Saturday, 2nd December 2023

Stakeholders fear Lekki seaport will replicate Apapa pains

By Adaku Onyenucheya
04 July 2022   |   4:30 am
Hours after the first vessel berthed at Lekki deep seaport, stakeholders and residents along the corridor have expressed worry with the slow response of the Federal and state governments to providing the infrastructure needed to efficiently kick-start the seaport...

Work nearing completion at the Lekki Deep Seaport, Lagos.

• Infrastructure, evacuation concerns undermine project’s viability
• Operator seeks govt intervention on cargo evacuation system
• Experts say fourth mainland bridge, green rail line will address concerns
• Lagos to implement master plan in six months, involve stakeholders, says committee head

Hours after the first vessel berthed at Lekki deep seaport, stakeholders and residents along the corridor have expressed worry with the slow response of the Federal and state governments to providing the infrastructure needed to efficiently kick-start the seaport, amid concerns that Apapa experience, especially, as it relates to cargo evacuation and chaotic gridlock, may resurface at the Lekki corridor.

Indeed, there are expectations from the Lekki port, which is projected to regain the maritime business lost to ports of Lome in Togo, Abidjan in Cote d’Ivoire and Accra in Ghana, as well as enable the country leverage the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA).

The Lekki port is expected to relieve the congestion and heavy gridlock along the Apapa and Tin Can ports corridor, while offering support to the growing commercial operations across Nigeria and the entire West African region. It was designed as a major trans-shipment hub that will service the regional sea routes and the hinterland at the same time.

On Friday, three Ship-to-Shore cranes and 10 Rubber-Tyred Gantries critical to the commencement of operations of the $1.5 billon Lekki deep seaport arrived in Nigeria from Hong Kong ahead of September.

Their arrival, according to the Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Mohammed Bello-Koko, represented a major step toward birthing Nigeria’s first deep seaport.

“For us at the NPA, the coming on stream of Lekki Deep Sea Port symbolises a lot of positives. Apart from being Nigeria’s first deep seaport, Lekki Port will also be the first fully automated port at take-off. This provides an insight into the path we are already toeing as a management team to govern the operationalisation of not just the forthcoming Badagry, Ibom and Bonny Deep seaports, but also of the reconstruction of the aged Tin-Can Port, where work will commence immediately the transport ministry and FEC approve.”

Earlier, Chairman of Lekki Port LFTZ Enterprise Limited, Abiodun Dabiri, said the arrival of the vessel was historic, as it would begin to deliver Nigeria as a regional hub for maritime business.

“Now, the vessel we just received is carrying some major cranes and those cranes will enhance the transformation business of the deep sea port. The draft of the depth of this sea is about 16.5 meters and the vessel itself can only take about 14.5 meters; the implication of this is that there is no where else in this country that this vessel can berth and that is what makes it historic.”

BUT with the pilot phase of commercial operations set to commence by December, expectations for the $1.5 billion deep seaport project may not be met owing to inefficient road networks to facilitate smooth flow of traffic to and from the port.

The port is targeting about 1.5 million 20-foot equivalent unit container capacity yearly, which is expected to rise to as high as about 4.7 million when the project commences full operation. Also, the port is relying on trucks for its cargo evacuation as rail service and barge operations are yet to materialise.

Thousands of trucks are expected to make use of the already overburdened Ibeju-Lekki-Epe axis, which is presently undergoing construction across different zones, leaving Lekki residents to dread what comes next when the port’s operation comes on stream.

Promoters of the deep seaport, residents, importers and other stakeholders are pleading that government helps to address the concerns that could paralyse the huge plans and objectives of the project.

The Federal Government had expressed optimism that the port would create about 169,972 jobs to boost the economy, while enabling it and the state government to generate about $201 billion through taxes, royalties and duties, as well as an aggregate impact of $361 billion in 45 years upon the commencement of operations.

