At the peak of the agitation that shipping lines should have holding bays to warehouse their empty containers, the Nigerian Ports Authourity (NPA) had to suspend two shipping lines, namely: MSC and Hull Blyth over lack of the essential facilities. It also threatened to shut down APM Terminal and Maersk Line operations in Nigeria. According to the NPA, the duo were punished for not having holding bays to receive their empty containers.
That was the first major action on the part of the NPA to free the two approaches to Lagos ports of container –laden trucks and curb the pains and the economic wastes that are attendant.
Managing Director of NPA, Hadiza Bala Unman had noted that henceforth, all shipping companies must begin to make use of their holding bays in order to decongest access roads to the port.
Responding however, Managing Director of Hull Blyth Shipping Company, Christopher Holmes said that the problem at the port is not about lack of holding bay, but that the capacity is not enough. He claimed that his company has a holding bay of 8,000 container capacity.
While not taking sides with the shipping lines, the National Association of Road Transport Owners (NARTO) had argued that, the bad roads leading to the ports is the major cause of the gridlock.
It had argued that, if the shipping lines have holding bays and the roads are bad, there would still be chaos on these roads.
Now, it has been established that the twin causes are bad roads and lack of holding bays. The cumulative effect is that the terminals are filled to the brim with loaded containers that can not exit the ports because of the state off the roads. Similarly, empty containers can not be returned to the ports or the holding bays because the roads leading to these places are bad.
When he was appointed as the Minister of Power Works and Housing, many users of Lagos ports and those who either live or commute through the port city of Apapa were elated, because they had thought that as the immediate past Governor of Lagos State, Mr Babatunde Raji Fashola would use his office to fix the two approaches to Lagos ports of Tin Can Island and Apapa.
Lagosians will recall vividly how Governor Fashola (then of Lagos State) picked on the Federal Government of the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) at every opportunity for abandoning the very important Apapa routes, be it from Ijora or from Oshodi.
By its strategic geographic and commercial location, Apapa is linked to the rest of the city by two major highways; the Apapa – Oshodi expressway and Apapa-Ijora road. Of course, it can also be approached by water from Mile Two (on the mainland) and Marina axis (on the Island).
Needless to recount that, scores have died (and continue to die) in the madness that drivers of articulated vehicles, and others, including commuters experience daily.
May we also add that robbery attacks are a common thing on the two access roads, the Ijora axis being the most notorious.
What is happening in Apapa is not unexpected, given its privileged location as home to Nigeria’s two foremost ports. Between the two ports (Lagos Port Complex and Tin Can Island Port), more than 65 percent of dry cargoes and about 90 per cent of the nation’s petroleum products are handled. This is because it hosts about 45 tank farms (and still counting). These are in addition to the many banks, shipping companies/agencies, licensed customs agents’ offices, factories and numerous other businesses that are located in this port city.
Apapa used to be a thriving, attractive and very busy city, with free flowing vehicular and human traffic; this is in addition to other human endeavours that take place there. It is so sad that Apapa has now turned to a failed city; a bedlam of chaos and no-go-area for many.
The present state of two approaches has terribly impacted negatively on the highbrow residential areas like Apapa GRA, Beachland estate, and of course, the low income residential areas such as Ajegunle and Ijora.
No matter the argument, the presence of petroleum products tank farms has brought untold hardships to residents, owners of businesses, motorists and workers in Apapa.
Apart from the tank farms and the tankers, the other contributor to the menace is the various articulated trucks that come in and out of the ports daily. Of course, the number of these trucks has increased tremendously since the ports were concessioned in 2006. Volume of cargo has increased significantly, so also is the means of conveying the cargoes out of ports.
Sadly however, just like with petrol tankers and the tank farms, these bulk cargo bearing trucks have also brought pains, sorrow and even deaths to Lagosians. There have been so many accidents linked to container-laden trucks.
The state of Apapa axis has been like this for about 12 years, but it became aggravated due to insensitivity on the part of the previous administration which heard and even saw the extent of decay, but never did anything to ameliorate it.
It is even worse now that those who complained are yet to do anything tangible enough to cause a stop to the madness on this road.
We recall that, when the Vice President; Yemi Osinbajo a few months ago took a helicopter flight for an aerial view of Apapa, it expectedly generated a lot of commendations.
After that seemingly ‘bull’s-eye’ flight over Apapa, the Vice President summoned a meeting all stakeholders at the Presidential Villa in Abuja. There was only one topic on the table- how to fix Apapa. Commitments were made, sadly they are yet to will transform to action.
In all of the recent efforts to fix the approaches to Apapa, we see panic on the part of both the NPA and the Lagos State Government, both of which have tried to restore sanity, but they have failed.
While the intervention by the security agents on the approach from Ijora has helped, the repair of Wharf Road is now completed. Both will give a respite to those who come into Apapa from that axis.
The same cannot be said of the approach from the Mile 2 end of the Oshodi-Apapa expressway, which is the worst nightmare of commuters and port users plying that axis.
It is almost one year since the NPA threatened varying sanctions against shipping lines that do not have holding bays, none of them have been sanctioned so far, even though there are glaring confirmations that the directive is not being adhered to in totality. The shipping lines are reportedly attaching cost to this service, even though the containers being returned belong to them.
Government needs to expedite action on the repair of Apapa-Oshodi expressway, while the NPA should insist that the shipping lines must create holding bays for empty containers. Only then can respite come the way of port users, those who have businesses in Apapa and commuters in general.