The perennial traffic gridlock on the Apapa-Oshodi expressway as a result of heavy vehicular movement to Nigeria’s two busiest ports -Lagos port complex and Tin Can Island port – in Lagos requires an urgent and holistic solution by the federal government. The time has come for the government to revive the eastern ports in order to decongest the Lagos ports and free the roads.
Efforts of the government in the past, especially the combined forces of the federal and Lagos State governments to decongest the Apapa roads in recent times have not yielded the anticipated result. They have only been palliative measures, which have not addressed the problem. For almost two decades, the chaos on the roads where tankers and articulated vehicles block the highways and turn the bridges to their parking lots has been going on, thereby exerting undue pressure on the roads and constituting dangers to other road users and properties.
The governor of Lagos State, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, recently called on the federal government to revive other ports in the eastward parts of the country to enable them take some of the load off Lagos and make life in the nation’s commercial capital more bearable for the residents.
Nigeria has six seaports: Apapa Port, Tin Can Island Port, Port Harcourt Port (or Rivers Port), Onne Port (also in Rivers State), Calabar Port and Warri Port (or Delta Port).
Unfortunately, the ports in Onne in Rivers State, Warri in Delta State and Calabar in Cross River State, among others, have remained grossly under-utilised, such that the Apapa and Tin Can ports now account for 75 to 80 percent of shipping activities, serving an estimated 200 million population. Onne Port is largely used for oil and gas related cargoes, which underscores the extent of its usage even though its use is not maximised as well.
Notably, ships and importers have not been making use of the eastern ports because the water channels are narrow and shallow. The standard depth required for very large vessels or containers-carrying vessels to berth is between 18 metres and 19 metres, which is actually for deep seaports. At the moment, Nigeria does not have any deep seaport; all the ones available are river ports. The first deep seaport in the country is the Lekki deep seaport that is currently under construction.
The draft of the Apapa and Tin Can Island ports is between 14 metres and 14.5 metres, which is why large vessels berth at the two ports comfortably. In fact, some container-carrying vessels do not need more than 12 metres to 13.5 metres.
However, at the moment, the draft of the Warri Port is about 7 metres, that of Calabar Port is about 6 metres while Rivers Port also has about 8 metres; all of which are lower than what container-carrying vessels need to berth. The area is also battling with the challenge of insecurity due the activities of pirates.
However, we believe that these challenges are not insurmountable. The government only needs to exercise its political will to dredge the channels and improve the level of maritime security in that part of the country.
It makes no economic sense that goods are cleared in Lagos and trucked by road to Onitsha, Aba, Port Harcourt, Enugu, Nnewi and other cities within the old eastern region, whereas ports closer to these cities are idle and rotting away. The first consequence is that it increases the cost of doing business, with the final consumers paying through their noses to access goods and services through the value chain. Another is the damage caused our road infrastructure by heavy duty trucks conveying goods along that axis.
The volume of cargoes and shipping activities have increased over the decades but infrastructure within the ports have not seen any significant expansion, hence inspection and clearing of goods are slow, resulting in thousands of trucks making their way to ports being held down on the roads. The spillover from the Apapa ports can be accommodated at ports in Rivers, Cross Rivers, Delta and other states if those ports are revived and made to function optimally. The federal authorities need to do everything within their powers to revive existing ports in other states to end the perennial traffic congestion in Apapa. It is bad that we still use trucks to lift petroleum products from Apapa to other parts of the country. The concentration of cargo import on Apapa ports negates the ease-of-doing business.
It is our considered opinion that other ports in Nigeria should begin to work immediately to decongest the gridlock in Lagos and rein in the heavy toll on the country’s roads caused by artificial vehicles.