But from the look of things, the projected revenue may not be realised as investors might shun the port, making it another nightmare like the Apapa and Tin Can Island ports, which have defied every intervention till date.

The Apapa traffic gridlock is notorious for causing cargo congestion at the port and recurring losses to companies. Businesses along the two Lagos ports have either shut down, as they no longer get patronage due to customers’ inability to access them or relocated to other locations.

Also, residents continue to live in the hellish traffic situation as they find it difficult to access their homes. Truck drivers and conductors have also turned the Lagos ports corridors to toilets where they defecate openly on the roads thereby causing hazards to the health conditions of residents.

Stakeholders are worried that the Lekki-Epe expressway, linking the port, is narrow and cannot serve the thousands of trucks that would be accessing the port.

Already, the influx of people into new towns and settlements springing up daily on the Lekki-Epe corridor has increased the number of vehicles plying the road, leading to constant traffic congestion.

The promoters of the Lekki port have acknowledged the potential threat to the success of the huge project and other businesses in the axis, citing the need for modern and efficient road networks to facilitate smooth flow of traffic to and from Lekki Port to aid cargo evacuation.

The Managing Director of Lekki Deep Seaport, Du Ruogang, said while the port would change the economic landscape of Nigeria and become a hub in the West and Central African region, there is need for the government to support the cargo evacuation system. He noted that the roads connecting to the port are not satisfactory to the demands of the evacuation requirements of the port.

“We must take timely action to avoid our mistakes at Apapa. Enhancement of the existing road network is imperative and rail connectivity of the port to the national railway will avoid problems of cargo evacuation to the rest of the country. The seven road connections are required for the successful evacuation of cargo from Lekki port and the free trade zones in that Lekki axis. These roads are key to making provision, for the evacuation of goods from the axis,” he said.

The General Manager/Head of Government Relations and Security, Lekki Freeport Terminal, Fubara Awanta, said with the draft of the port, which is the deepest in West Africa, Nigeria should not lose the huge revenue that it would make from the port due to several bottlenecks.

He appealed to the government to ensure the key roads connecting the port should be completed to boost cargo evacuation as the short-term support, while for the medium term the government should assist in ensuring the movement of consignment through barging.

The Executive Secretary, Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC), Emmanuel Jime, had raised concerns about badge creation modalities out of the port, which he said is a critical component, noting that if government and operators are not careful, Lekki port will become like Apapa and Tin Can in terms of cargo evacuation.

“Barge modalities out of the port is an area that I think if we are not careful, Apapa condition could be replicated in terms of congestion. This has to be put on the front burner. How are we going to start barge movement of cargoes out of the port at this critical moment to avoid congestion on the roads,” he warned.

The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, during an inspection of the port, assured that the government was passionate about developing the business environment, noting that the idea of the Presidential Council on Enabling Business Environment was to ensure the country is competitive.

On the issue of roads, the Minister said the Lagos State government, Federal Government and Dangote Group are in a private partnership to improve and widen the road to ensure efficient cargo evacuation.

“We are concerned about the efficient evacuation of goods and services at the port. The ultimate goal is to connect this port with the rail link for optimal use. We are not unaware that we need to do a lot to ensure that the port becomes efficient, but we are on the right track,” he said.

A transport expert, who is the Director of Safety Beyond Borders, Mr. Adenusi Patrick, said the already collapsed Apapa corridor is about to be transferred to the Lekki corridor.

He said the only access road to the Lekki port corridor, which was constructed 42 years ago, will experience proliferation of trucks to increase the already huge traffic situation on the road.

He said most ports in the world use trans-modal means of transportation for cargo evacuation and movement, stating that there should have before now, been a rail designed to the Lekki deep seaport, which should have been completed, rather than having it as an afterthought when port operations commence and everything collapses.

“There is urgent need to develop a rail system from the Lekki corridor into Ogun, Ondo and other parts of the country, it doesn’t have to actually come to join the rail track in Jibowu because goods would be moved from the deep seaport to other parts of the country. If not, that then means the Ikorodu-Ijebu Ode road must also become a dual carriage way, else the road is already collapsed,” he said.

