Unending politicking over ports access roads
The most worrisome aspect is that the outgoing administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, which paraded the former Governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Raji Fashola, as Minister for Power, Works and Housing, was unable to fix the roads after about 48 months in office.
The terminal operators and importers are groaning, businesses are dying, and motorists have tagged the ports a ‘no-go-area’. The economy is losing fortunes; the residents and stakeholders are ‘suffering and smiling’, as depicted in the popular song of the Afrobeat legend, Fela Anikulapo Kuti.
In a brash manner, however, the incoming Governor of Lagos State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, dropped a joker, promising to end the protracted gridlock in Apapa within his first 60 days in office.
As far as the operators are concerned, it’s another political assurance to be taken with a pinch of salt, wondering what magic wand he intends to deploy, seeing as previous governors have tried and failed.
Sanwo-Olu had claimed that his government would not be overshadowed by the ‘politics’ that have bewildered the Apapa ports, saying: “The Apapa trailer issue; it’s a campaign issue; it’s very serious; I’m going to take it very seriously.
“I believe that it is something that we are going to solve in the first 60 days of our government. Whatever is going to be required of us, we will take them out.
“There is a lot of politics being played around there. But no, it cannot be the way we’ll continue to live. We cannot continue to give excuses.”
In addition to the short to medium term measures, he equally said as a long-term solution, his administration would develop the Badagry Port, to diffuse pressure on the Apapa Ports.
But National President, National Council of Managing Directors of Customs Licensed Agents, (NCMDCLA), Lucky Amiwero, believes these are mere wishes, saying: “I think the man (Sanwo-Olu) was talking as a man who does not understand the problem in that place. The problem needs Federal and State governments to pull resources together. The role the state can play is providing a long-term solution, which is the provision of a trailer park.
“The terminal operators and NPA are responsible for the provision of holding bays, because they collect holding bay fees. So, it is a not a political matter, it is an economic issue, which has to be settled on an economic line. It’s not a political game, and it’s not something that can be solved in six month; you have to work in conjunction with the Federal Government and the stakeholders to solve the problem,” he explained.
Amiwero berated the outgoing governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, who allegedly converted the land earmarked for trailer park at Orile to a housing scheme.
“It is so sad, because Lagos State harbours four of the ports, and those ports actually control about 80 per cent of the cargoes that are coming into the country. The state is supposed to have at least three massive trailer parks, because we have more of the ports in Lagos.
“The trailer park at Berger was meant to take care of vehicles bringing cargoes into Lagos, but you will find that after Lateef Jakande, nobody continued with that vision, and that is why we are having the problem – there are no trailer parks, and there are no holding bays,” Amiwero said.
Indeed, no sooner did Sanwo-Olu make his pledge than the Federal Government issued a presidential order to rid the ports access roads of gridlock within 72 hours.
Specifically, on Wednesday, May 22, President Buhari had declared that: “Operators of trucks and tankers have been directed to vacate the Port access roads within the next 72 hours.”
This comes a few months after a similar directive was given by Vice President Prof. Yemi Osinbajo. The new order also follows similar ones in the past by the federal and state governments to find lasting solution to the endemic problem.
At best, all such past charges only brought temporary relief for a few days, and several days after the expiration of the current order, it is even more obvious that force or executive fiats cannot check the Apapa gridlock.
Nothing has changed significantly, as defiant articulated truck drivers, who have turned all the major roads and bridges in Lagos into parking lots, are still there. In fact, they are still everywhere, compounding the traffic gridlock.
Just like Amiwero, Secretary, Road Transport Employees Association of Nigeria, Tincan, Apapa Kirir Kiri Chapel, Godwin Ikeji, warned that target objective may be missed if major stakeholders are not involved in the execution of the new directive.
He said: “The problem with Nigeria is that it has never faced reality; and the reality about the ports access roads have been expressed in several recommendations. Anything we must do to solve this problem must have contributions of the shipping lines. They own the containers that constitute about 99 per cent of the traffic gridlock in Lagos, and the vehicle owners are service-oriented people. We go where the job is, and we have to deliver.”
Besides, he noted, “Government also has the role of providing the enabling environment. The main thing is that our nation needs this maritime industry. So, we must find a way out,”
Ikeji, who described the Apapa situation as, “an insult on our nation,” added: “There is no amount of taskforce. No amount of regulation that will solve this problem, if there are no holistic measures of getting all the parties involved and agreeing on the procedures. Some of them are big guns and you can’t challenge them. We have had all sort of regulatory agencies that have not achieved anything in the past.”
In addition to getting the shipping lines involved, he urged government to compel them to follow the international standard of having or operating functional holding bays, rather than littering Nigerian roads with empty containers.
“What we are saying is that trucks must be on the roads legitimately and not just park anywhere. Just like when we are talking about having holding bays, the real thing is that the holding bays should be functional. Presently, the holding bays are not functional; we have been working on that since 2012. The shipping lines are the cabals that are holding Nigeria to ransom. I have said it severally that they are operating like a cabal that cannot be touched,” he stated.
On the vehicles that are still on the road after the expiration of the presidential directive, he said these are trucks waiting for call up to pick cargoes at the ports.
Highlighting some factors that can bring permanent solutions to the gridlock, Ikeji said: “We should decentralise our shipping, we should get Calabar, Warri, and Port Harcourt ports functional. We should get the rail system functioning, and give more incentives to the inland container depots and then fix the Apapa-Oshodi express road.”
Notwithstanding ongoing presidential intervention, Amiwero warned that beyond politics, the problem “requires experts’ contribution, because the ports access road is below the sea level, therefore the construction is beyond Dangote, but requires expert touch. They need a special construction work, if not, it will get damaged again, because that road is below the sea level.”
As part of measures to salvage the situation, the Federal Government has commenced the reconstruction of the N73 billion, 32-kilometre Apapa-Oshodi-Oworonshoki-Ojota Road.
The plan is to reconstruct the Apapa-Oshodi-Oworonshoki-Ojota Expressway Section 1, Sub-section A, beginning from Olorogun Michael Ibru Boulevard (former Creek Road)-end of Port Novo Bridge, and Liverpool Road to Coconut to Beachland Estate interchange bridge to Cele Bus Stop to Anthony Village, and to the Old Lagos Toll Gate.
Federal Controller of Works in Lagos, Adedamola Kuti, who confirmed the project, said work would begin on Section1 Subsections A, B, D, and Sections 3 and 4 for a seamless reconstruction period and smooth flow of traffic at all time, and for timely delivery of the project, which is expected to be completed in 24 months.
The reconstruction of the Apapa-Wharf Road has already created some relief to ports users, save for slight obstruction by the truck drivers, who usually parked on the road and therefore condemn one lane of the important route.
The two-kilometre road was in comatose for months until it was approved to be reconstructed through Public Private Initiative (PPI) by AG Dangote, supervised by the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing.
The poor state of the port roads made transporters to increase haulage fare above 400 per cent, a situation that has pitched them against the operators and regulators.