The federal government says the completed and on-going roads infrastructure projects in and around Apapa, as well as other measures being put in place, constitute the steady progress it is making towards ending the gridlock that has become a feature of the port city.
Through the Infrastructure Tax Credit Scheme also known as Executive Order 7, which provides a platform for private companies to undertake the construction and refurbishment of eligible road infrastructure projects, the federal government is giving facelift to the decaying roads infrastructure that have made access to Apapa a nightmare.
Apapa is home to the country’s two busiest seaports that account for over 70 percent of the country’s export and import activities. Aliko Dangote, a major player at the ports, estimates the economy of this port city at N20 billion a day, yet its roads infrastructure are death traps.
Recently, the presidency, in a media statement, said some of these roads had been fixed while others were at various stages of completion. The statement was signed by Laolu Akande, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity in the Office of the Vice President.
BusinessDay can confirm, after visiting some of the project sites, in line with Akande’s revelations, that Apapa Wharf Road, reconstructed by Dangote Group, Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) and Flour Mills of Nigeria, has been completed since 2018 and is already in use.
Others are 1.4 kilometres Liverpool Road which is almost completed but open for public use; 2.9 kilometres Creek Road is also almost completed but open for public use while on the 35-kilometre Apapa-Oshodi Expressway, from Creek Road to Tin Can Port Gate 1 is almost completed.
Also on the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway, Tin Can Port Gate 1 to Mile 2 is at an advanced stage of completion while the Tin Can Island Transit Truck Park has been completed and now in use.
But concerns remain among major stakeholders, especially residents and businesses in the port city for whom the present state of Apapa means so much in terms of declining productivity, loss of income from their investments, loss of man-hour, wear and tear on their vehicles and risk to their health and lives.
“The problem of Apapa as it pertains to gridlock does not consist in bad roads alone. There are more to it and those in authority know this too well,” a business owner, who did not want to be named, told BusinessDay in a telephone interview.
Continuing, the business owner said, “if they like, let them change all the roads in Apapa to glass. It won’t change anything. There are fundamental problems that need to be resolved. One is the issue of tank farms that are all over the place here. Another is the absence of a functional rail system.”
Emma Ameke, a marine services provider, agrees, noting that Nigeria is yet to understand the potential of a seaport to grow an economy. “In other jurisdictions, ports play a substantial role in the economies of metropolitan areas,” he said, citing Rotterdam where it is reported that port-related activities accounted for 74,000 direct jobs and 13 percent of total metropolitan GDP in 2007.
In Shanghai, he added, the number of jobs related to port activities reached 840,000 in 2012, up from 347,000 in 2002, pointing out that Shanghai’s port accounted for 7.6 percent of the city’s GDP in 2012.
Ameke reasoned that all these could only be possible because those countries have efficient rail system such that freight and cargo movements are made on rails, not roads amid gridlock like the Apapa ports. He wondered why Apapa ports were not factored in the design of the Lagos-Ibadan rail system.
However, at a recent virtual stakeholders meeting where progress of work on ending Apapa traffic was presented to the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo who is the chairman of the Presidential Task Team (PTT) on Apapa Gridlock, Rotimi Amaechi, Minister of Transport, raised some hope.
Responding to the vice president’s inquiry about the renovation of the rail line to the port, Amaechi, said the COVID-19 pandemic had altered the pace of work, but assured that work would resume soon on the rail line.
According to Akande, besides the issue of road constructions, other developments aimed to ease traffic in Apapa included the adoption of a call-up system for trucks, saying that the system was at an advanced stage and would soon be deployed.
Though there has been some respite in the traffic situation in Apapa in the last couple of months which Wahab Jimoh, a resident, and other stakeholders have attested to, the concerns around tank farms are palpable.
“This is the next biggest threat after the environmental degradation that has made nonsense of our investment in this side of town,” said the business owner who pleaded anonymity. According to him, the over 60 tank farms scattered in and around the port city were kegs of gun-powder waiting to explode.
“Government’s failure to relocate these tank farms away from the ports and residential areas is just another way of postponing the dooms-day and courting disaster; in this country, we are always more inclined to dealing with disaster than preventing it,” the business owner noted.