It took the combined efforts of two authorities, the federal government of Nigeria and the Lagos State government to return sanity to the Apapa Oshodi highway. This was on May 9, 2012. The duo had used the police, army, Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), navy, Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI), Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) security, Rapid Response Squad (RRS). You name them! The combined forces were used to dislodge the recalcitrant truck and petrol tanker drivers that had held hostage residents, companies, commuters and motorists plying or domiciling on or within the environs.
No less than 60 trucks were at the first instance impounded for contravening the quit order notice earlier given them to vacate the road. Members of the Joint Council of Seaport Truckers (JCOST) were later to complain that the authorities commenced seizure of their vehicles before the expiration of the ultimatum. According to them, over 14 vehicles belonging to their members were impounded by the Lagos State Transport Management Authority (LASTMA) at 0115a.m. of Sunday 6, 2012 against the directives the commissioner handed down to them. Similarly, the chairman of the Road Transport Employers’ Association of Nigeria (RTEAN) and the general secretary of JCOST, Mr. Godwin Ikeji, accused the officials of the LASTMA of breaking into the Abuja Park along Tin Can First Gate, Apapa and towed away 15 trucks belonging to their members.
Unlike in the past when such ultimatum usually ended in rhetorics or by a counter threat by the affected truckers to embark on strike settles it all, this time the truck drivers all took off with their vehicles. The fear that culprits would have their vehicles crushed did the magic. Today, the roads are free of the menace of the trucks. In their place are now potholes starting from the Mile Two end. The situation graduates as one heads towards Apapa and worsens from Trinity bus stop and reaches a crescendo around the second gate area of the Tin Can Island Port (TCIP). Surprisingly, a construction firm has been busy for months now scratching the surface for God-knows-reason without any meaningful progress. When it is not scooping sand out from the failed portions of the road, especially between first and second gates, it is meddling with stones around the bad areas. As it does this, the condition of the road continues to worsen.
As at today, nobody can actually tell which situation is worse for motorists and commuters, the days of trucks’ menace or the present nuisance of potholes. What worries commuters and motorists is the fact that the said highway by all indications happens to be the most important and busiest in the country. According to them, it is so because it is the highway that connects the major sea ports, Apapa and Tin Can, and the number one airport in the land, the Murtala Mohammed International Airport. Again, the highway links commuters to the number one border post in the country, Seme border. In other climes, a road like this is accorded utmost priority. The bad state of the road has resulted in container-laden trucks falling down on daily basis, especially around the Trinity bus stop, leading to total blockage of the highway most times and the attendant loss to consignees.
Surprisingly, the authorities appear not to care a hute. Apart from regular accidents recorded on daily basis leading losses by cargo consignees, the development has added to pressure on the ports as trucks can no longer make the desired runs to enable them deliver on time. Also they can hardly make enough trips to keep them afloat as they can hardly break even as to properly keep their vehicles in good shape. This has added to the cost of doing business at the ports as the delay occasioned by the pothole-instigated hiccups is built into the cost of delivery. Of course, the importer not being a Father Christmas has to pass it on to the final consumer who bears the brunt eventually.
Recall that government had some years back set up the Port Reform Evaluation Committee (PREC) headed by Barr. Chid Ilogu, to uncover the obstacles inhibiting efficiency in the country’s port system. One of its observations was the ugly traffic chaos in Apapa, which it said had hampered port operation and efficiency. It made some recommendations on how to make the ports perform optimally. The starting point to get things right, it recommended, should be a palliative to the Apapa traffic even on an interim measure before getting to the Eldorado. By the 1970s and 1980s some landlocked nations like Niger and Chad used the Lagos ports for the transshipment of their goods. Today, they have all diverted their attention to Ghana and The Republic of Benin where the business environment is friendlier. In the small port of Tema, Ghana, for instance, there are dedicated terminals for many of the landlocked West African countries whose cargoes are handled with utmost priority. The country has been the better for it financially.
Maritime stakeholders have therefore called on government to urgently begin to rehabilitate the road as soon as possible. Just last week, the managing director of the Greenview Development Nigeria Limited (GDNL), a subsidiary of the Dangote Group, had urged the Nigerian Ports Authority to assist in enthroning intermodal transport in the ports. This, he said, could be by making the rail line in the port to be functional. The company’s managing director, Alhaji Abba Isa Bukka, stated this while receiving the NPA boss, Mallam Abdullahi, who was on facility visit to his office. Bukka, who explained that a functional rail system would enhance the performance of the ports, noting that the rails and roads would facilitate cargo delivery from the ports. In addition, he said, intermodalism would help to eliminate congestion from the system, even as that would also engender operational efficiency.
Economy watchers have said that part of reasons why many manufacturing firms had to relocate to other countries was as a result of the high cost of doing business in Nigerian ports. According to them, inflation in Nigeria starts from the ports since the country is an import-dependent one. Apapa traffic hiccup constitutes part of the cost.
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