Port users, residents, as well as business and community leaders in Apapa, where the nation’s premier sea ports are located, say the Federal Government has abandoned the area, despite the N2 trillion naira revenues it generates from there yearly.
In early 2012, when Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the Minister of Finance and Chairman of the Federal Government’s Economic Management team, along with other ministers, emerged from a visit to the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway and the port axis, there was hope in many quarters that the crisis and rot that had characterised Apapa over the years, would be arrested.
According to investigations by BusinessDay, the Federal Government-owned roads into and out of Apapa, have become death traps because of lack of maintenance and indiscriminate parking by port bound trailers, resulting in severe traffic jams, in which robbers feast on commuters, daily.
In addition, the bad roads mean that containers frequently fall off trucks, maiming and sometimes killing road users. In one week last November, nine containers fell in six days, killing two people and goods worth over N200 million were damaged.
Paul Odey, the general manager, Apapa GRA Residents Association, described the situation as “very alarming.”
“Apart from lives lost consistently, the financial implication is alarming too and you can’t breathe fresh air anymore. Over 500 businesses around Creek Road, for instance, are collapsing one after the other, because of the activities of tankers which have taken over the roads, as a result of two major tank farms, the Falawiyo Energy and Lister Oil and Gas,” Odey told BusinessDay.
He was furious about the blockade of the roads around Creek and Liverpool roads in particular, because motorists and residents have been cut off from using the roads by the tankers.
“In the event of emergency, it will be a total disaster, fire fighters can’t get through, medical evacuation will be impossible. It is so curious why the Federal Government should grant licences to operate tank farms in residential areas like Creek and Liverpool roads. These people should be removed.”
The business owners say there is also the menace caused by the oil tankers which have made Apapa a home, as they wait endlessly to be served by the more than seven oil tank farms located in the Apapa axis, with the attendant safety issues.
But despite the visit by federal officials, as well as numerous pleas by the Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola for support for an Apapa regeneration plan and recent comments by the minister of works, Mike Onolememen, who described the road leading to and from the ports as an “embarrassment and a source of agony to many Nigerians,” there is still no sign the Federal Government will clean the mess it has helped create in Apapa and fund the regeneration the area where it earns about N1.5 trillion in port revenues annually.
The Apapa and Tin Can port complexes which are major contributors to the nation’s economy, generate just under N2 trillion annually into the Federal Government’s coffers, as Customs revenue, along with royalties paid by concessionaires.
One community leader told our reporters that in addition, quite a number of investments and businesses, like the cement company, the flour mills and the sugar plants located within and outside the port environment, generate billions of naira annually in taxes to the Federal Government’s coffers.
However, any illusion that the Federal Government will be interested in fixing the roads, or partnering with Lagos State in the regeneration of Apapa, have been swept away by the failure of President Goodluck Jonathan to respond to a letter sent to him on November 1, 2012 by Fashola, on the chaotic situation in Apapa because of Federal Government installations and the oil tank farms which have turned the area into a modern day jungle.
Residents and the numerous businesses operating in the area, now feel let down by the Federal Government’s failure to acknowledge the urgency of the situation and take action.
“Let us put aside the expectation of the people that government is there to provide social service and let’s look at this matter purely from a business perspective. The Federal Government earns more than one trillion naira from here yearly. Is it too much for that same government to put back some money to provide parking space in the port, fix the roads and ensure the safety of those who come in to do business with it and pay it almost N2 trillion annually?” asked one exasperated senior executive of a milling company in Apapa.
The first memo to the Presidency by the governor of Lagos state was written on September 17, 2012 and directed to Vice President Mohammed Namadi Sambo.
The memo seen by BusinessDay, sought Sambo’s approval for Fashola to make a presentation to the National Economic Council (NEC) which he chairs, to call attention to the deterioration of Apapa and the urgent need for its regeneration.
Strangely, instead of taking up the matter with the Federal Government or the president, Vice President Sambo responded a month later, advising that the letter be sent directly to President Jonathan.
Fashola consequently wrote the President on November 1, 2012 and the letter has yet to receive any response, and some now believe it is probably lost somewhere on the President’s desk.
The memo to the President came after others written to the Minister of Finance in July, pointing to threats of the short term gains after action was taken to clear tankers, trailers and illegal structures that have resurfaced, turning the area into a nightmare for residents and motorists.
Fashola had said; “In summary, the memo has identified (1) the operation of entry/exit into the Apapa Port and (2) the state of disrepair of connecting roads, as the biggest challenges, and suggestions have been proposed which require action by agencies and organs of the Federal Government, for there to be enduring relief to the citizens”.
It was not certain as at press time that the governor or his aides got any response from the Finance Minister or her office.
Another memo written on July 5, 2012 detailing highlights of issues critical to finding a permanent solution to the congestion on the road, and sustaining the free flow of traffic, had earlier been sent to the minister.
The memo prepared by the Lagos Taskforce chairman, Bayo Sulaiman, a superintendent of police, on the directive of Fashola, identified the port operations (TinCan Island/Apapa Wharf) the numerous tank farms along the expressway and the industries, as major contributors to the nuisance.
“The Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and Terminal operators have done little or nothing over the years to address the menace,” Bayo said, and pointed to the grossly inadequate parking space inside the ports to accommodate empty containers within the terminals, which he said explains the long wait by trucks on the highways, resulting in traffic gridlocks.
“The return of empty containers is time-bound after which deductions on the deposits are made. Not withstanding the lean facilities, freight forwarding agents in a bid to recover their deposits, flood the port with empty containers.”
Bayo also suggested the re-evaluation of the computerisation of documentation at the port entrances.
“An unreasonably long time is spent (close to 30 minutes on average) on documentation, and where there is a systems breakdown, the operation is brought to a halt completely.”
In his technical report, he also suggested the creation of container depots/holding bays outside the ports, exploring the practicality of a pre-documentation process that would result in accommodating only a fixed number of trailers that the port operators can handle, for instance, tallies indicating specific day of the week for dropping off empty containers are obtained ahead, on Sundays, review of the present documentation process, as well as the immediate reversal of the two-week test run, ordered by the Special Adviser to the President, for day time return of empty containers.
Some port operators now talk openly about the lack of political will among government officials at the centre, and their penchant for making pronouncements without articulating a plan to follow up.