HIS frequent glances at his wristwatch and the drumming of his right fingers on the steering wheel, betrayed Kunle Adelana’s impatience. He had been trapped in the snarling gridlock, just after Mile Two Bus Stop in Lagos for the past two hours. He was already late for his appointment in the Liverpool area of Apapa, barely four kilometres ahead, and his hope for any reprieve was nowhere in sight.
Missing the important appointment would give his competitors an edge, that may see him kiss a contract worth over N10 million goodbye. And that is what the traffic jam, for which the Oshodi-Mile 2-Apapa Expressway has earned a bad name, was about to lead to.
With the benefit of hindsight, Adelana, a software engineer, had left his Okota, Isolo home as early as 6.30am, hoping to, at worst, be with his customers by 8.30am at the least, a clear 30 minutes before his appointment scheduled for 9am. But there he was, three hours later, still trapped in the hold-up, with no knowledge of when it would ease up.
As in the past, the poor state of the road, pockmarked by potholes, with large sections completely eaten up by flood and the ubiquitous petroleum products haulage trucks and tankers, were to blame for the hold-up.
The tankers have been drawn to the route, like bees to honey, by the petroleum-products tank farms, while the ports attract the trucks with their containers, many of them from the farthest cities up north.
The presence of hundreds of container-carrying trailers has not helped matters either. It was one of such containers that almost cost a pregnant woman, Mrs. Uche Ibekwe, her life.
She had boarded a bus at Mazamaza bus stop, on the Mile Two –Badagry Expressway to Apapa, when just after the Trinity Bus Stop, a 20-feet container fell off a truck and nearly crushed the passenger bus she had boarded.
Weeks after, she still marvelled: “I still do not know how we escaped death because two years ago, a woman I knew was crushed when a container slipped off a truck negotiating a bad section of the road near Coconut Bus Stop and fell on her.”
These have been the recurring sad stories emerging from the Apapa/Oshodi Expressway, a major access road to the Tin Can Island Port and the Lagos Port Complex, two of the busiest ports in the country, located at Apapa. Both are believed to be handling more than 70 per cent of cargoes coming into the country and are obviously going through very difficult times.
The Apapa Port, otherwise known as the Lagos Port Complex (LPC), is the Nigeria’s premier and major port. Its history dates back to 1914, when the defunct Customs Wharf on the Lagos Island came into existence.
But the development of the Apapa Port site began in June 1921, with the first four deep-water berths, with a total quay length of 548.64 metres. By 1956, a total quay length of 762 metres was completed to project cargo to 1.5 million tones.
Between 1956 and 1961, six berths with a total quay length of 943 metres were added. Today, the port complex, covering about 200 hectares of land, has two berths for handling dry bulk cargo, 19 general cargo berths: six for containers and one for RORO (Roll-on-Roll-off) operations. In addition, the port has two inner harbour berths for discharging and loading of refined petroleum products.
The oil boom experienced in Nigeria in the mid-70s, coupled with post-civil war reconstruction needs, gave rise to an astronomical increase in the volume of imports. The government then saw the need to build an additional port to cope with the high volume of import and export congestion of the existing ports.
In 1976, the construction of the new port started in a hitherto desolate swamp island, where tins and cans were dumped. The new port way constructed by Julius Berger Nigeria Ltd, within a time frame of 16 months, at a cost of about N200 million. It was commissioned on October 14, 1977 and christened Tin-Can Island Port.
Many of the road users, mostly port operators, said the poor state of and congestion on the road, which almost cost Ibekwe her life, and Adelana , a multi-million naira deal, should be blamed on the federal government, which, they alleged, had so far refused to decentralize the tank farms and check the excesses of the tanker drivers, who operate under the aegis of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG).
“The tanker drivers are a law unto themselves,” a source insisted. “When the Lagos State Government tried to force them to park at the location established for them at Orile Iganmu, in order to decongest the road, they went on strike. And because of the very huge number of people that depend on petroleum products, in the absence of stable power supply and alternative means of transportation like rail and water, government is forced to accede to their demands.”
The source further lamented: “Because of the congestion on the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway, to convey cargoes from our terminals to the ports is a big problem. It is such that after discharging the goods, because of the gridlock, it is difficult to convey the containers back to the ports, such that many vessels sail empty, unable to wait any longer due to the traffic.”
The terrible traffic situation along Apapa access roads became worse after the Federal Government sold the Apapa port terminals to a Danish firm, A.P Moller, ENL Consortium and Greenview Development Limited, a subsidiary of Dangote Group and Apapa Bulk Terminal Limited, a subsidiary of Flour Mills of Nigeria Plc in 2005 according to Wikipedia, but finally handed it over in 2006.
With the concessioning, all available spaces, which hitherto were used as parking lots for trucks, came under the control of concessionaires, who dismantled structures and truck garages for their expansion purpose. The trucks drivers were forced out of the port and they eventually found an alternative parking space along the roads, especially Creek and Commercial Roads, to mention but a few.
The port concession programme heralded efficiency in port operations, with improved turn-around for vessels and increased cargoes at the ports. However, the emergence of Tank Farms within Apapa and its environs has continued to worsen the situation because fuel tankers have since joined the trailers to compound the traffic problem along the access roads.
The road users who spoke with The Guardian at the weekend, said the situation has again been compounded by the terrible nature of the roads, as motorists now spend between three and four hours to travel between Mile 2 and Apapa, which ordinarily, should not have taken more than 10 minutes.
President, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Mr. Goodie Ibru said in a statement at the weekend, that Lagos ports access roads are in a “deplorable and degenerating state,” adding that the economic cost to Lagos residents, corporate bodies, importers and the economy is horrendous.”
He continued: “It is a matter for serious concern that an access road to the two biggest ports in the country – Apapa and Tin Can Island Ports could be allowed to degenerate to its current state. Trailers and tankers park indiscriminately on the roads, and even on bridges. This is symptomatic of systems and governance failure that should be urgently redressed. The toll on the economy and the citizens of Lagos State is becoming unbearable.”
“The responsibility for fixing this road is that of the federal government. The Presidential Task Force on Ports Reforms, working in conjunction with the Lagos State Government, made some commendable efforts last year to fix the road and clear the menacing presence of trailers and tankers. But these efforts have since fizzled out. The roads are deteriorating and the tankers and trailers have taken over the roads as parking lots.”
The LCCI President said the two ports are strategic to the Nigeria’s economy. According to him, they accounted for more than 60 per cent of the revenue from import duty, Value Added Tax (VAT) on imports and proceeds of port levies. “It is therefore difficult to imagine that access roads to these ports would suffer such an appalling neglect.”
Ibru noted that the road situation imposes adverse effects on the economy, such as the horrific traffic jam in Lagos with its inherent adverse consequences; high transportation cost; acts of criminality perpetrated in stagnant traffic; ports’ congestion and related escalation of cargo clearing cost; depressed productivity in the economy, and frequent cases of containers falling off the trucks, with occasional fatalities.
For Chief Remi Ogungbemi, President of the Association of Maritime Truck Owners (AMATO), the traffic situation along the access roads to the port would remain the way it is unless government provides a parking space within the ports for its members. He attributed the phenomenon to the adjustment in ports’ structure after the 2006 concession programme.
Ogungbemi said: “Before the port concession, there were designated places where trucks were allowed to park. But the port concession arrangement has taken over those places. That is why you are now seeing trucks littering the whole place within the ports, that is, the Tin Can and the Apapa ports. So, all those trucks parking on the road is not in the interest of the owner or the driver, but the truck has to come from somewhere. Look at an aircraft that flies. We have airport. We have a tarmac. We have a hanger for planes. So, we also need a terminal for trucks designated within the ports. For me, this is what I know to be the permanent solution to the traffic situation within the two ports.”
Speaking on the association, the AMATO’s president said: “To a layman, you will say that the truck operators are the cause, but the major cause of the traffic is that the foundation or structure of the ports have been tampered with. So in the absence of a truck terminal at the port, you automatically find trucks parking anywhere they see a space.”
“Well, we cannot exonerate ourselves. We can only be managing the situation on ground pending the time we have the infrastructure in place.”
Ogungbemi, who underscored the importance of trucks to successful port operations, said truck owners have since commenced a project aimed at bringing succour to the road users. According to him, a modern truck terminal/holding bay is being constructed at Ilu-Eri, in Ijoro area of the Lagos metropolis.
But Captain Solomon Omotesho, a master Mariner, who settled in Apapa in 1966, gave a vivid picture of the “Old Apapa,” saying because of its serene nature, Apapa was once inhabited by whites that served as colonial masters and others.
“The whole of Apapa and Malu road area was meant for people in the middle class. The whole area was occupied by Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) workers, the senior colonial people and those from shipping lines, who wanted to live within their operational areas. It was easy to move within the area. The only traffic to Apapa was maritime related. There was the railway system, freighting cargo from the port. Then, Apapa was designed for people in the maritime sector. The companies that came into Apapa were maritime related too.”
According to him, the collapse of Apapa as a serene community started in 1976 when the Tin-Can port was built to accommodate the crisis associated with the cement Amanda of 1974.
“The traffic increased because of the increasing number of trucks at the port. The Tin-Can port was built and the access roads to Apapa remained the same, even when traffic was increasing. The ports, especially that of Apapa, were being expanded to accommodate the new trend in shipping, as container traffic continued to be on the increase to the ports.”
The government, he said, failed to expand and modernize the access roads to Apapa, “and the result is the traffic jam we are seeing today.”
The Lagos State Governor, Raji Fashola had also made spirited efforts to liberate the access roads. In May last year, the federal government assisted the state in a massive clearing exercise, which led to the removal of over 80 trucks, demolition of shanties under the bridges and eviction of hangers-on in and around Apapa.
Besides, Fashola recently wrote to both President Goodluck Jonathan and his vice, Mohammed Sambo, detailing what needs to be done to bring sanity to the Apapa and its access roads. The Transport Ministry, a Federal Government agency, is believed to make over N1.3 trillion revenue yearly from the two ports.
Rehabilitation contract abandoned
The Federal Government awarded a N6 billion contract in November 2010 for the rehabilitation of the expressway. The contract, approved by the Federal Executive Council (FEC), involves the rehabilitation of the road from Km 0 to 15.
Italian contractor, Borini Prono, was allocated Km 0 to 7 (beginning from Apapa-Tin Can Island Port to the Sunrise Bridge/Beach Land Estate junction), while Julius Berger was allocated Km 7 to 15.
Whereas Julius Berger has pushed the rehabilitation work on the Oshodi-bound carriageway to an encouraging extent, Borini Prono seems to have gone to sleep, succeeding in only clearing the site for the proposed truck park along the expressway and also casting the pillars for the proposed bridge that will lead to the truck park.
Three years after, commuters and businesses on the Apapa-bound and Oshodi-bound carriageways have worse tales to tell, as this portion of the expressway has gone from bad to worse, leading to endless and life-threatening gridlock.
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