Apapa is very strategic to the economy of Nigeria, it is linked to the rest of Lagos by two major highways; the Apapa – Oshodi expressway and the Western Avenue (Funso Willaims Avenue). Of course, it can also be approached by water from Mile Two (on the mainland) and Marina (on the Island).
The fact is that, approaching Apapa from either the Mile 2 axis or Funso Williams/ Ijora axis has been a nightmare for years.
What is happening in Apapa is not unexpected, but it is avoidable. Apapa has the privileged location as home to Nigeria’s two foremost seaports which are currently being managed by nine terminal operators.
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 liquid (petroleum products) are handled. This is because it hosts about 70 tank farms (and still counting). These are in addition to the many banks, shipping companies/agencies, licensed customs offices, factories and numerous other businesses that are located in this port city.
Before the traffic menace enveloped it, 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 sad that Apapa has now turned to a failed city; a bedlam of chaos and no-go-area for many.
For years, the state of the two approaches has terribly impacted on the highbrow residential areas like Apapa GRA, Beachland estate, and of course, the low income residential but hugely populated 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.
We recall that, in a bid to stem the tide of debilitating traffic into the port city of Apapa, the Federal Government constituted a task team headed (on paper) by Vice President; Yemi Osinbajo, but also had a former Commissioner for Transport in Lagos state; Mr Kayode Opeifa as the Vice Chairman, and the man-on-ground.
Whether or not Opeifa’s team succeeded is a matter for another day, but the general opinion of stakeholders is in tandem with that of the Minister of Works and Housing.
In the face of the apparent inability of the Opeifa team to arrest the situation, the Nigerian Ports Authourity (NPA) unveiled its novel electronic call-up and technology-driven app, called ‘eto’, which it said would be required to assess the ports as from 27th February 2021.
The NPA e-call up came after the Lagos state intervention started showing signs that it might go the way of the federal government task team before it.
While commending the NPA for the well-thought-out idea of electronic call –up of trucks, we will like to submit that whatever hiccups that the new system is facing is caused by the NPA, which put the cart before the horse, at the beginning of the new system.
To the best of our knowledge, in the build-up to the announcement of the commencement of the e-call up, the NPA kept stakeholders in the dark, all that it said was that it would in February begin electronic call-up of trucks.
It was after the scheme had started that, it started reaching out to critical stakeholders. To the best of our knowledge there is no record of any meeting with the key stakeholders that are relevant to the successful launch and use of the eto app. Perhaps, the only exemption were the owners of the few garages that would be used as holding bay, preparatory to trucks moving to Ijora, from where they will proceed to the terminals.
The critical stakeholders, who by our judgement were side-lined are: the organised private sector, shipping lines, truckers’ associations, transporters, freight forwarders and the terminal operators. Sadly, none of these has had the opportunity of a buy-in or at the least a demonstration of the workings of the electronic call-up. This is a recipe for failure!
We empathize with the NPA that the e-call up is work-in-progress, we also acknowledged its regular appraisal of the its workings, as evident by regular issuance of notifications to users of the eto platform.
One of such is the decision to establish minimum standard for trucks coming into the ports. The new Minimum Safety Standards for trucks coming into the ports will now be implemented as from May 22, unlike the previous date of April 23.
Acceding to the demand of truck owners to shift the date is also another one coming from the NPA.
From the requirement contained in the new Minimum Standard, the intention of the NPA is undoubtedly to phase-out rickety trucks from the ports.
We are also on the same page with the NPA on this. The state of the trucks that come into Nigerian ports is appalling. They do not meet the minimum requirements for road worthiness.
Their bodies, tyres, headlights, brake light, trafficators, landing legs, and several others are not fit for any road, but they are the regular features of our roads. They signpost Apapa; be it from Mile 2, Ijora, Eko Bridge, Surulere and other approaches.
It is a good thing that NPA has obliged the truckers of their request for an extension to May 22, which is less than three weeks. But we can predict that, just like previous exercises, this one too may not have any impact. The truckers’ union will argue NPA out of the need to enforce the new minimum standard.
But, truth be told, this one rule that NPA must insists on upholding, even as it continues to fine-tune the electronic call and also tackles the challenges.
There is no alternative to automation of operations in Nigerian ports, so getting the electronic call up system right and working is a sure step in this direction.