By Sonny Atumah
Welcome to Lagos! A first time visit is always greeted with this sufficiently unpleasant and frustrating traffic as one arrives by land, air or sea to Lagos. Metropolitan Lagos on a 999.6 square kilometres, has the highest population density and highest traffic in Nigeria. Lagos is unique in so many ways that it commands influence in Nigeria and Africa.
It is Nigeria’s commercial capital as well as the former political capital of Nigeria. Lagos was ‘created’ by the British to suit their interest. Lagos was annexed on 6th August 1861. Under the threat of severe force by Commander Norman Beddingfield of HMS Prometheus who was accompanied by the Acting British Consul, William McCoskry the Treaty of Cession was signed between Britain and Oba Dosunmu.
Lagos was declared a colony on March 5,1862 and by 1872 Lagos was a cosmopolitan trading center with a population over 60,000. Since the late 1800s Lagos was believed to be largely unplanned and when the issues of malaria became rampant, ten governor, William Macgregor launched a campaign by draining the swamps, and destroying the mosquitoes that spread the disease.
Lagos is now a metropolis of over 9 million; a city that hardly says goodnight. Lagos as the centre of excellence in Nigeria is an apt slogan. The extravaganzas in Nollywood, music and comedies that have taken the entertainment world by storm were all hatched in Lagos.
Have we identified the cause of the perennial Apapa gridlock? There is no doubt that the deplorable situation of roads in Lagos including the Apapa/Oshodi Expressway and the Ijora/Apapa roads are begging for attention. But the greater problem is the number of tank farms and oil depots and Jetties numbering over 20 within the Apapa axis. One was privileged to undergo a stress management proramme last week to discover that the stress of going through the harrowing Apapa axis has attendant health challenges and contributes to low productivity.
The numerous tank farms; Jetties as well as the Apapa Quays (Port complex) significantly contribute to traffic jams in Lagos. The early 1970s oil boom relatively improved Nigerian living standards. Congestion also crept in with many vehicles on the roads. The then military administrations introduced the odd and even number system to decongest the roads. The cement armada of that time was reasonably decongested with another port constructed in Tin Can Island in 1981. With congestion, the relocation of Nigeria’s Federal Capital from Lagos to Abuja was to decongest Lagos.
All that did not stop the problem because the Lagos extended land area into the hinterland is not more than 3,345 sq. km. The issue of traffic congestion in the city of Lagos should be a holistic approach. Lagos spreads along more than 30km of the lagoon’s south-western shoreline out of Nigeria’s coastline of 853 km. So congestion is the order of the day even with reclamations from the lagoon. The Dangote 650,000 barrels per day refinery is coming on stream in 2018 in Lagos.
It is good the present NNPC management is rehabilitating the petroleum products depots that are linked with 5100 km. multi products pipelines nationwide. It would go a long way in decongesting heavy duty traffic of products in Lagos. The regulatory authorities should stop issuing licences for the construction of tank farms in the Lagos area if they cannot be linked to existing pipelines to evacuate products. Of course products imports by Nigeria is contributing to congestion as roads lead to Apapa to lift petroleum products.
But why Apapa when there are other coastal settlements with Ports? Most Nigeria ports along the Atlantic coastline are not strong in merchant shipping so need restructuring. Apart from the Lagos ports and Onne others are not effectively functional. Delta ports in Warri, Burutu, Sapele, Koko and petroleum terminals in Escravos and Forcados as well as the Port Harcourt port survive on captive cargo; not generating their own cargoes.
The proposed multi billion dollars rail project from Lagos to Calabar initiated by Yar’adua and now to be executed by the Buhari administration is commendable. The Calabar Port Complex has the Old Port, the New Port and the Dockyard; and has jurisdiction over Crude Oil Terminals at Antan, Odudu, Yoho, Qua Iboe; and other jetties at NIWA, NNPC, ALSCON, Dozzy and Northwest.
Concerted efforts should be made to put other ports to good use. Business activities should move to other ports in Nigeria and not to Benin Republic. Along the Lagos- Calabar coastal corridor building refineries and petrochemical plants can merge development areas into conurbations’ to stimulate growth and development in the Delta and Nigeria.
This area is similar to the Gulf coastline in the southern tip of Texas to the southern reaches of Florida, a distance of 2625 km. The intra-coastal waterway connects 9 of the 15 largest ports in the United States to boost commerce. Lagos should be made to be more functional if it must retain its Centre of Excellence status.