By Johnbosco Agbakwuru
ABUJA – PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday said that he was saddened by the persistent chaotic situation around the Apapa ports.
President Buhari had two months ago gave the order that the Apapa gridlock which has become a nightmare should be immediately cleared.
Also on May 22 this year, the Vice-President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, issued an order directing a special task force to, within two weeks, clear the traffic gridlock that had made Apapa ports and its environs difficult to access.
The directive according to a statement by his spokesman, Laolu Akande was after a meeting the vice-president earlier had with relevant stakeholders on April 25, this year.
However, about four weeks after the directive was issued, the gridlock still persisted, prompting the presidency to extend the directive by another two weeks.
But speaking while receiving members of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, President Buhari lamented the development, observing that the situation remained a challenge.
He said that the federal government was working with Lagos State Government to end the menace.
According to him, “I must admit the Apapa gridlock still remains a challenge. It saddens me that businesses have had to suffer as a result of this. We are doing our very best working with the Lagos State Government to bring an end to this issue.”
President Buhari assured the federal government’s continuous support to the private sector, stressing that in the last four years, the government had invested heavily in infrastructure and also supported banks to provide loans to traders.
He also said the government signed executive orders to support local content and had focused on ease of doing business with a view to aiding investments adding that the decision to widely consult the private sector on Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement underscored government’s interest in sustainable and inclusive growth.
He said, “In the last four years, we have invested heavily in infrastructure development. We supported our development banks to provide loans to traders and small enterprises. We signed executive orders to support local content consumption. We also focused on enhancing ease of doing business to facilitate investment.
“Thankfully, there was alignment with the monetary authorities and this significantly contributed to the successes we are seeing today.
“The consultative approach Nigeria took on the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement is just another example of our desire for sustainable and inclusive growth. The team visited all the geopolitical zones. We met farmers, commodity traders, manufacturers, bankers and stock brokers. And we listened and made note of their views.”
He said that investigations have shown that whereas the services’ sector of the economy was doing well, the story is not the same with the manufacturing sector, submitting that available evidences show that intra-African trade only accounts for 14 percent of Africa’s total trade.
He said manufacturers could exploit the opportunities presented by AfCFTA to aggressively expand the frontiers of their operations to meet the demand on the African continent.
The President told the group that the next set of negotiations was aimed at ensuring that machinery was put in place to protect the interest of manufacturers, and implored them to support the government in this area.
He said, “Our studies revealed that although the services sector was doing ok, other key job-creating sectors such as manufacturing and processing were still lagging behind. This is evident by the fact that intra-African trade only accounts for 14% of Africa’s total trade. As a continent, our consumption is mostly of goods imported from outside the continent.
“We viewed this as both an opportunity and a threat. It is an opportunity as Nigerian manufacturers can aggressively expand to meet the huge demand across the continent. It is a threat as one can abuse the rules of origin to flood the market with imports from outside the continent thereby destroying jobs here at home.
“Nigeria’s engagement in the next phase of the negotiations is to ensure proper safeguards are put in place to support African manufacturers. We shall continue to count on your support to ensure this goal is achieved.”
Speaking earlier, Chairman of LCCI, Mr. Babatunde Ruwase, commended the president on the signing of AfCFTA, saying it will promote continental economic integration as well as the growth of member countries.
He also commended the constitution of the National Action Committee (NAC) on the implementation of AfCFTA, pointing out that the group looked forward to speedy execution of programmes and projects that will foster the atmosphere for competitiveness among Nigerian businesses.
He said, “We commend Your Excellency for signing the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA). We believe it would promote continental economic integration and economic growth of member countries. We appreciate in particular the extensive consultation with the private sector which preceded the signing of the agreement.
“We also commend the recent setting up of National Action Committee on the implementation of the AfCFTA. We look forward to speedy execution of programmes and projects that will create the environment to enhance the competitiveness of Nigerian businesses within the context of the AfCFTA.”
On Apapa gridlock, Ruwase commended federal government’s effort in decongesting the gridlock, saying the move had brought a partial relief, but pleaded with the president to yet sustain the effort, noting that the challenge is not over yet.
He said, “We commended your intervention to resolve the traffic gridlock around the Lagos ports in Apapa. We have experienced partial decongestion of the roads but the problem is still not over. We urge you to please sustain your interest in this matter to ensure that it is fully resolved.”