Dating back to more than a decade, the chaotic traffic in Apapa, home to the nation’s premier seaports, has been a cause for concern to residents, corporate business, maritime and allied workers as well as government agencies. But last week’s alarm by Ilesanmi Alade, the Flag Officer Commanding, Western Naval Command, Nigerian Navy, about the security threat posed by the logjam, should force our habitually lethargic Federal Government to move into action. Alade, a rear admiral, said, “The Apapa gridlock has affected a lot of businesses and also created security problems in this particular area and we are most concerned, given the security situation in the country.”
The Federal Government and its agencies, particularly the federal ministries of Finance, Transport and Works, the Navy, the Lagos State Government and the transport unions, should team up to permanently resolve the logjam. The causes and effects of the debilitating traffic snarl have been well-documented, so the government has no excuse not to end the gridlock that has ruined the health and lives of residents, and rendered many businesses prostrate.
The lockdown of Apapa roads is a reflection of the disorderliness in our national life. It is causing the economy too much pain. As the major gateway to international maritime traffic in Nigeria, it should not be so. But because of the wanton neglect of Lagos ports by the Federal Government, which reportedly rakes in over N1 trillion annually into public treasury through various taxes, levies and tariffs, insecurity has now been added to the turbulence. This is a fatal brew that bodes ill.
The long lines of petrol tankers and trucks clogging Apapa roads, which cause motorists and commuters to be stuck in one spot for hours, make them sitting ducks for terrorists. The doomsday scenario that Boko Haram has indeed penetrated Lagos was vividly captured when a female suicide bomber reportedly detonated explosives on June 25 in Apapa. The explosions killed four people. Initially, the government said the carnage was caused by petroleum tanker fire. But Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, later claimed responsibility for the bombing.
The terrorist group got away with the act partly because of the chaos caused by the gridlock, exacerbated by failed roads, and the riotous gathering of tankers and container-bearing trucks waiting to load petroleum products and goods at the ports. In this riotous situation, it is easy for terrorists to operate.
Yet, the attack was not surprising. Last year, the United States Coast Guard, after noticing the porous arrangements at the ports in Lagos, gave the federal authorities a 90-day ultimatum to put proper security measures in place or face “the stoppage of sail of vessels to Nigeria.” The Federal Government, impervious to reason as ever, has not heeded the warning. The traffic mess has degenerated since then, culminating in the current desultory approach being adopted to solve the problem.
Petty thieves and armed robbers are also having a field day robbing motorists and commuters trapped in the traffic. The police appear helpless, but they should step up their surveillance activities to ensure the safety of lives and property in the area. Indeed, the economic loss has been colossal. According to the President of the Lagos Shippers’ Association, Jonathan Nicol, the country loses N1.3 billion every two weeks to the gridlock.
Seeing that the Lagos State Government, which has been battling to restore sanity to Apapa, cannot do it alone, it is expedient for the Federal Government to stop its platitudes and take a concrete action. Abuja’s inexplicable indifference is the major problem of Apapa. The Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, and her Transport and Works counterparts flunked a key economic test by failing to follow up on the reforms of 2011 when an inter-agency taskforce evicted some public agencies from the ports. Their aim then was to have seamless operations at the ports, but the process broke down irretrievably shortly after that intervention.
Ports operations around the world are well-organised, generating huge revenues and employment. The Antwerp Port in Belgium, which is the second largest in Europe, saw 17,000 ships docking there in 2008, while it handled 189.4 million tonnes of goods. It is linked by well-serviced roads and rail transport. In contrast, the Apapa ports recorded only 66.2 million tonnes in 2012, according to Nigerian Ports Authority statistics.
The Federal Government should unveil a comprehensive plan to regenerate Apapa and its environs. A chunk of the chaos is caused by petrol tankers wanting to lift imported petroleum products because the refineries at home are comatose.
It is an anomaly that tankers and trucks are the only means of evacuating goods from the ports. The government needs to radically overhaul the transport system. First, the Federal Ministry of Works has to repair the roads and make all the agencies in charge of operations to perform efficiently. Second, more private refineries have to be licensed so as to re-direct petroleum tanker traffic away from the Lagos ports. The public refineries should also be privatised to make them operate optimally.
No matter the number and sophistication of roads linking Apapa, there will be no let-up from the chaos because road transportation cannot handle the volume of traffic generated by activities at the ports. The most important step, therefore, is for the government to concession the construction of a modern, high-capacity railway from the ports to the hinterland.
The Federal Government should use its might to whip the recalcitrant tanker drivers into line. Their indiscriminate parking has constituted grave menace to the society. The government must force them to obey the rules. The trailer parks the government promised to construct in 2009 have to be completed so that the drivers will not have the excuse of parking on the roads anymore.
Also, the government should stop licensing tank farms in Apapa. New tank farms for storing petroleum products should be built in the hinterland in order to reduce congestion in Apapa.