Stakeholders and business people around Apapa area of Lagos have virtually cried themselves hoarse over the evident neglect of infrastructure in the area, especially roads. If work begins on the Apapa-Oshodi expressway this week, it would be in response to the public outcry. The neglect of roads around Apapa and wharf areas in Lagos is akin to starving the goose that lays the golden egg.
With an annual contribution of N2 trillion Naira into the coffers of government, perhaps the next after oil, abandonment of the area smacks of dereliction of duty on the part of the federal government. The activities of tankers that have taken over the roads as a result of existence of two major oil tank farms have further compounded the situation. Another visit by three ministers last Wednesday including Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is expected to produce results.
Mr. Okey Nwogu, a clearing and forwarding agent, is still counting his losses given the recent fall of a container on the rickety road out of the wharf, which cost him huge funds in arranging alternative transportation. Residents and business owners have different tales of woe to tell on the adverse effect of the deterioration of the area. Minister of Finance and coordinating minister of the economy, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, had visited the port early last year alongside some ministers and gave a firm promise that the crisis and gridlock that has characterized the Apapa-Oshodi expressway would soon be a thing of the past. But nearly one year after, the place had remained in its deplorable state save for moves by Governor Raji Fasola through state agencies to clear the road of clogs and unauthorized users.
"We had expected the government to take that move to the next level. I admit that government has shown some concern on the matter but we want to see that concern translated into action," said Boniface Aniebonam, chairman of one of the clearing agents association in the port.
"The decay has been on for sometime and I do not expect government to rectify it overnight," he continued. But Prince Olayiwola Shittu, Chairman of ANCLA (Association of Nigerian Customs Licenced Agents) said concern of the authorities on the matter became more real with the constitution of Port Reform Committee headed by Professor Sylvester Monye, a presidential Adviser.
Shittu told Daily Sun that the committee had made its recommendations to the government, stressing that he was optimistic that the government would implement the recommendations.
"It is not in my place to tell you our recommendations, I am just a member, it is only Prof, the chairman that can disclose that to you. I admit that people have suffered losses but I know that something will soon be done about it," he disclosed on the telephone. Lagos State government had, however, been at the forefront of getting Apapa fixed.
This came through a memo written to the Vice President on September 17, 2012 seeking to make a presentation to the National Economic Council, which the Vice President chairs. In the memo, Governor Fashola said he was hopeful that the matter would be listed for the next meeting. He copied the memo to Minister of Finance and Secretary of National Economic Council. The Vice President, Namadi Sambo, however, advised Fashola through a memo dated 3rd October, signed by his deputy chief of staff, M.A.N Abubakar, to bring the matter to the attention of 'Mr President for further consideration'.
The Lagos State Governor took heed and wrote to the President on November 1, 2012. In the memo, he told the President that "…apart from the congestion and deterioration, the social and economic impacts of closure of businesses and devaluation of real estate values prompted me to direct a clean-up and a clear out with a view to commencing a restoration. Because the congestion and deterioration were connected to the operations of the ports and the activities of persons dealing with the operators and some federal government agencies, we were delighted to get the cooperation of the Federal government through a delegation led by the Honourable Minister of Finance, who visited on your directives.
"In a bid to follow up the initial successes that were achieved by the clear-out, our government developed a restoration and a budget…please find the letter and presentation containing the restoration plan for your consideration and directives…"
But the expected presidential directive had stayed in abeyance, prompting a sustained pressure and outcry from stakeholders and the general public. Businesses around Apapa had shut down in shocking rapidity. A firm owned by some Lebanese that produces beverages situated near the wharf shut their doors at the middle of last year. Innocent Ebuzeme, a scientist and consultant to the firm, said the owners sold it to Indians and relocated to another country in West Africa.
The new owners in turn, moved the firm away from Apapa to avoid the gridlock and general decay of the business location. Responding to the outcry, Professor Sylvester Monye, Presidential Adviser on Performance Monitoring and Evaluation, who also chairs the port reform committee told a newspaper that the Federal Government had consented to requests on the matter from the Lagos State government and would soon meet with officials of the state government to review content of the proposal from Lagos State government with a view to commencing implementation.
He said the problem is multifaceted given that the oil tank firms, which attract trailers to Apapa, are private businesses that cannot be removed by fiat, stating that the concerned businessmen ought to be consulted. Part of the solution earlier recommended by the committee is for tankers coming to the oil tank farms to be registered and booked to come for oil lifting on specific days. The move puts a stop to the current practice of queuing for days to lift products and thus compounding the gridlock. Those coming in violation of their days will get stiff sanctions.
Presidential Adviser on Maritime and a member of the Port Reform Committee, Mr Leke Oyewole, had concluded plans to commence the registration of the tankers. It was learnt that one long-term solution as admitted by stakeholders seem to have been mired in the murky waters of politics. The way out lay in the acquisition of hectares of land for building a terminal where the tankers would park and come to the tank farms to load in turns. But there are indications that both parties have not come to terms on modalities for the project or even reach a consensus.
"I have heard people say we should build trailer parks," said Monye. "But if we do it and there are no traffic laws to manage traffic in Lagos, you will still see the trailers parked on the road… it is for Lagos State to initiate and manage their traffic laws."
The implication is that there may be discord between both parties. In the event that the roads are fixed given that Julius Berger has returned to site to rehabilitate the 33-year old Oshodi-Apapa Expressway, fuel tankers will constitute the clog in the wheel of progress. Chief Remi Ogungbemi, chairman of Truck Owners Association, pushes the blame to the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) for failing to designate portions within the port for trucks, a practice he said is the norm in most ports around the world.
He said his association has resorted to self-help by embarking on the construction of a truck terminal cum holding bay at Ilu-Eri in Ijora area of Lagos. Ogungemi said recently that Lagos and Federal Government should tinker with the idea of helping his association complete the project it had initiated or take the bold step of relocating the Army Signal Barracks in Mile Two and convert the space to a truck terminal. Ogunbemi holds that as long as trucks remain a means of moving goods from the wharf, any solution besides a terminal is tantamount to begging the issue and at most, a short term palliative. Recently, Julius Berger served notice that it would return to continue the rehabilitation it started last year. Skeptics have not come to terms with the promise.
They have largely adopted a wait-and-see attitude. If work begins as the authorities have promised, the hope is that it would not be a hurried response to the pressure and outcry that often elicits hurried palliatives that fizzle out with receding protest. "I hope this intervention will be for real," said a clearing agent who would not have his name in print. "We have heard these promises in the past and after hurried work, nothing happened."
For a source of huge income to the government put at about two billion naira, in cognizance of revenue accruing to customs and other agencies at the ports, and thousands of jobs sustained at the place, expectations are high that Apapa would not face another abandonment after series of unfulfilled promises. Insufficient fund have largely been blamed for the poor state of the roads. But it was gathered that Julius Berger has reached an agreement with the government to continue work on the road. Stakeholders would now wait to see what would become of the collaborative efforts between Lagos and federal authorities to stop the rot and decay at Apapa.