Everything was said, everything was written and all manner of graphic illustrations had been deployed. Nothing seemed to sink; nothing worked, it all seemed like water on pumpkin. Then came the mother of all illustrations: the vice president, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, was last week captured airborne in a chopper looking down at the damning chaos that had become Apapa Ports and environs.
Great snakes! He must have exclaimed as he gazed at an apocalyptic scene below; what may be described as a huge, long, interminable anaconda of a traffic logjam. It is not only the long stretch leading from Ijora to Apapa Wharf down to Tin-Can Island and on to Mile 2, but the entire precincts of the maritime cum commercial and industrial complexes was on lockdown as the vice president viewed from above.
It must have been this bird’s-eye view of a long-standing calamity and total breakdown of law and order on this strategic axis of Lagos that prompted both the federal and state governments to swing into action.
Subsequently, at a meeting of both public and private sectors’ stakeholders at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, the vice president directed the team to adopt a speedy and comprehensive approach to the problem. The attendance register of course testified to the weight of the problem. Among the attendees were Babatunde Fashola, Minister of Power, Works and Housing; Hadiza Bala Usman, Managing Director, Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA); Aliko Dangote, President, Dangote Group; Oba Otudeko, Chairman, Honeywell; Abdulsamad Rabiu of Bua Group. Others included Mansur Dan Ali, defence minister and representatives of the Inspector-General of Police and the Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Customs Service.
The personages present no doubt underscored both the importance of the meeting and the gravity of the situation at hand. Governor Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos State was to follow up with a meeting of the reconstituted Joint Committee Task Force to manage the chaotic traffic situation and restore sanity, especially in the Apapa axis. The task force comprised all heads of military, paramilitary and traffic management corps in the state. Their immediate mandate is to make sure that the roads of Apapa are not totally locked down any longer.
For a holistic handling of a dire situation, the vice president especially directed the Minister of Power, Work and Housing as well as the Managing Director, NPA, to implement clear objectives to tackle the Apapa gridlock. He urged them to “look at all components and find quick solution.”
Holistic solution under way
Fashola pointed out the processing capacity at the Lagos ports which he claimed rose from 34 million metric tonnes of cargoes per annum initially to 84 million currently. He also bemoaned the poor traffic management along Apapa access roads. Ms. Usman promised a formidable task force to address the issue. But the twain who are the key dramatis personae in the Apapa conundrum assured that a comprehensive solution was afoot.
Most other stakeholders present pledged support in different dimensions to help unravel the Apapa gridlock, which has lingered for quite some time and defied previous administrations.
Dangote is handling palliative work and reconstruction of Apapa Road leading into the wharf. Honeywell Group would build trailer parks while Bua would handle construction works on Tin Can roads.
Further, the NPA pledged to bar fresh licenses for tank farms in Apapa; manage better, trucks and tanker movements in the ports, introduce intermodal transportation for ease of evacuation at the ports, among other measures.
Would this presidential chopper ride imbue a better view of this crisis and lead to a quick and eventual solution as the vice president envisaged?
About time we say.
Apapa is home to two major ports, the Apapa Port Complex and the Tin-Can Island Port Complex; as well as numerous terminals. The lock-down which has prevailed in the last five years is said to cost the ports about N10 billion daily.
But this is only as concerns earnings from the ports. The cost of what may be described as momentary madness on the entire Apapa community would be incalculable. Numerous businesses and companies in that axis have scaled down or closed shop entirely. Apart from day businesses, nightlife, which was among the most robust in the state because of proximity to seaports virtually disappeared as human and vehicular traffic came to an almost standstill.
Heavy toll on infrastructure
There is health hazard from dust, fumes and refuse. Then the near permanent fixture of heavy articulated vehicles on all the bridges in Apapa and environs must have exacted a heavy toll on the infrastructure. Those bridges built during the age of innocence, so to speak, would be difficult to replace today should they become breached.
We conclude that the Apapa debacle signposts a failure of will, failure of imagination and indeed, failure of the state. Why for instance, should cargoes headed for the east and south south berth in Lagos only to be hauled by road? Why can’t the ports of Calabar, Warri and Port Harcourt be developed to decongest the Lagos ports?
We wager that what the vice president and the stakeholders have done is mere reconnaissance; Apapa is a deep sore, the shame of our nation. It is an emergency and only a presidential task force may be able to untangle this sustained logjam and reclaim the ports.