As Nigerians, especially seaport users, shipping and maritime stakeholders and residents of Apapa continue to lose thousands of man hours daily to the unending port road gridlock, SAMSON ECHENIM writes that the Apapa port road traffic is a typical manifestation of a huge failure in Nigeria’s transport system.
People and businesses in Apapa have continued to experience untold pains and anguish, losing thousands of man hours to the seaport access road traffic gridlock that has crippled economic activities in the city.
From year to year, the gridlock remains unabated and unchecked by the Nigerian government and gullies grow on them despite their huge economic importance.
Apapa is home to Nigeria’s premium seaports, the Apapa Port Complex, the Tin Can Island Port, Kirikiri Port and Ijora Port, where the federal government earns its next largest revenue after oil.
Perhaps, it will not be wrong to argue that up to 50 per cent of what the federal government earns from oil come in through the ports, jetties and tank farms located in the Apapa axis as the crude is exited and the refined products received by means of port facilities. Experts have also indicated that as an import-dependent nation, up to 90 per cent of Nigeria’s importations are received at the Lagos ports.
Yet, the Lagos ports roads can be literally described as abandoned. One of the roads, the Creek Road, fell out of use since 2005, with one of the carriage ways now a park for trucks. The other lane is just a home of gullies. The Tin Can Port end of the Oshodi-Apapa Expressway has also been abandoned with it numerous gullies, cutting off the road in many places. Yesterday, the pains and agony continued with thousands of people held in the traffic. Businesses are crumbling and people are losing out in the Apapa Port road-induced stress.
Transport and shipping stakeholders say the situation in Apapa is a sheer manifestation of system collapse. The chairman, Seaport Terminal Association of Nigeria (STOAN), Princess Vicky Haastrup, said that the gridlock being experienced in Apapa is a direct consequence of system failure in the oil and gas industry logistics chain. Haastrup, who is also the executive vice chairman/chief executive officer of ENL Consortium, operators of Terminals C and D of the Lagos Port Complex Apapa, said that the only way to solve the gridlock is to immediately suspend the lifting of imported petroleum products from tank farms by road.
“There is an over-concentration of oil tank farms in Apapa, an area predominantly designed for port operations. There is now a situation where we have a proliferation of oil tank farms without regards for the safety logistics implication. I issued a warning over five years ago advising government to discontinue tank farm operations in Apapa but nothing was done. The problem is now staring all of us in the face.
“Port operations have been brought to a virtual standstill as a result of this chaos created by tank farms and oil tankers and it does not look like anyone is doing anything drastic about it. We have a situation where over 10,000 tankers descend on Apapa daily and when you add this to the number of conventional trucks on routine maritime operations, it is not surprising that we have the kind of gridlock we are currently witnessing,” she said.
She lamented that there are about 60 tank farms operating in Apapa and on the immediate solution to the problem, Haastrup said, “There must be immediate suspension of the evacuation of petroleum products from Apapa by road.
The authorities must immediately activate the use of barges in petroleum products evacuation. Petroleum products meant for the northern part of the country should be moved to Lokoja and Baro Ports by barges so that the trucks collect them from there rather than coming to Apapa.
“Petroleum products meant for the South East and South South should be moved by barges to the Onitsha Port, Warri Port, Port Harcourt Port and Calabar Port. The trucks would then go to those places to pick up and distribute the products. This is the way to go and this will immediately reduce the number of tankers coming to Apapa to a manageable number.
“Ultimately and on the long run, the incoming government should get our refineries working to reduce the nation’s avoidable dependence on importation of petroleum products. The tank farms in Apapa must also be relocated to allow a breath of fresh air for port operation,” Haastrup explained.
The national president of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT), Maj-Gen. Umar Usman, said that Nigeria remains in dire need of a national transport policy that can define the extent of government and private sector involvement, build effective inter-modal transport system as well as clarify vehicular usage of the various transport infrastructure, among others.He also agreed with Haastrup, as he said that Nigeria badly need an integrated transport system.
“What is happening at the Apapa port is horrible and it is unacceptable. The Apapa Port is the gateway and the core of the economy of the country. It is a shame on all of us. The incoming administration must look into these issues and address them squarely and is not supposed to continue in this state of hopelessness. What is happening in Apapa is an eyesore and no responsible administration will sit and watch things happen,” Usman said.
The CILT boss stressed the need for the incoming government to have “the right people in the right places,” arguing that adoption of political considerations would leave the country in the current state of rot.
“If we are to weigh transportation on a scale of one to 100, Nigeria is somewhere between 20 and 25. The reason for this is very obvious. A situation where the state of transport infrastructure is disappointingly low and where there is lack of inter-modality of movement, Nigeria is still absolutely dominated by road and this should not be. Across the world, it has not always been,” the CILT’s deputy president, Prof Kayode Oyesiku, said while also commenting on the Apapa gridlock yesterday.