The transport expert also called for the immediate commencement of the long awaited coastal road so there will be an alternative to the current Lekki-Epe expressway.

He continued: “There is need also for dredging to take place between Epe and Ikorodu because you can access the Lekki corridor from Ikorodu by water. We need to develop that too so that barges can move from the Lekki deep seaport into Epe and from there go to Ikorodu or any other town on water.”

A professor of Transport Planning and Policy, Lagos State University (LASU) School of Transport and Logistics, Prof. Samuel Odewunmi, said the progress in completion of the Lekki deep seaport, which is nearing 90 per cent with no serious thought on the traffic it will generate, is making stakeholders deeply worried.

He said stakeholders in the transport sector are also worried about the linkage of the port axis to Ijebu Ode road, especially the strength of the road compared with the job it will do.

Odewunmi, who is also the Chairman, Road Transport Committee, Chartered Institute of Transportation Administration (CIOTA), said the slow approach to infrastructure development would affect the expected $201 billion revenue government is expected to generate from the deep seaport, as well as cripple businesses in the Lekki axis.

He said the LASU School of Transport had always advocated government speed up on the green rail line planned for the Lekki axis as well as the fourth mainland bridge, which should be a priority now.

According to him, none of it has been implemented, saying, “many will not just see this looming problem until it dawns on us and with the season of politics for the 2023 election, everybody is distracted.”

The transport expert said the green rail line already in the Lagos State Master Plan has not been executed. He said the state is only doing two rail lines for now, the blue line that goes to Okoko/Badagry from CMS and the red line that goes to Agbado, which synchronises with the federal rail line.

He said there is need for a deep pipeline to ferry petroleum products out of Lagos axis so that the volume of tankers, which is already causing issues in Apapa, will not be added to the volume of trucks that will be conveying goods from Lekki. According to him, all wet cargoes should go by a deep-seated pipeline to avoid vandalisation.

Former Commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development, Lagos State, Olutoyin Ayinde, said government should have ensured settlement is pre-planned before building any big project, saying unfortunately, what is being done in the state is built before planning.

Ayinde, who is the National President of the Nigerian Institute of Town Planners (NITP), said the fourth mainland bridge and Lekki airport, which are part of the regional plan of 1980, are yet to be implemented by the government, adding that one of the purposes of the fourth mainland bridge is to evacuate cargo and traffic from the Lekki axis so that trucks do not need to ply down the road to Victoria Island.

The former commissioner said before he left office in 2015, he had proposed as solution, a sixth and seventh mainland bridges, with each of them getting closer to ease of exiting Lagos and joining the Benin-Sagamu expressway. He said it is uncertain the speed at which the Lagos State Government is trying to get the fourth mainland bridge ready before the port operations commences, noting that if it is not ready, there will be inconveniences.

MEANWHILE, the Managing Director, MOA Planners Limited, the organisation contracted to prepare the Ibeju-Lekki Model City plan, Moses Ogunleye, said before the establishment of the deep seaport port, there were consideration for the Lekki infrastructure master plan, which is undergoing review.

Ogunleye said the issue of traffic and transport and other things that have to do with the big development, such as the Dangote Refinery and Industry Plant, Lekki deep seaport and Free Trade Zone are within the Ibeju-Lekki Model City plan, which the team is extensively considering and preparing for the Lagos State government.

On the impact of the slow approach of government to addressing the issue, Ogunleye said Lagos is conscious of the problems, which is why the team has been asked to do the Master Plan and has already started work last month.

“Every development plan will take time, but what is key is that whatever we are proposing and recommending, the government just goes into it and starts implementing, so that what happened in Apapa will not happen in Ibeju-Lekki corridor. These are the things the government is interested in. There will be fewer problems in that corridor if government really follows the plan. Even before we finish the design, government will be able to implement part of it.”