10th April, 2014
By Tayo Ogunbiyi
Once again, pandemonium has returned to the roads in Apapa. Currently, gaining access to Apapa is fasting turning into a horrendous experience. The recent return of fuel scarcity in various parts of the country, is of course, not helping matters as major roads leading to Apapa have become inaccessible largely due to queues of petroleum tankers and articulated trucks making their way to Apapa to lift petroleum products. The situation has been further aggravated by current construction work by Julius Berger Plc as well as the early rain across the metropolis this year.
The Lagos State Government sometime ago made a bold move to sanitise the appalling traffic situation at Apapa by removing over 120 trucks that were indiscriminately parked along Oshodi-Apapa Expressway, following the expiration of the ultimatum issued by the state government to remove them. The evacuation exercise, which lasted over 13 hours, commenced around 1 a.m. from Tin Can Island to Creek Road, Liverpool and Marine Beach before it was suspended at about 2 p.m. Consequently, the usual traffic gridlock disappeared with motorists driving excitedly to their destinations. Expectedly, security and business situation along the area improved considerably as a result of this intervention.
This bold efforts by the state government could, however, not be sustained partly as a result of the inability of the Federal Government at complementing the efforts of the state, towards finding a lasting solution to the indiscriminate parking of trailers and tankers on Apapa/Oshodi Expressway. Ironically, Apapa is a very strategic 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. Consequently, that Apapa is key to the economic growth of Nigeria is incontrovertible. Neglecting Apapa, despite the trillions of naira accruing to the Federal Government from its ports, further reinforces the sad culture of neglect and rot in the country.
The issues involved with regards to the current situation in Apapa are many-sided. First and foremost, the whole axis, being a busy industrial outlay with constant economic activities, is in need of pressing infrastructure development. Also, the haphazard parking of trailers and articulated tankers on the road constitutes a major nuisance on the axis. Although the Lagos State Government built a tanker terminal with a capacity to take between 500 and 2000 trucks along the axis, tanker drivers don’t patronize the park. Furthermore, the continuous importation of locally consumed fuel in the country, arising from the inability of the federal government to fix local refineries, places serious burden on the Apapa axis. With more than 50 depots in Lagos, at least over 3,000 trucks travel to Apapa on a daily basis to lift petroleum products.
The chaotic situation at Apapa, undoubtedly, has grave implication for the country’s economy. The traumatic experience in accessing the ports leads to avoidable delay in the clearance of goods from the ports. It is exactly this situation that makes the Apapa port one of the most costly 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 Apapa gridlock 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.
As previously stated, the major refineries in the country could no longer function at optimal capacity. This has made importation of locally consumed petroleum products a necessity, a situation that complicates the Apapa gridlock. To redress the current trend, therefore, the Federal Government would need to urgently resolve the issues of the failed refineries. Continuous importation of fuel, no doubt, will exacerbate the pressure on Lagos and its infrastructure. Patently, what is happening at Apapa mirrors the systemic failure in the country. Various stakeholders in the oil sector need to ingeniously look into the petroleum distributive arrangement to evolve a more scientific and less cumbersome method of distribution.
Perhaps, more appreciably, the Federal Government needs to invest massively in the infrastructure development of Apapa. Infrastructure development is critical to achieving human capital development in any society. Without doubt, the growth of any country’s economy hugely depends on the status of its infrastructure. The dearth of needed infrastructure in a given society places serious limitation on human capital development. It is in view of this that the Lagos State Government is planning a regeneration of the Apapa Central Business District, CBD, after several years of neglect by federal authorities. The mainstay of this plan is to restore business activities in the area as well as address environmental degradation caused by illegal activities of oil companies and trailer drivers. The objective of government in its agenda to redevelop Apapa is to ensure sustainable socio-economic growth in the area.
In order to ensure that new windows are opened for development and growth in Apapa and, indeed, Lagos in general, Abuja must constructively engage Lagos for a developmental partnership that could enhance the prosperity of not only the state but the country at large. Lagos remains the window through which other countries view Nigeria. Lagos alone consumes 45 per cent of petroleum products in the country. All banks in the country are not only located in Lagos, but actually have their headquarters in the state, while over 40 per cent of telephone subscriber base network are also based in the city. Consequently, a Federal Government commitment to the infrastructure development of Lagos is a commitment to the prosperity of the country.
•Ogunbiyi wrote from Alausa, Ikeja, Lagos.