Vanguard News Nigeria

Oshodi-Apapa gridlock: Tyranny of too many tank farms

…Why they should be relocated—Ambode, Safety experts

By Mike Ebonugwo, Udeme Akpan and Olasunkanmi Akoni

THE opinion in many quarters is that traffic gridlock in Apapa and environs has persisted because government has not shown enough political will to enforce sanction against owners of tankers and trucks.

File: Gridlock

The argument is heightened by the evident reluctance by government to order the forceful removal of the tankers from the roads out of fear that the action could result in fuel shortage as 36 tank farms are currently located in the area.

But while acknowledging the fact that tanker drivers have been on the receiving end of criticisms for the chaotic traffic situation in the area, Tokunbo Korodo, Chairman, Lagos Zone of Petroleum Tanker Drivers, PTD, NUPENG, was quick to absolve his members of blame. As he puts it: “Nobody should blame us for the gridlock or the chaotic traffic situation on Apapa-Oshodi Expressway.

“We are just doing our normal job, which is to lift petroleum products and supply to Nigerians. We did not locate the tank farms in Apapa. In fact, we were never consulted before the tank farms were sited there. You will see tanker drivers anywhere you have petroleum products.

“If you like, locate the tank farms in the forest; once we are aware that there are products there, we will go there, get the products and distribute to Nigerians. We are tired of this blame game. Why are Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, depots across the country not functioning? We are not out to inflict pains on Nigerians. Right now our task force on traffic management is working very hard to ensure free flow of traffic.

“This thing is not easy. We are dealing with a situation where tanker drivers come from all parts of the country to Lagos to lift fuel. Tankers are not what you park in your car garage and there are no parks for these tankers. If you know the number of trucks that come to Lagos on daily basis, you will be amazed. If we start parking on one lane, it will stretch beyond Ibadan in Oyo State. Sincerely, it is the responsibility of government to provide parking spaces for these trucks. It is also the responsibility of government to manage the traffic situation. If the government has no solution or alternative, they should relocate the tank farms.”

Tank farms unsafe

As if to reaffirm this argument, a former Lagos State Sector Commander of the Federal Road Safety Corps, FRSC, Chidi Nkwonta, said the relocation of tank farms from the Apapa port roads remains the permanent solution to the persistent gridlock and danger posed in the area. He said, “We expect the tank farms to be moved from Apapa; they cannot be on the port roads in Apapa; the siting of the tank farms is inappropriate. It is in the heart of the town and it is unsafe, it is causing congestion. As such, it is endangering the entire environment. So, the tank farms must move on the long run, while the roads must be fixed.

“You cannot control the traffic on those roads when the roads are so bad. The number of vehicles on the roads is large and there is no parking space for the trucks. Most of those trucks enter the potholes and they get stuck; some of the trucks lack maintenance; and coupled with the existence of the potholes it is difficult to move them.”

According to him, lack of functional loading bays, dishonesty among stakeholders in coordinating the movement of the tankers in and out of the tank farms made drivers to resort to queuing on the access roads to avoid being pushed to the back by other loaders of products.

It is a sentiment shared by a safety campaigner, Patrick Adenusi, who said: “The tank farms composition and concentration in Apapa is one of the most unsafe conditions we have created in this country. If any of those tank farms ruptures and goes up in flames, Lagos will cease to exist. The tank farms need to be decentralised; the concentration of those tank farms has made Lagos to be the most unsafe place people have ever been in the world.”

Thousands of trucks

Managing director of a prominent firm located within Apapa axis, who spoke on condition of anonymity also blamed the existence of tank farms in the area for the gridlock nightmare. “The only way forward is to relocate the tank farms. Apart from the traffic challenges, what do you think will happen if there is an explosion within the vicinity of the tank farms? Over 10,000 innocent people may be consumed.

“The government should not wait for disaster to happen before doing the right thing. The tank farms attract thousands of trucks to Apapa on a regular basis. The only viable solution to the problem is to relocate the tank farms,” he said.

Chairman, Seaport Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria, STOAN, Vicky Haastrup, who described the gridlock as a direct consequence of alleged system failure in the oil and gas industry logistics chain added that: “There is an over-concentration of oil tank farms in Apapa, an area predominantly designed for port operations. There is now a situation where we have proliferation of oil tank farms without regards for the safety logistics implication. I issued a warning over five years ago, advising government to discontinue tank farm operations in Apapa, but nothing was done. The problem is now staring all of us in the face.”

Many questions, few answers

While accusing fingers are being pointed at the tank farms for contributing significantly to the unfortunate traffic situation in the area, questions are also being asked why and how the tank farms came to be sited there. Some of the questions being asked, for instance, are: Why did the regulatory authorities permit depots, jetties and other facilities to be established in the area? Did they carry out Environmental Impact Assessment, EIA, to show possible impact of their operations in Apapa and its environs?

Was there any indication in the EIA that their operations would culminate in the blockage of roads? If there was such indication, what measures were put in place to mitigate the occurrence? What measures have been taken by the Department of Petroleum Resources, DPR, to sanction depot owners and other culprits? Have they compelled all operators to establish holding bays where tanker drivers can park while waiting to lift products? How frequently does DPR visit to ensure the depots and jetties have adequate operational facilities?

