By Olasunkanmi Akoni
Three years after the Apapa regeneration plan was drawn, the project estimated to gulp N11 billion has failed to see the light of the day, inspite of several efforts to achieve the dream. The Federal Government has been under attack over Apapa Port and Oshodi- Apapa Expressway gridlock by stakeholders including Lagos state government over failure to keep to an earlier partnership agreement with the state government on the regeneration project of Apapa axis, estimated to cost N11 billion.
In one of his comments on the perennial traffic gridlock on Oshodi-Apapa Expressway and Apapa environs where the foremost nation seaport is located, immediate past Governor Babatunde Fashola , declared that the situation might continue unless Abuja took certain necessary measures.
In the past, state government had taken some steps in collaboration with other agencies on the Apapa gridlock without sustainable result. To tackle the problems which were attributed to the nefarious activities of tanker drivers and operators of articulated vehicles and the reconstruction of the road by Federal Government, the state government tried to enforce the necessary measures to ensure compliance with the state Road Traffic Law.2014.
The state government gave several ultimatums to oil operators to re-organise their operations by refraining from parking on the highway which had paralysed business activities in the axis, especially along Oshodi-Apapa Expressway and Ijora-Apapa axis.
Former governor of Lagos State, Mr. Babatunde Fashola said “The first thing to understand was that the responsibility of the state government is traffic management on that axis. But the problem on that road comes from the tankers and containerized trucks which go to the ports to lift fuel and others. I don’t manage the port and I don’t discharge fuel. So it is inaccurate to say that we are not doing enough to solve the challenge faced on that road or we have lost the battle.
“The problem from the port was that vehicles that used to park inside the port have been driven out by the concessionaires and they have no option than to park on the road in order to gain access into the port. “The information from within the ports was that there was no enough cargo handling equipment. So the turnaround time per vehicle is longer and slower. Anyone who puts that burden on us was doing that inappropriately.
“It is a Federal Government responsibility. The Tin-Can Island road that would have helped reduce the traffic belongs to the apex government. If they finish fixing it, it will bring relief. But we need to understand that the relief will only last for short time. No nation delivers that kind of cargo by road. With the huge load transported on that road, there is no construction road that will be done on that road that will last, until we move those cargoes through rail. The rail tracks are available in that axis.
“The European built them with minimum effort and coordinated plan and a political will and clarity of purpose we can move all these huge cargoes on rail. If you visit that axis today, you will still find the Agip, NNPC and other fuel wagons in the yard. So, we can do it if there was political will. But the rail the current administration embarked upon was for political demonstration.”
Giving a statistical breakdown of the number of usage of the port, it was stated that no less than 3, 000 tankers enter the ports daily and at least 1, 000 articulated vehicles, otherwise called trailers enter the ports daily. Their aim was to lift fuel, diesel and Kerosene, while the trailers visit the port to transport fish, rice, vegetable oil and others.
The governor continued, “That is not a bad thing. If you have a 4,000 trucks daily visiting a place, any government that really love its citizens must ensure that they move those things by rail.’’ So, the urban regeneration is going on. We have done Oshodi and life is gradually returning to normal there”.
The governor, accused FG of not compensating the state for all the damages it did to infrastructure in the state,. He declared, “All the money they make from the ports, we get nothing. Now, I would expect a Federal Government with conscience to say since we are running our tankers through your roads, this is what you get every year to repair the roads’. Instead, they are carving out our land.
“But we have started reclamation of our territory with or without them. There Ministers were here and we agreed on certain things. I hope they will come through”, the Governor said adding that regenerating the blighted areas of Apapa would cost about N11 billion.
“Ultimately, the residents will extract water for use and tomorrow we will be talking of cancer and other related diseases”, the governor said, adding, “The people must understand this and this must stop”.
Fashola”s letter to President Apparently, worried over the lukewarm attitude of FG towards the joint agreement reached on Apapa regeneration project, Fashola sometime in June 2012, wrote a formal letter to the then Minister for Finance, Dr. Okonjo Iweala who later directed the governor to call the attention of the Vice President Nnamadi Sambo to it.
Fashola heeded the advice and immediately sent another letter to Sambo in November, but the VP directed the governor to send his complaint direct to the office of the President for appropriate action as he was not in a position to grant the request of the governor.
One of the letters to Iweala and obtained by Vanguard, with the titled stated: “Apapa traffic congestion and environmental regeneration challenges.’’ It reads; “Please re-call your visit in the company of other Hon Ministers and the resolution to work with Lagos state government in order to restore Apapa GRA and environs to their pre-eminent urban pride of place.
