Persistent traffic gridlock around Apapa ports
The intractable and hydra-headed Apapa traffic gridlock, which has defied all solutions so far applied, is undoubtedly a depiction of gross inadequacy of the ports in the city, in comparison to the huge volumes of businesses that rely on them across the country. There are of course elements of human and technological deficiencies which also must be addressed holistically. But by and large, the far-reaching solution is to develop the eastern ports that will take away some of the businesses in a way that will facilitate the decongestion of Lagos. A situation where there are only two ports at Apapa and Tin Can Island, serving the entire country is no longer feasible.
The two ports can no longer handle the huge volume of cargo traffic given, especially, that the access routes are poor and dilapidated. That explains why all the measures put forward to mitigate the chaos have failed. It does appear that the authorities have come to a dead end with no other remedy at hand. But this does not need to be so if only the officials concerned will put heads together to unravel the fundamentals of the traffic gridlock. There is a dire need to make things work in and around the ports, to enhance their revenue generation capacity and save Nigerian importers the hassles of bringing in their wares through ports in neighbouring countries.
The earlier the authorities apply wisdom and do the needful the better will things turn out to be. No amount of blame game or half measures would change the horrible traffic situation in Apapa. The other day, the Special Adviser to the Lagos State Governor on Transportation and Head of the Traffic Management and Enforcement Compliance Team Apapa, Toyin Fayinka, blamed the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) for the renewed congestion at the ports and the consequent upsurge in traffic gridlock. But the blame is unhelpful, as the NPA authorities have in recent past equally expressed frustration at the persistent problem.
The NPA introduced the electronic truck call-up system also known as ‘ETO’ designed to address gridlock on roads leading to the ports. However, there has been an upsurge in traffic congestion raising concerns among various stakeholders that the call-up system may not provide a lasting solution to the traffic gridlock. The return of gridlock has been blamed on the sudden closure of the gates by the NPA of which no concrete reason was given for the action.
Observers believe that congestion is back on the roads because the automation system which was expected to operate optimally is not working. Automation is supposed to remove or drastically reduce human interference regarding the movement of trucks into loading points and the terminals. Unfortunately, human interference is still common and involves manipulation by people looking for ways to circumvent the system for their selfish interests.
Indications are that the release of trucks is not centralised as there are many places from where trucks are released, otherwise called ‘pre-gate.’ There is supposed to be a central point controlling the release of trucks irrespective of the number of ‘pre-gates.’ The issue of poor infrastructure is critical to the chaos in Apapa. The roads are less than the cargo going through.
Furthermore, the trucks may have everything needed to go through but are held up by security and port agencies like the police and Customs which, in attempts to perform their work aggravate problems leading to gridlock. The problem of truckers who are in a haste to offload cargo also contributes to the chaos at Apapa and increases the traffic build-up.
The Apapa gridlock requires a holistic approach to tackle. Government must address the issue of access routes to the ports. The roads in and out of the ports should be designed and clearly marked to guide trucks movement, such that trucks in breach of the guide direction should then be sanctioned. One lane can be reserved for truckers and another for other vehicles.
Certainly, Apapa, Nigeria’s foremost port-city complex has become a national embarrassment that has defied years of chaos and remedial efforts by successive governments. Obviously, issues of corruption and ineptitude have negated the efforts, thus rendering the ports grossly below par with their counterparts in neighbouring countries, despite the fact that it is the fourth largest and busiest in Africa.
The endemic gridlock has certainly gone out of control, having defied various solutions. The Joint Security Taskforce formed by former Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, to clear and ensure free flow of traffic is ineffective. Rather than improve, the situation keeps getting worse.
The Lagos State Government should not appear helpless even as the Federal Government seemingly abdicates its responsibility on Apapa by leaving the port infrastructure to degenerate over the years. The badly dilapidated roads and lack of parking bay for the trailers loading and offloading goods constitute the main headache. The use of railways as a means of transporting the goods should by now have been fully entrenched with marked results.
Government should open up the other ports to decongest Lagos as a lasting solution. It makes no sense to import goods that would be used in the Southeast through Lagos and then transport the goods overland by trucks and not even by rail. That contributes to highways failure. The coastal states in the South-South geopolitical zone should rise to the challenge of developing ports and operating them. This is where the practice of true federalism comes to play to facilitate the role of the states and make things easy for the people.