By Godfrey Bivbere and Ebun Sessou
THE worsening traffic situation in Apapa was brought to the front burner by a foreigner, Mr. Kazuma Anatolia, who claims to have been a resident in Apapa for over 30 years. He told Governor Akinwunmi Ambode during his recent visit to the area that “Apapa is sick and need a doctor to fix it, from both the Federal and state governments.”
According to him, due to the current situation in Apapa, over 12,000 jobs had been lost, while over 2,000 houses are vacant as owners have abandoned their properties.
But the blame game over who takes responsibility for the prevailing traffic lockdown in Apapa seem to have intensified as the situation gets out of hand by the day. Efforts by both the Federal and Lagos State governments to address the traffic situation have so far yielded no significant or far-reaching result.
As the blame game rages over the deteriorating situation, the Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Shippers Council, NSC, Mr Hassan Bello, who spoke with Vanguard, has pointed accusing fingers at truck drivers who he said have no business coming to park along the road and congesting the area, before proceeding to the port. Bello explained that a study carried out recently showed that the ports are only supposed to accommodate about 2,000 trucks, but that presently about 5,000 of trucks come to the port daily.
He stressed that there is need to regulate the activities of truckers to ensure that only those that need to go to the port do so. One of the ways of achieving this is to ask truckers to form bigger units rather than the present one-man-one-truck system.
But for former Chairman of the Council for Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria, CRFFN, Alhaji Olarenwaju Hakeem, road reconstruction and activities of truck drivers alone are not responsible for the gridlock. According to him: “I’ve been in this environment for a very long time. I schooled in Apapa. I’ve been living in Apapa for many years.
“When you look at the structure of the port, no matter how the road is constructed today, it will not ease congestion; it will only reduce it to 20 percent. Go and write it down. We are still coming back there. Based on the way the port is designed, together with the road there, it is not meant for all these fuel tankers.
“We should be talking about the railway. We have Dangote cement factory packaging cement inside there. The trucks are moving. That is additional to what is on the existence on that road. Number two, the way the Flour Mill was designed was not to bring trucks there. They are to use trains. That is why we have those warehouses in Iddo, Oyingbo and towards Yaba.
“The trains those days were to move imports to Iddo; and that is why we find lorries there. So, when you move your containers there, the one going to Onitsha, Maiduguri offload from there and return the empty containers back to the port. Then you will only see trucks going to industrial areas, either Agbara or Ikeja. That is why you don’t see traffic jams in those days. But now the railway has collapsed, everybody comes to the road.
Return of empty containers
“That is why we started having congestion. Then the tank farms came from nowhere. Before then they were producing cement there in those days. They usually come to take cement in batches. I remember the Flour Mill, even when the congestion was trying to build up; Flour Mill quickly arrested the situation by loading in the night.
“Their trucks would come in the night around 10; before 4am they have distributed what they needed to deliver for that day. So you won’t know what has happened. But now, that programme is not working.
“The congestion started from there. Then Dangote Cement wanted to do its own with other companies that are springing up. Nobody thought about the waterways; today nobody is thinking about the movement by barges. When you go to Port Harcourt, go to Onne, 50 percent of what is coming to Onne moves by barges to various locations.
“When you see trucks moving from Onne, they are the ones going to known riverine areas and even Aba and other traders zones. But all the oil services companies go by badges. So if the government wants to do something now, it must quickly work on the railway.
“That is the solution. The road is not our solution. If they like they should repair the road. I give it another two, three years it will depreciate again. It will only reduce gridlock by 20 percent because what is coming in here is much. Even all these tank farms, they should do something about them.
“They can create their own road. I’m praying Dangote refinery starts soon. That’s another solution that can reduce the congestion here,” he concluded.
Tank farms should be relocated — Jimoh
The Deputy Majority Leader in the Lagos State House of Assembly, Mr. Olumuyiwa Jimoh, while speaking with Vanguard, did not sound optimistic about an early end to the lingering problem. According to him: “Unfortunately, all the solutions that have been proffered in terms of traffic in Apapa may not yield result. The first thing is that when the former President of Nigeria, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo did the concession of the Port to AP Muller, especially the Lilly-pond container terminal, nobody thought it was a wrong concept.
“Lillypond as a terminal within Apapa geographical area contains more than 10,000 containers. How can such terminal be given to a German firm which cannot operate it, thereby depriving others from using that facility?
“And when tank farms were being located in Apapa, the rail was still functioning and there were less tankers; a train can move more than 500 tankers in one day.”
Problem debated in the House
Continuing, he said: “The value of properties is dropping in Apapa. I am a representative of the people, but I am incapacitated as one individual; I cannot help the situation. We have brought it on the floor of the House and it has been debated severally. This is not the first time. It was debated during the 7th Assembly too. The National Assembly also debated it.
Decentralising the port
The Federal Government is just doing the palliative measure; this will not reduce vehicular movement on that axis. Therefore, the best option is a radical step which is to decentralise the port and reduce the number of tank farms in Apapa”.
Traffic law on movement of trucks and tankers at night
On the traffic law enacted to restrict the movement of trucks and tankers at night, the lawmaker said it could not function because the Federal Government created the impression that the designated axes are Federal Government roads.
The railway option revisited
As a possible long term solution to the problem, Jimoh is considering proposing multiple options, including a resuscitation of the railway system. According to him: “The railway systems need to be resuscitated. The road construction is also a problem. Tank farms in that axis need to be relocated because they are too much.
“I think, it is necessary for tank farms in Apapa to be relocated so as to reduce the number of articulated vehicles that are plying that road.
There are about three ports in that axis: the Tincan Island port, the Apapa port and the Kirikiri ports, among others. In Port Harcourt, there is only one port is the entire state. But, in Lagos the greatest number of ports in Nigeria, if not West Africa, is concentrated in Apapa. So, there is need for decentralisation of either the ports or the tank farms should be relocated. Although, it might be costly but there must be a solution. Another alternative is that some vessels should be diverted to either Ibeju Lekki or Epe.”