By Dr Ugoji Egbujo
The vice president came and came again. I watched him fly in helicopters. Whenever he came I heaved a sigh and hoped. But this must be how cities die.
Perhaps, like human beings. They wake up one morning and become sick. Then the doctor will come and they will hope that its malaria , haemorrhoids, something transient. The symptoms will worsen.
They will find more doctors and perhaps one pastor, and submit themselves to more measures. But drugs and surgeries will produce little effect. Then panic and heater skelter will ensue, for a while. Then doctors will give up and let him know by their ambiguities that the illness is incurable. The nurses will keep coming to him with soothing platitudes that do not relieve the suffocating congestion in his chest.
Apapa, was fairly healthy 14 years ago. Yes, it had sores on its skin and suffered malaria from time to time. The roads had been paved but potholes remained in some portions of the GRA. The trucks crawled and swarmed, and bit like bedbugs and mosquitoes, and left communal itches and feverish nuisance in the neighbourhood. But that was it.
14 years ago, Apapa ports were concessioned. The government said the concessioning was aimed at promoting efficiency through public private partnership. The appetite to balkanize and sell was great then. No one considered the the overall impact on the society of the sort of efficiency they claimed they were promoting.
Those to whom the ports were parceled out, began slowly to occupy the ports and convert open spaces. Some of them have built huge factories in the belly of the port. What this dud effectively was to deny the ports its large stomach for holding and processing trucks. The spaces in the ports used act as important cavernous sponges, elastic receptacles for absorbing release trucks coming and going out of the ports . Now fibrous tissues and masses have taken over the intestines of the ports.
And the town now suffers chronic constipation, colics, bloated abdomen, and vomiting. The city is now aspirating, drowning in trucks.
Some months ago we were told that a presidential decree had outlawed the Apapa gridlock. We were told the acute abdomen would be resolved in 2 weeks. We had been told such things in the past. But we believed, it was from the mouth of the retired General. We thought apapa and its nuisance had crossed his redline.
Surgeons were sent to perform a radical surgery to free Apapa of intestinal obstruction and save the city from imminent death. The surgeons came drained fluid in the abdomen and left. Before they left , before the ovation for the reduction in ascites could subside, the pangs had resumed.
The presidency and its decrees, in the language of pentecostal churches, can now be called powerless powers.
Apapa has defied medicines and prayers and magicians. Fashola was governor in 2014. He had mocked the Federal Government then for its inability to manage the chaos the ports ordained in Lagos. When he became minister of works in 2015 he became part of the team that came like Elijah and left like Baal prophets after a duel with that gridlock. The current governor had declared that Lagos would not contain him and the Apapa gridlock. We feared for him, but we hoped he was some David barking at some Goliath. He has been on the saddle for 6 months and the gridlock is just sitting beside him, it has forced him to sit on only one buttock.
Ordinary people languish in daily agony and the city pants to death. But that is only a part of the story. A certain group of people, some worms, are feeding fat on the constipation. And I don’t mean tapeworms and dangerous bacteria, like thieves and armed robbers that mug people round the clock in the traffic jams that are now part of the furniture of the city. These worms are found amongst the health workers sent to alleviate the disease.
The military was once in charge. It was a joint security operation to maintain sanity in the chaos. But since it took trucks over a month to get into the port somebody thought up something. An express lane service coordinated by the very security agencies sent by government and mediated by ‘touts’ was established.
They wont tell the vice president about this their new invention to help his ‘ease of doing business’ enterprise.
Today, a truck in a hurry would have to cough out 200,000 naira to gain access to the ports. Don’t ask me where the money goes to. If the money gets into the right hands the truck will access the port in 2-3 days. But on many occasions rogue cops and counterfeit ‘touts’ have collected the express lane fees and simply disappeared.
Trucks whose operators who opt for the rule of law will wait 4-6 weeks and yet pay about 30,000 naira to get into the ports. It’s no secret. The police are now in-charge. The protocol is the same. The more hellish the gridlock, the higher the stakes, the fatter the express lane fees.
There are many ways to paint the true picture of the agony. Take the truck drivers. They are often married with many children. Before now , up till 2013, a truck could go into the ports and take containers, and do three cycles in a day. The drivers earned commissions per trip ,and lived in their homes. Today, the drivers do one trip in 4-6 weeks, they live on the road—the roads have become their bedrooms and toilets. The traffic jams have worn away their hearts, their dignity , and are wearing away their humanity. A man who is forced to live on the road like a rat, will definitely, at some point, go feral.
There are other pictures. Look at a young Nigerian who lives in Houston. He sends a car in a container home. In 2013, he would have paid a truck owner about 30,000 naira to deliver the containerized car to his mum in Oshodi or Lekki. Today, to get that container to Lekki he would have to pay about 450,000 naira. And he will be told that the reason he is losing about 400,000 is because of the Apapa gridlock.
There are many businesses in and around Lagos that failed to find the elasticity to cope with such changes in haulage fees alone. They have snapped.
We have been told that once the roads are fixed all will be well. It’s unlikely.
A number of thoughtful surgeries have to be performed. Firstly, a partial bypass surgery to divert goods away from a chronically obstructed Apapa. And that would entail resuscitating and incentivising the use of alternative ports. Secondly, a surgery to recreate for Apapa a large stomach in truck parks and efficient alimentary function in multiple evacuation channels. An efficient system for the uptake of returning empty containers must be devised.
Before then, we can go around buying new clothes for Apapa and celebrating his birthdays. We can give him more pet names and clink glasses at new figures of ease of doing business. We can say…’ It is not his portion… it is his enemies that will die young!’ And even those worms feeding fat on the constipation can join in and shout… . ‘Amen!’