Lekki ports: Another looming traffic crisis
Prospective and exciting as the Lekki Deep Seaport may be in terms of revenue earning for both the Federal Government and the Lagos State Government, the project is surrounded by potentially suffocating circumstances that may abort the dream. It is crucial for the authorities to note that the port is not an end but a means to an end; and, for it to function optimally, its concept requires greater diligence than that being presently accorded it.
Everyday, Nigeria’s population grows at an inversely proportional rate to available infrastructure. The story of the Apapa and the Tin-Can Island Ports shares the same theme with Nigeria’s extremely overburdened social and physical infrastructure. While the Lekki Deep Seaport appears to offer some relief to the problems of Apapa ports, the future of the project is dependent on a network of infrastructure that will avert a repeat of Apapa’s mess. As it stands, the $1.5 billion project, despite being at 90 per cent completion, is toeing the path of Apapa ports and may compound the woes of the Lekki-Epe corridor when the Dangote refinery is completed. Once again, Nigeria has failed to plan!
The port, which is situated in Ibeju Lekki area of Lagos State, was designed with a 1.5km breakwater and about 6km Fairway Buoy that enjoys 19.5m draught, 670m diameter turning circle and 1.5km long quay wall. From available charts, the promoters of the project are projecting a capacity of 1.5 million containers yearly, graduating to 2.7 million and ultimately 4.5 million in about five to seven years of operations, in order to be able to make up for the current huge capacity gap of the inefficient Apapa and Tin Can Island ports.
Worthy to note is that the projections are premised on the port’s cumulative delivery capacity anchored on efficient intermodal transportation systems that appears to have run into a major hitch. Since the commencement of serious work on the Lekki Deep Seaports some years ago, there have been questions and concerns about what the mode of evacuation of cargoes from the port would be. But the promoters of the project have, in response to the complaints, always assured that they were working on the concerns being raised by the stakeholders. At 90 per cent completion and a refinery equally nearing completion, the die is cast.
Apapa, which plays host to Nigeria’s two busiest ports – Apapa and Tin-Can Island – that together control 75 per cent of import and export activities, has for too long been bedeviled by persistent gridlock occasioned by unwholesome activities of truckers. This situation, apart from its effect on daily movement of motorists, residents and commuters in and out of Apapa, has crippled businesses in the port city, crashed property value in the prime location and left over 40 per cent of the buildings in Apapa GRA currently empty.
As part of the preparations for the commencement of business later this year, the officials of the Lekki Freeport Terminal recently paid a visit to the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) headquarters in Apapa, Lagos. During the visit, the Shippers’ Council boss, Emmanuel Jime, told them that the port industry does not want another Apapa, obviously referring to the infamous Apapa gridlock that has become the shame of Nigeria among the global maritime community. “We don’t want to replicate Apapa. Everybody believes we shouldn’t be moving in that direction. What are the things that needed to be in place? For now, the only mode of moving cargoes is the road that connects to the port. And if the road is the only mode, then we are heading to replication,” he was reported to have told them.
The Chief Executive Officer, Lekki Free Port Terminal, Denrick Moos, was said to have appealed to the NSC to help address the cargo evacuation issue so that another Apapa-type gridlock is not created on the Lekki-Epe Expressway. “Our challenge is the evacuation of the cargoes. So, we need a proactive approach to make sure that we evacuate seamlessly, cargoes that would be imported into the country and to avoid added cost, which is sometimes prompted by the waiting time. And the solution is to construct a rail network that would link the port,” he said. Indeed, the hurry to complete and commission the deep seaport without effective cargo evacuation mode in place amounts to replicating the Apapa traffic mess.
With 2023 approaching, the need to leverage certain projects for campaigns is at variance with the goals and benefits they offer without due process. The Dangote Group Executive Director, Devakumar Edwin, had told journalists that the plan is to transport refined petroleum products by road and through the seaports when it begins operation. According to him, the refinery has a total tanker loading facility of 2,900 for dispatch by road to areas that could not be delivered by marine facilities. If these numbers are taken into context alongside the estimated number of vessels expected at the Lekki Deep Seaport, it would be difficult to avoid another Apapa nightmare in a very short while on the Lekki axis.
The Danne Institute for Research, a Lagos-based research institute, in its Connectivity and Productivity Report, stated that Lagos State loses about N4 trillion yearly as a result of its notorious traffic congestion problem. The loss is the economic cost of the estimated 14.12 million hours lost by Lagosians while commuting to work every day. The findings reinforce concerns by members of the Organised Private Sector (OPS) on the ease of doing business in the state, especially as it relates to the daily movement of goods and people. And Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State had recently made a joke of the ugly phenomenon saying persons who have resided in Lagos for 20 years should be given “free pass to heaven” for their experience with traffic congestion.
Though the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed stated that the Federal Government and the Lagos State government will earn total revenue of over $201 billion in 45 years when the Lekki Deep Sea Port becomes fully operational, it is worthy to note that such projected earnings will only become a reality when appropriate plans are implemented. Nigeria’s port economy lacks essential logistics processes, with a plethora of interconnected ills that has led to a lengthy and cumbersome cargo evacuation/ delivery procedure. All these have contributed to the high cost of doing business in the country and poor living conditions of many Lagosians who suffer from the trauma of living with trucks.
With the failure of several executive orders and visits by the high and mighty in Abuja, Apapa ports have remained Nigeria’s Achilles heels and the Lekki Deep Seaport appears to be ready to compound the issues. Beyond politics, stakeholders need to take seriously the extension of a rail connection out of Lekki and expansion of the roads along the Lekki corridor. We can talk about the wonders the Deep Seaport will achieve but the huge price to pay is presently hidden from the sales promotion bandied about by its promoters, government officials and private land developers.