19th March, 2012
There is no disputing the fact that the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway is one road that is very strategic as a major gateway to the country’s sea ports. The major share of government’s revenues comes from both the Apapa and Tin Can Island Ports. More than 75 per cent of the goods that are imported into the country come through the ports in Lagos and the major ports in the country are based in Apapa. Therefore, that Apapa is key to the prosperity of Nigeria is simply an understatement. Unfortunately, in recent time, motorists, commuters as well as business men plying the Oshodi/Apapa expressway have been subjected to untold hardship occasioned by perennial traffic gridlock that has become a recurring trauma along the ever-busy road. The traffic which usually stretches several kilometres is often mostly chaotic at Mile 2 and Julius Berger Yard axis with people spending close to four hours on a journey that should not be more than 30 minutes.
The issues involved on the road are multi-faceted. For one, it is in a real bad shape and in need of urgent rehabilitation. Second, the nuisance of trailer drivers on the road is becoming quite alarming. Not only that they drive recklessly, they equally park their trailers indiscriminately along the road. The indiscriminate packing of trailers on either side of the road is one of the serious causes of the painful traffic gridlock that motorists and commuters regularly face on the road. Third, incessant cases of abandoned vehicles equally constitute a major hindrance to motorists on the highway. Also, the unprecedented upsurge of petrol tankers on the road is closely tied to the continuous importation of locally consumed fuel in the country. There are more than 50 depots in Lagos, which means there are between 50 and 400 trucks that load in one day. Consequently, a minimum of 3,000 trucks travel to Lagos on daily basis to lift petroleum products. Over 80 per cent of fuel supply across the country is hauled from Lagos. Hence, tanker drivers come from all over the country to lift the products.
The fallout of the current situation on the country’s economy is indeed rather enormous. First, the difficulty in accessing the ports makes it very hard for agents to process their papers for the clearance of goods. The delay in the clearance of goods from the ports, invariably, makes the nation’s ports one of the most expensive in the world. It takes about two to five days for empty containers to be returned to the port and yet the importers and their agents are made to pay demurrage and levies for a fault that is not theirs. The situation might get worse unless government musters the will to effectively intervene. The traffic crisis has equally resulted in loss of business and enormous man-hours . Also, the traffic gridlock has seriously affected the productivity of freight forwarders, customs officers and other government agencies at the ports as well as other business interests along the axis. Similarly, auto sellers at the popular Berger auto market and Sunrise auto mart have also been experiencing shortfalls in business as a result of the traffic crisis in the axis. Naturally, the cost of goods in the market is on the upward swing as the importers and customs agents build the hours lost on the roads into the cost of their goods and services.
To tackle the threat posed by the road to the nation’s economy, the federal government recently awarded contract for the rehabilitation of the road to Julius Berger Plc. Equally, the federal government has begun a process that will lead to the construction of modern parking bay for tankers. On its part, the Lagos State Government built a tanker terminal with a capacity to take between 500 and 2000 trucks along the axis. However, it is sad to note that the tanker drivers have failed to patronise the park but prefer to create nuisance by parking on the highway while waiting to load fuel. In order to restore sanity on the road, the state government recently gave a 72-hour ultimatum for tankers to be removed from either sides of the road. At the expiration of the ultimatum, the state government embarked on a forceful removal of all fuel tankers parked indiscriminately on the Oshodi-Apapa expressway. At the end of the exercise, about 120 tankers were seized by the monitoring team. This intervention, no doubt, offered momentary respite to road users especially residents of Apapa, Festac and Badagry. But the tankers have since returned causing greater problems.
In order to reverse the ugly trend along the road, there is an urgent need for relevant government agencies to put in place a more institutionalised framework. For instance, the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) should stop issuing loading tickets to tanker drivers when adequate preparation has not been made for them, in order to reduce indiscriminate parking on the highway by the drivers. So, it is important that NNPC do not issue tickets to drivers to come and load in Lagos when adequate preparation for them to lift fuel in Lagos has not been made. Similarly, it is important that more tank farms are constructed along this axis to contain the over 3,000 tankers that come into Lagos on a daily basis. Tanker drivers often complain of the distance between the Orile terminal and the depots as a major setback. Presently, only two tank farms owned by Capital Oil and MRS are in operation along the axis and their capacity is not enough to accommodate the numerous tankers. It is hoped that tankers and trailers’ Park being built by the Federal Government at the Tin Can end of the expressway is completed in time to alleviate the suffering of the people. Also, the depots in Lagos should be expanded to provide sufficient parking facilities for tanker drivers.
Perhaps more importantly, there is an urgent need for the construction of more refineries across the country. A greater proportion of the petroleum products is consumed in Lagos because the refineries outside Lagos are not working. It is, therefore, imperative that more refineries are built while existing ones are urgently rehabilitated to ease the stress on Lagos. Continuous importation of fuel, no doubt, will continue to put more pressure on Lagos and its infrastructure. Evidently, the Apapa-Oshodi chaos is a reflection of the systemic failure in the country. There is a need to creatively look into the petroleum distributive system and bring out more acceptable system of distribution. Equally vital is the need to redevelop the Apapa-Oshodi Road into a modern and world class highway. It is pleasing to note that Julius Berger is presently working on the rehabilitation of the road. Nevertheless, there is a need to redevelop the road altogether as it could no longer meet the growing demands of an expanding mega city like Lagos. The Lagos State Government is showing the way forward in this respect with its on-going effort to transform the Badagry Expressway into a world class 6 lanes highway with BRT and light rail facilities.
No nation that is desirous of economic development and growth will handle with levity such an important road like the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway. To put the Nigerian economy on the path to speedy recovery and growth, all stakeholders must be committed to a result-driven programme that would make the road a driver’s delight and investor friendly.
•Ogunbiyi is of the Features Unit, Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja.