When at the beginning of this year stakeholders accessed Apapa ports with ease, many hoped and prayed that the improved traffic situation would continue for unabated as many people never believed Apapa could be accessed with little or no stress.
Anyone who knows Apapa well will admit that the area is not a place one will just wake up one morning and decide to visit without first conditioning his or her mind to sit in a public bus or his vehicle as the case may be for an average of three hours to and fro respectively especially with the worsened situation late last year that made everybody cry out in pains to the federal government.
Recall that the Minister of Power, Prof. Chinedu Nebo had to flout traffic law last year when he was on his way to Apapa port to take delivery of the abandoned power equipment from the Nigeria Customs Service by driving on one way lane just in a bid to access the roads.
Surprising, the story was different early this year that virtually all roads leading to Apapa including the Tincan Island port roads were accessible then to the extent that bus drivers who always terminate their journey to Apapa at coconut bus stop had to begin to take commuters straight to Apapa through Tincan Island Port.
To further attest to this, the General Manager Western Ports, Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Engr. A.O. Odunsi while playing host the Assistant Inspector-General of Police in-charge of Maritime, AIG Kalafite Adeyemi sometime in March this year expressed his surprise that Apapa could be accessed with such a minimal stress hoping that it would be sustained.
But with the suspension of the strike embarked upon by the Petroleum Tanker drivers last week leading to a massive rush to lift petroleum products from the tank farms scattered throughout Apapa, accessing the Apapa roads had again become a nightmare.
Top government officials, Chief Executives of various businesses in Apapa, freight forwarders, Customs Officials as well as other stakeholders all trekked to their offices one or two days in the last one week while those who could not trek or who did not have any serious business taking them to Apapa, turned back and went home as Okada drivers had difficulties too in accessing the roads. Even though some Okada drivers could “stubbornly” access the road, their fares were out of reach for many who by the nature of their work could not afford them.
During the last one week, businesses in Apapa suffered unquantifiable loss as man-hours were lost on traffic as people could not reached their offices, those who managed to get to their offices, got there very late and equally left on time so as to maneuver through the traffic in order to get home on time.
Speaking on the development, the Founder, National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Dr. Boniface Aniebonam described the traffic situation as embarrassing adding that this was not the first, second, third or fourth time this was happening.
Aniebonam while recalling that the port was strategic in terms of the economy of Nigeria noted that as the gateway to the nation’s economy, there was no reason for one to spend between four and five hours on the road for a journey of five minutes.
According to him” To me it is becoming very shameful, it is unbelievable. We talked about it ten years ago, NAGAFF made a representation; we wrote a position paper that we should have a truck terminal that will service the ports. These things are there before the government, what does it cost us to acquire land and the private investors come in and manage the terminals and articulated vehicles should be called in as and when due?”
He called for an integrated port system where goods could be evacuated from the ports through a multi-modal transport system adding that all the consignments that were plying the roads should be evacuated through the rail system.
He further decried the existence of tank farms in and around the ports which according to him should not be so because of the inherent danger posed by the presence of tank farms in the country.
“But you can see, everybody is applying the same road. We cannot continue to talk about the aspect of the towns within the operating environment of the ports, the dangers inherent in them that is unquantifiable. That is a time bomb that could blow any day and if that happens, Apapa is as good as sinked, I can tell you that because Apapa is surrounded by all these tank farms”.
“So, we need to exercise considerations and cautions, these tank farms should be relocated in the public interest. There is nothing more than the public interest. So, to me I don’t really understand, there are other issues you can look at”, he said.
He however expressed the hope that with the incoming government of Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, there may be respite for the sector in the years ahead adding that Nigerians should begin to ask for some the changes which had to do with good governance as according to him,” it is becoming very embarrassing, I must tell you”.
On his part, the Chairman of NAGAFF Lillypond/Ijora chapter, Rev. Emmanuel Agubanze described the traffic situation in Apapa as man-made saying that Nigerians don’t obey the law even as he blamed the government for not helping matters.
While opining that the whole of Apapa should have been reserved as the Apapa port area as it is obtained in other climes, he blamed the government for allowing all manner of development and structures in Apapa without proper mappings and planning explaining that with this kind of scenario on ground, one should expect this kind of situation.
How can government allow, if you are going to Coconut, you discover that the whole area has been taken over by the tank farms and that is what is creating the problem that we have now because that area virtually has been taken over by tankers right down to Ijesha”.
“Government needs to relocate all those tank farms and government should enforce the laws, they must be impactful. If you don’t enforce the law, people will continue to breach the law and they will continue to behave anyhow”, Agubanze said.
Agubanze further berated the government for constructing roads without considering the axle load of the roads it was constructing adding that this adds to the problem being witnessed in Apapa as most of the roads were in a very bad condition.
While pointing out that the Ijora Bridge would one day collapse as a result of the heavy loads it now carry, traffic having diverted to that road, he called on the incoming government to take proactive measures in tackling the menace so as to save the economy from further damage as a result of traffic gridlock.
Also speaking, the National Coordinator, Save Nigeria Freight Forwarders Importers and Exporters Coalition (SNIFFIEC), Chief Osita Patrick Chukwu gave the federal government the choice of either choosing the ports or the tank farms in Apapa adding that the government must choose either of them.
He said,” Let the federal government of Nigeria choose the ports or choose the tank farms, which is the truth. You must do away with one and take one. When tank farms were not here, fuel has been well distributed in the whole country. Petroleum products, gas and what have you has been distributed properly. Why should it be now that the ports should be inaccessible?”
“What they could do now is to salvage the impending collapse of this port by removing all these tank farms. Even if you want to have a tank farm, at least to sustain Apapa, it should be one. How can you put tank farm in the ports alongside the factories in Apapa? There is no country that builds factories in the ports”.
He continued,” A lot of problems have clipped into the port system which we need the incoming government to look inwards to be able to address this problem so as not to have more destructive impending issues because when the ports fails, automatically we can only face the oil and the oil is going and when it goes, what else would we look on”
Having said that, the bottom line is, how much attention will the maritime sector in particular get from the incoming administration as to reposition the sector as the second highest revenue earner for the sector? Will the incoming administration allow this nightmare called Apapa gridlock to continue unabated with its attendant hardship on the people or will it provide solution to this recurring decimal?
Only time will tell.