo noted that an enduring solution to the Apapa congestion lies in increasing capacity for local refining of oil and less dependence on imported petroleum products.
Lagos ports equally also enjoy monopoly in other imports, hence, the large number of articulated vehicles entering and leaving Apapa, many from the South-East and South-South, when there are under-utilized ports in the South-South, closer to their destinations.
It is true that due to aging, and the damaging effects of the heavy axle load vehicles hauling freight to and from the ports, the Oshodi/Apapa Expressway has virtually collapsed alongside its drainage system. Yet the 4-lane road space of the dual carriageway has not disappeared. As such, besides the on-going expansion and rehabilitation work on the expressway, a strategic approach to traffic control and management is what is needed to make the road accessible at all times. This can be achieved through modern transport planning techniques and contemporary traffic control models.
At the two ports, trucks are expected to queue along the service lane and to leave the speed lane open for other motorists. But because of the corrupting influences of the law enforcement agents that control access to the ports, this simple rule is always violated by truck drivers who eventually form two queues thereby making the road impassable on a daily basis. Because the queue on the service lane is the approved one, the law enforcement agents at the gates choose to create the second queue to grant express access to truck drivers who are willing to offer five thousand naira, N5000 bribe. Incidentally, drivers at the far end of the queue and others from various points easily subscribe to this express arrangement since it enables them jump the queue, join the illegal one and maneuver to the front, leaving road blockage and traffic gridlock at their wake. It is pertinent to note that while the illegal express queue is granted easy access to the ports, the normal queue is kept at a snail speed simply because they choose to follow set traffic rules and not offer bribe. This and other underlying factors account for the endless queue of trucks that has become a landmark on the Oshodi-Apapa Expressway.
Following failed portions of the road resulting in heavy traffic on Oshodi/Apapa Expressway, stakeholders recently noted that the two contractors, Julius Berger and Boroni Prono Nigeria Limited, are very slow and are contributing to the traffic situation on the route.
Chairman of the Presidential Monitoring Taskforce of Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents ( ANLCA), Mr. Dom Obi, noted recently that none of the two contractors are performing but however claimed that Julius Berger is a bit better than Boroni Prono.
Mr. Obi said that while Julius Berger is slow in its reconstruction of the Sun Rise to Mile 2 end of the road, Boroni Prono’s presence at the Trinity to 2nd Gate Tin-can Island end is no longer being felt. He said unless government took urgent steps to address the situation, the reconstruction work “will not be ready till the next generation. I do not see anything coming out of the contract.”
In his comment, Honorary Secretary of the Institute of Marine Engineering, Science and Technology (IMarEST), Engr. Alex Peters noted that the two companies are too slow and they are part of the problem of the road. Mr. Peters emphasized that the right thing for them to do should have been provision of alternative routes to ease the traffic congestion. He also pointed out that working at night like Julius Berger used to do would have helped a great deal in curbing the traffic congestion.
“I’m very confident that Gen. Buhari can bring a final end to this Apapa traffic palaver,” enthuses Mrs. Rachael Omorodion, a banker at Apapa who says she has been living in the suburb for more than ten years. “From Yar’Adua’s government to that of Jonathan, we have been hearing about final solution to heavy traffic at Apapa blah, blah, blah”, she continues. “Still, no solution. But with the change which the retired general has promised, I’m very confident that he will change Apapa for good.”
She is not alone. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari has inspired hope and confidence in many Nigerians, and Apapa residents, business owners, workers, and other stakeholders in the shipping and maritime sector are not left out.
Dr. Boniface Aniebona, founder, National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), recently urged the general after his presidential victory, to pay attention to rehabilitating and opening up the roads leading to Apapa and Tin Can Island ports to address the perennial gridlock. Noting that the problem has impacted negatively on cargo turnaround time, he said it might persist until the roads were fixed.
His words: “This is the gateway to the economy. So the changes we expect is that the road should be open. Why should the road be that bad? We don’t need this type of tiny road between Ijora and Apapa. The government has what it takes to break up the road to open up the axis and compensate those living there. That is what government can do, especially when it is being done for public interest.”
“I see change coming”, says Engr. Pius Omena of Globalnet Proline Systematic Co. Ltd., Apapa. “I heard some public office-holders secretly returned embezzled funds because they are scared of probe when Buhari is sworn in. That is the kind of leader Nigeria needs. A leader who you know is in charge and who will take strong decisions for public good. I pray he takes such decision in the case of Apapa traffic jam.”
Summary of solution
In the short term, the tanker drivers could be directed to only queue for loading if they are licensed to load for the day. Any tanker driver who does not have a docket to load and is found on the queue should be arrested and sanctioned.
This way, the number of tankers on the road will be drastically reduced. The police (the Navy could help too) should ensure one lane of the road is left for others to use.
In the long run, the rail system will be the final solution. Tankers and other trucks must be made to use the rails to transport their products to different destinations in the country. The Federal Government, should, as a matter of urgency, construct rails lines to Apapa and repair the old one and make them functional.
As this is going on, the government should also repair the refineries so that all the tankers in Nigeria do not come to one place to load fuel. More refineries should be built too.