By Lekan Bilesanmi
The Nigerian Ports Authority says the traffic congestion on access roads into the Apapa area of Lagos is a source of deep concern for which it continually seeks solutions.
Angry Nigerians have always accused the NPA, for neglecting the roads but the government agency said in a recent interview with a reporter that beyond all palliatives including the reconstruction of road networks within the axis, the deployment of multi-modal transportation is the only way to sustainable traffic management around Apapa.
“An inter-ministerial committee is already working on increasing the market share of the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) in the evacuation of cargo at the ports. The NPA has also started encouraging the use of the waterways to move cargo in barges into the hinterland since this is bound to reduce the pressure that the heavy tonnage of cargo movement put on the roads,” explained General Manager, Office of the Managing Director, Captain Ihenacho Ebubeogu
For example, Connect Rail, one of the companies licensed for barge operations has recorded 316 and 260 TEUs for exports and imports respectively. The NPA has also indicated that more companies will be given the opportunity to explore movement of their cargoes through the waterways with hope that this will aid the decongestion and reduce pressure on the roads increasing the hope that they will last longer.
During its annual long service and merit award of the agency held last year, Managing Director of NPA, Hadiza Bala-Usman had lamented the snail pace of the Federal Ministry of Power Works and Housing in rehabilitating the access roads to the Lagos Western Port but the ministry has also argued that the traffic snarl which goes as far as Western Avenue and part of Ikorodu Road does not primarily result from the bad state of the access roads but the fact that the ports no longer have the capacity to receive the volume of cargo getting to the ports.
Ebubeogu however argues that although the ports currently receive more cargoes than they were designed for, the traffic congestion results from motorists having to slow down while navigating the roads as well as the absence of trailer parks and holding bays.
He explained further: “Take this very simple analogy. At the peak of cargo reception in 2014, cargo was put at 84,951,927 MT. We did not have the type of congestion that we had in 2017 when we only did 71, 776, 545MT. This is to show you that the volume of cargo is not the reason why we have this situation.”
The General Manager pointed out that the NPA is dissatisfied with the inconvenience that Lagosians go through on the roads, reason for which a number of other steps have been taken to reduce the man-hour spent in traffic until the roads are permanently fixed either by the superintending Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing or from interventions, including requests by the NPA that the roads be handed over to it for rehabilitation and maintenance.
One of those steps, according to him, include a recent request for proposal from reputable and competent trailer park owners/operators. They were asked to submit expression of interest documents for the issuance of licences to deploy their facilities as holding bays for trucks calling at Lagos Port Complex (LPC) and Tin-Can Island Port Complex (TCIPC).
“Once this is done, only trucks from those holding bays will be allowed access in to the port locations through appropriate call-up systems and that the only exceptions would be trucks from other facilities which have been verified to meet the authority’s standards. This will serve as holding bays for trucks and stop the penchant of truck drivers to liter the roads and cripple business activities in Apapa. Although the NPA is not investing in truck parks, we are determined to facilitate ease of doing business for would-be truck park owners as long as they meet the operational and environmental standards that we have set,” the General Manager explained.
Other steps the NPA has taken alongside stakeholders like the Nigerian Navy, Lagos State Government and the Apapa Local Government include the institution of a single lane policy for truck drivers. He pointed out that this has made tremendous impact on the traffic situation as vehicles are no longer stagnated like they used to be in the past. For the effectiveness of this directive which was put in place in November, 2017, a traffic management and enforcement team, comprising the Police, Federal Road Safety Corps, FRSC, Lagos State Transport Management Agency, LASTMA, the Nigerian Navy, the National Civil and Security Defence Corps, NSCDC and NPA Security was set up.
“To forestall extortion and compromises that may complicate the traffic situation, there is a periodic roster which gives an idea of which operative was at a duty post at every particular point in time thereby making it possible to trace extortionist personnel. The team works with a new protocol, backed up by a call up system wherein any truck without a Vehicle Entry Permit (VEP) is not allowed to approach the ports. And to ensure that turning such unauthorised vehicles back doesn’t precipitate congestion, we have designated a number of convenient turning points,” said Ebubeogu.
The NPA and other stakeholders are also renewing efforts to ensure that all shipping companies comply with the directives on the use of their holding bays. Although there are insinuations that this directive is being flouted, Ebubeogu said that officers have recently been deployed not just to ascertain the existence of these facilities but also ensure that they are put to optimal use. “I can assure you that stiff sanctions await every organisation found not to be complying with this directive. The Authority will not condone any form of non-compliance,” he warned.
He further reiterated NPA’s commitment to easing traffic in the Apapa axis which inspired the management’s singular contribution of the sum of N1.8b on the reconstruction of the Apapa-Wharf Road alongside AG Dangote and Flour Mill. He noted that there have also been palliative works of the Creek Road and other alternative roads that have been used as alternatives while construction is going on the Wharf Road. And that all stakeholders including the Federal Ministry of works must work together before a permanent solution can be found to this challenge.