What so far sounds like one of the best news in recent times to most Lagosians and indeed anyone that has business around Apapa area came out of the Presidency last week. And if logically carried to conclusion, lots of people in Lagos and from different parts of the country will now have cause to sing Hallelujah.
Although this wasn’t the topic I had set out to write on this week but because of it strategic connection to the lives of Lagos residents, especially those in and around Apapa, and in fact, the nation in general, I had to suspend my initial topic, which has to do with the huge amount of money government, even under the biting economic situation, plans to pay some politicians just for them to come and render service in Abuja – something that ought to be on part-time basis.
I will surely get back to that some time soon. But for now, let’s savour the good news from the Presidency, which, when the statement eventually becomes a reality, will tremendously affect, positively, the lives of many Nigerians at this most difficult and hard time in the history of the country.
And here is the good news: President Muhammadu Buhari, Wednesday last week, gave a two-week deadline for the removal of all impediments to free flow of traffic and all congestion around the Apapa Ports and its environs.
If you live in Lagos, or have the faintest idea of the menace and pain that is Apapa, you will understand why this piece of news is good enough to bring down the blood pressure of especially those that reside in the area or have one thing or the other doing in Apapa.
Indeed, Apapa, where Nigeria’s foremost seaports are situated, is an expression of a completely run down system with no sign of government, so to speak.
But perhaps, government is finally coming to Apapa, following the president’s directive. And so, we will celebrate this development, no matter how late in the day that it is coming.
Apapa, to say the least, is a monumental national eye sore, as things are now. And as I had written here not too long ago, a visit to Apapa will leave you wondering how on earth any human can go through the pains of daily life in that badly run down commercial hub and still remain sane.
Apapa, like most Nigerian cities, is so dirty, tacky and badly run and generally an embarrassment to what it ought to be. The conditions of access roads to the Tin Can and Apapa Ports are terribly bad, as tankers and trailers have long taken over the roads and bridges leading to the area from any part of Lagos.
In some cases, the roads are completely gone, broken down or taken over by refuse or ponds. And as the rains come in full force, navigating Apapa will even get more horrible and stinking. The rail lines that used to ease haulage of goods from the ports, thus decongesting the roads of trailers, have long disappeared.
Five thousand tankers/trailers are said to invade Apapa daily for business with all the attendant misery compounded by decrepit roads and observance of the law in breach by drivers, who take residence in the middle of the roads, among others.
They eat and even answer the call of nature right there on these roads. And these are people, who must have left their own cities for weeks, mostly from far North, to come load or discharge goods at the ports. In a normal situation, this should not take more than a couple of days.
And so, stationary traffic could stretch from the ports to almost a distance of about 20 kilometres. As a matter of fact, most private homes are completely blocked by these trucks and tankers to the extent that home owners and tenants are forced to restrict their movements.
Apart from factories, bonded terminals and other corporate organisations, 27 tank farms are said to operate in Apapa, which all combine to create traffic lockdown for exporters and importers desirous of meeting deadlines to supply or take delivery of their products from the ports. Residents and visitors are not spared the ordeal.
To that effect, business environment in Apapa is one hell of a nightmare fueled by grinding traffic and delays from inefficient port operations.
The chaotic situation in the area merely confirms how the economy is bleeding while government, all these years, appeared to have no clue on how to end the mess. Which is why the new directive. Offers a breath of fresh air.
According to the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, for instance, Nigeria loses about N3.06 trillion (or $10 billion) on non-oil export and about N2.5 trillion corporate earnings across the sectors annually to the Apapa debacle. This is ridiculous for a country barely out of recession and actually said to be heading for another.
Cargo dwell time at the ports was said to have increased to 22 days, which is against the global best business practices in the maritime trade, as it is the longest in the West Africa sub-region, a report states.
Bottom line is that such a situation causes massive economic and job losses, which is why the two-week deadline to remove all impediments to free flow of traffic and all congestion around the Apapa Port and its environs is a huge relieve.
The directive, when and if affected, will see residents and all those having to do business in Apapa heave a massive sigh of relief. I mean, a directive that orders operators of trucks and tankers parked along access roads to the ports to vacate the area within 72 hours is obviously going to lift Lagosians off the untold pain these trucks and tankers constitute on the roads. If you understand that sometimes one is held in traffic for up to four, five hours because of the reckless parking of these articulated vehicles, then you will know why this directive calls for jubilation.
According to a statement from Office of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, the directive is fallout of an emergency meeting convened by President Muhammadu Buhari on April 25, this year, and which was presided over by the vice president.
Mr. Laolu Akande, spokesperson to the vice president, said the meeting came up with solutions to protracted gridlock around Lagos ports, which has continued to impede both port operations and comfort of residents.
The statement noted that a presidential task force, chaired by Osinbajo, was constituted to restore law and order to Apapa and its environs within two weeks and that the task force is expected to file a progress report to the president.
Terms of reference of the presidential taskforce include development of an efficient and effective management plan for the entire port area traffic, including the cargo, fuel distribution and business district traffic; enforcing the permanent removal of all stationary trucks on the highway, and the development of an effective manual truck call-up system, pending introduction of the electronic truck call-up system.
It also includes the implementation of a workable empty container return and export container truck handling policy, among others.
To achieve the target, the Nigerian Navy and all other military formations are mandated to quit traffic management duties in and around the Apapa axis while military and paramilitary checkpoints in front of the ports and their environs should be dismantled.
LASTMA is also authorised to move to Apapa to lead traffic management in the area, while NPA is directed to commence immediately, the use of the Lilypond Terminal and Trailer Park A, as a truck transit park.
To facilitate the very important assignment, trucks and tanker operators must vacate the port access roads within 72 hours from the time the directive was issued, as the gridlock and traffic congestion around the Lagos ports have continued to restrict all operations and livelihood in the area.
The directive further mandates compliance by all security personnel and MDAs, while heads of the Nigerian Ports Authority, Nigeria Customs Service, Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing, and all other security operatives are to ensure their officers’ adherence to the new directives.
While the Apapa debacle has wrecked businesses, denied residents of good lives and has subjected them to a life of misery, the new directive when implemented will surely pass as one major achievement of this government.
For a society where more people are by the day caving in to depression, any programme that puts to an end the misery and suffering that Apapa has imposed on residents and non residents for several years now, is sure more than a welcome development.