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That presidential order on Apapa ports

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Trucks on Apapa Wharf Road amid the expiration of the deadline by government for them to quit the highway in Lagos… yesterday. PHOTO: NAJEEM RAHEEM

Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu’s recent vow to end the Apapa gridlock within 60 days of his administration, which coincided with a presidential order to truck and tanker drivers who parked their vehicles on all access roads and bridges to the Apapa ports and environs to vacate within 72 hours may turn out to be another order that is full of sound and fury, signifying nothing, after all. And that will be a very sad outcome for Lagos, the economic capital of West Africa.

Though, similar top level government orders had been issued in the past by both the federal and Lagos State governments without result, it is possible to clear the trucks and trailers off Apapa if the political will is there for such a serious governance issue of urgent national importance.

Last February, for instance, the trucks and trailers disappeared from all over Lagos roads and bridges, overnight, because of a visit by President Muhammadu Buhari to campaign for re-election in Lagos.

Curiously, all the vehicles resurfaced on the same roads and bridges a day after Buhari ended his visit and departed, showing that the gridlock is deliberate and motivated by business deals by security and traffic officers who are members of strange task forces.

Most residents of Lagos who always feel the heat of the Apapa age-long menace still feel that whatever strategy that was used to clear the vehicles off the roads and bridges shows that it is possible to have a gridlock-free Lagos. It is therefore strange that there has not been serious official commitment to fixing the challenge of the most economically viable routes in the country at the moment.

Sanwo-Olu made his promise to clear the mess in Lagos during an interactive session with his classmates at the Executive Master of Business Administration class of the University of Lagos before he was sworn in. This kind of promise cannot impress anyone as most new comers always raise expectations and dash them in the end.

Asked about what he would do about trailers causing gridlock in Apapa, Sanwo-Olu said that within the first 60 days in office, he would rid Apapa of the trailers.

But one of the most significant steps the governor promised in the same vein was that he would develop the Badagry Port as a long-term measure to reduce the pressure on the Apapa ports.

In what looked like a strategic response to the Sanwo-Olu challenge in Lagos, President Buhari also gave an ultimatum to the same tanker drivers to vacate Apapa roads and bridges within 72 hours and clear the mess within two weeks.

The presidential directive followed an emergency meeting convened by Buhari and chaired by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo on April 25, 2019.

A task force headed by Osinbajo, which was set up following the meeting has reportedly swung into action.

The terms of reference of the task force, which will report directly to the president include the development of an efficient and effective management plan for the entire port area traffic, including fuel distribution and business district traffic; enforcing the permanent removal of all stationary trucks on the highway and the development of an effective manual call-up system, pending the introduction of the electronic truck call-up system. It also includes the implementation of a workable Empty Container Truck handling policy, among others.

Consequently, the Nigerian Navy and all other military formations have been directed to withdraw from traffic management duties in the Apapa area, while military and paramilitary checkpoints in front of the ports and environs are to be dismantled.

In their place, the Lagos State Traffic Management Agency (LASTMA), has been authorised to move into Apapa as the lead traffic management agency, while the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), is to commence the immediate use of the Lilipond Terminal and Trailer Park A as truck transit park.

The Lagos State governor visited the ports immediately after taking oath of office. But the gridlock lingers and the security agencies the president ordered out of the seaports area have only relocated to routes outside where they continue their high-profile extortion from desperate haulage companies.

The Joint Security Task force formed by former Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, to clear and ensure free flow of traffic was ineffective.

Rather than improve, the situation got worse. And now a new governor has taken up the gauntlet. The Lagos State Government has been helpless even as the Federal Government abdicated 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 constitute the main problems. A situation whereby all the major access roads into Apapa are permanently blocked by trailers and tankers, which makes movement practically impossible is embarrassing.

And so how would the presidential order be carried out when the trailers actually have goods to convey out of the ports on the order of the concessionaires who manage the port operations. Importers will always pay more demurrage charges if they don’t clear their goods within stipulated time.

Besides, pressure is being put on the flyovers that bear the weight of the vehicles. The stressed bridges could collapse and pose danger to the public, in this regard. Yet the works ministries of federal and state governments look askance as this risk stares us in the face.

Restoring sanity in Apapa is a critical challenge that needs to be tackled with utmost vigour. It is not too much for the president to visit the Apapa ports to assess the magnitude of the messy economic facilities. Whatever doesn’t get measured doesn’t get attention. That is why the task force approach could only provide a salutary ad-hoc relief. The president should demand a facility visit to the Apapa ports by road to see the two sea ports that the whole nation depends on at the moment.

The only way to achieve a permanent solution is to fix the roads. The contracts awarded before the elections may not be strategic enough to address the emergency that the project requires now. The other immediate measure is to develop an alternative port in the Badagry axis as proposed by Governor Sanwo-Olu.

In the same vein, it is curious that the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) has failed over the years to develop the many sea ports in the Niger Delta areas, notably in Warri, Sapele, Port Harcourt, Uyo, Calabar, etc. This failure is the reason for the intractable gridlock in Lagos.

In most parts of the world, sea ports management is a local government affair. This again speaks volumes to the expediency of restructuring the federation so that ports in different states can be developed and managed by the state and local authorities.

Meanwhile, if the presidential order and the Lagos State government’s (thankfully of the same political party platform) fail to address the current impasse at the Apapa ports, the people and indeed the business community would have to blame Buhari and Sanwo-Olu. They have a promise to fulfill to the people now!


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