“While our government has gradually started the greening of reclaimed open spaces, there is an enormous amount of work to be done and quite sizeable resources required to achieve the Apapa that our citizens once boasted of. “I am constrained however, to bring to your notice reports reaching me, which threaten the short time gains that we have made in terms of improving traffic flow.
“The report is contained in the two memo attached herewith. In summary, the memo has identified (1) the operations of entry/exit into the Apapa Port and (2) the state of disrepair of connecting roads as the biggest challenges and suggestions have been proposed which
require action by agencies and organs of FG for there to be enduring relief to the citizens. “Am forwarding these to you for your consideration and in particular for your kind action of coordinating the ministries, departments and agencies concerned to ensure that they take action to remedy the problemS.”
But, up till press time, no response had either been received from the Presidency, meaning the Apapa residents will continue to wait endlessly.
But the Zonal Public Relations Officer of PTD, South West, Mr. Tayo Aboyeji, told Vanguard that the trailer park constructed by the state government could not accommodate petroleum tankers as it was meant only for dry cargoes. He lamented the difficulty and the hostile environment the tanker drivers were operating in the absence of a convenient place to park their vehicles despite the essential services they were rendering to the nation.
He explained, “There are over 15 tank farms around the Coconut area in Apapa. Our members have to drive long distances from different parts of the country to Apapa in Lagos to lift products. This shouldn’t be so. Why can’t we have depots in other places to free Apapa?”
Aboyeji, who was reacting to the development then, said that PTD was discussing with a private investors to a land deal in Amuwo-Odofin area where they hope to jointly develop as parking lot for petroleum tankers at least to reduce the pressure on Apapa axis.
According to experts estimate, the gridlock that makes almost the entire stretch of the Apapa-Oshodi road, linking the Murtala Mohammed International and Lagos Domestic Airports, impassable on a daily basis due to the long queue of fuel tankers, articulated vehicles costs the nation’s economy about N5 billion daily in man-hour losses.
Dr. Emeka Enebeli, a maritime expert and President of Apapa Club and Prof. Bamidele Badejo, a former Lagos Commissioner for Transportation, both argued that the situation has heightened inflation in the country as businesses attempt to pass on the man-hour loss to consumers.
Neither the Federal nor Lagos State Government has been able to proffer answers to why the Apapa traffic gridlock has become intractable over the years, despite all manner of committees set up over the years to address the menace that is gradually crippling
businesses in Lagos, the heart of Nigeria’s economy. Also, speaking at its 2014 quarterly media chat on the economy in Lagos, the President of LCCI, Alhaji Remi Bello, stressed there was an urgent need to relocate the tank farms to the outskirts of the city. 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.”
Enebeli wants haulage trucks off the road and some of their cargoes put “on the rail and others on the water, then the traffic situation will be solved.” He also urged government to set up a Presidential Committee to decongest Apapa roads as well as the ports. The committee, he observed should not include civil servants, but journalists, lawyers, transport experts to fashion a solution to the traffic menace.
“Lagos economy is losing N5 billion daily. Businesses are trapped in the traffic,” Enebeli told our correspondent. According to records, before 1985, over 85 per cent of cargoes coming through the ports in Lagos were moved by rail, while the 15 per cent were freighted by road. At the time, Lagos had a population of 5.8 million.
Over the years, cargo throughput has more than quadrupled just like the population, which is currently estimated at 23 million. Badejo said, “the traffic has ripple effects on the economy, as it brought about additional inflation because a container that takes about N85,000 to lift now goes for about N180,000 because of the cost implications of having to wait for hours. Nigerian
railways have stopped operating from the port and what led to that decision is a mystery to me, because in 1985, the railway evacuated 85 per cent of goods at the port while road accounted for 15 percent.” He expressed concerns “for security, safety, pilferages and robberies. So, if we are able to analyse social cost, there is need for drastic action to resolve the quagmire on that road.”
Recall that the present Lagos State Governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode recently declared that Oshodi-Apapa traffic gridlock remains the toughest challenges posed to his administration to be resolved. Therefore, most auspicious time to really tackle the perennial menace of traffic gridlock on the ever busy road network in Nigeria’s port city-Apapa and environs is no other time than now.
This is so considering the political factor that currently subsists in the Federal and the state. The same party controls both the federal and the state government apparatus unlike in the past where there was no uniformity of purpose in policies. Thus, the federal and state governments, President Buhari and Ambode, both APC, should as a matter of urgency convene an emergency summit to tackle this menace once and for all in the interest of the state in particular and the nation in general.