In an email to Vanguard, DPR which has the mandate to issue licences and permits as well as sanction operators in the oil and gas industry stated that owners of depot and jetties were duly issued with licences to establish their facilities in the area. It indicated that all licensed depots met the requirements before they were allowed to establish their facilities there. The Department indicated that EIA is a requirement for approval to construct a depot anywhere in the country and that the downstream investors were not exempted from it. DPR also stated that there was no indication in the EIA that the operations of jetties and depots would culminate in the blockage of roads. Consequently, it noted that measures were not put in place to mitigate such impact on roads.

DPR stated: “While the DPR makes sure that depots have the facilities and space to cater for trucks in their premises, it is not responsible for traffic management and control on the roads. There are organisations at local, state and federal levels that have the statutory responsibility for traffic control and management. The issues of tankers or any other vehicle violating traffic regulations should be rightfully directed to them.”

The agency indicated that where tank farms do not have holding bays, they are allowed to enter into long lease arrangement with established holding bays around the facilities.  While stressing the need for proper monitoring of operations, DPR added: “We have resident representatives in most of the depots. We conduct risk-based inspections at regular intervals in addition to the annual comprehensive inspection for renewal of every operational depot’s licence.”

From past to present: Investigation showed that although the tank farms were sited in Apapa many years ago, it was not envisaged then that ‘civilisation’ would ever come to that area. But over time, many residential houses and farms have emerged to compete with the oil facilities. Consequently, the area started to experience traffic difficulties, especially from the 1970s. Expectedly, several manhours amounting to billions of naira have been lost by business owners and other persons and organisations.

In his recent presentation at the 50th anniversary of the Oil Producers Trade Section, OPTS, in Lagos, obtained by Vanguard, Uduimo J. Itsueli, Chairman, Dubri Oil Company Ltd recounted thus: “Back to the 1970s, Nigeria had just come out of our own civil war. Gulf Oil Company, as it was then, was at Tinubu Square, next to the CBN; Phillips was at The Western House; Mobil was at Bookshop House; Shell was and still is at Freeman House, while NAOC was first at Awolowo Road, before moving to Macarthy Street. Texaco was also at Western House and later to Macarthy Street near The Ghana High Commission.

“NNOC/NNPC was in rented offices in Apapa; and the Department of Petroleum Resources of the Ministry of Mines and Power, with Chief Feyide as Director, was at the Independence Building. Back in those days, there were only about eight or nine operating companies; telephones didn’t work, traffic was horrendous. Attending a meeting with NNOC, recently formed, could take a whole day as going to Apapa was a six to seven hours ordeal.”

Since then, the situation has worsened, especially as many stakeholders, including past governments did not do much to tackle the problem. The situation, Vanguard gathered, was not very much noticed in an era when Nigeria’s refineries, pipelines and depots were almost fully operational, thus enabling the nation to meet domestic needs without operators having to come to Lagos.

But the near collapse of the refineries, shutdown of many depots and pipelines, previously used for massive fuel distribution nationwide, has culminated in over-dependence on tankers to lift imported fuel from Lagos, thus putting pressure on Apapa and other roads in the vicinity. Consequently, analysts indicated that the nation has lost billions of naira as a result of the prolonged development.

No more licence for new tank farms— Lagos State government

Reacting to the traffic jam caused by the location of tank farms in Apapa area as well as the activities of tanker drivers, the Lagos State government said it has already resolved not to grant construction permits for tank farms pending the inventory of existing ones. According to the state Commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development, Wasiu Anifowoshe, the decision was imperative as it will enable them “to take proper inventory of the existing facilities and determine those that should be removed in a bid to ensure public safety”.

He also said that the state government has been working with the Federal Government on the challenges the location of oil tank farms posed to the residents of Apapa, adding that both the Federal and state governments would make a definite pronouncement on the plan to relocate oil tank farms from the residential areas of the Apapa Central Business District soon.

Indeed, as far as Lagos State governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, is concerned, tank farms in Apapa should immediately be relocated. Speaking during his visit to the area on Thursday, he said: “We do not need tank farms within Lagos metropolis anymore. There are 68 tank farms in Apapa alone. Beyond Apapa, they have approved tank farms in Ijegun axis and that is where we have huge population.  That is a serious danger waiting to happen. We need to distribute tank farms to other parts of the state. This is what we believe should be done at this moment to free Lagos roads.”

The governor, therefore, urged the Minister of State for Petroleum and Department of Petroleum Resources, DPR, to work towards reviving the pipelines and stop issuance of approval for construction of tank farms in the state.

The governor, who expressed worry over the development, said that activities of the agencies at both Tin Can and Apapa ports were slowing down the fundamentals processes at the ports, reducing the turnaround time within the axis.

According to him: “It is pathetic that gridlock in the axis has become perennial, it goes and comes back. But the challenge is to give a permanent solution and in that reason, President Muhammadu Buhari directed his Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo to visit and provide permanent solution.”

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