Although it appears every Lagosian, especially residents of Apapa, and the Lagos port users want the tank farms on Apapa-Oshodi road to be moved to the hinterlands because of its obvious threat to the existence of the city, Lagos State government on whose soil the puzzle rests have remained clay footed over the matter. The government seem to lack the political will to act decisively to solve this riddle that has made access road to the wharf a nightmare.
Previous State governments had learnt to live with the menace since the road is a federal road. Lagos by implication had stayed with the opposing party to the government at the center. To that extent it lacked the political advantage to undertake such a gargantuan exercise that will ruffle feathers. Besides, most owners of the tank farms had strong ties with the government at the center. On that note the State government could only cry wolf but could not move the tank farms without approval by federal authorities.
During his tenure, the immediate past Governor of Lagos state, Babatunde Fashola was quite vocal about relocating the farms. An incident that took place in 2013 at TinCan Port also gave him further voice. A petrol tanker had caught fire and exploded killing more than 15 people
It was a terrifying carnage that some residents in the area appealed to the government to urgently relocate the tank farms, before they all got consumed.
The Manager of Beachland Estate, Apapa, Gbenga Egunjobi, said tank farms were not supposed to be located within residential areas. He said that most of the tank farms were built long after the construction of the estate and other residential buildings.
He called for the immediate relocation of tank farms from residential and port areas, saying that many people, including workers and residents, had experienced several explosions from the tank farms.
“I advise government to relocate the tank farms from the residential areas because tank farms are supposed to be at least 25 kilometres away from where people are residing. It is only in Nigeria where tank farms are situated within residential areas. They are too close for comfort and we want government to yield to our call,” he said.
In a feat of deserved anger and concern for people’s safety, Fashola, demanded that all the industrial facilities within the Apapa port axis be moved to the Lagos Free Trade Zone. According to him, the situation where industries have encroached into residential areas is no longer an acceptable practice for people living in those places.
“Government must understand that its business is the welfare of its people and it cannot deliver that by amateurish standard. This place was not designed for fuel discharge, but they have converted it for that with all sorts of permits given by regulatory agencies, DPR, PPMC” he stated.
“I think that agencies of the federal government must step up their safety compliance levels, everybody must do his/her job and that is short term. The long term is to relocate all these facilities away from residential areas. Lagos state is ready to provide these facilities.”
Fashola urged the Federal Government to take advantage of the Oil and Gas Section at the Lekki Free Trade Zone in its relocation plan.
It was an appeal that did not strike cord with the then PDP led government at the federal level. It dissolved into the thin air almost immediately.
The next time Fashola brought this matter up was in 2015 when he made it a campaign issue to solicit votes for the present governor, Akinwumi Ambode. He said that his administration had concluded plans to relocate all tank farms in Apapa to a world class industrial and petrochemical plant in Lekki.
As the All Progressives Congress (APC) campaign train moved to Apapa area of the state, he said that the relocation would make Apapa become the commercial, residential and industrial hub it used to be.
“You do not need 3,000 tankers to come to Apapa and move fuel supply to the whole of Nigeria. “We will be able to supply the country from the Lagos refinery that we have. “Once the refinery in Lekki is built, we will move all the tank farms out to a world class petrochemical plant that I have designed for you,” Fashola said.
One had expected that considering the fervor with which the government of Fashola pursued the relocation agenda, that once the APC government assumed power at the center, they would act on it immediately. Two years after, the matter has become even worse, the fact that Fashola is the minister of works, with the ear of the President notwithstanding. Except otherwise proven, some people believe that Fashola as governor was only playing to the gallery with the relocation propaganda.
The present government of Ambode is however toeing a different line. Recently the government said it had already resolved not to grant construction permits for filling stations pending the inventory of existing ones. The state Commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development, Wasiu Anifowoshe said this decision was imperative “to take proper inventory of the existing filling stations and determine those that should be removed in a bid to ensure public safety.”
He also said that the state government had been working with the federal government on the challenges the location of oil tank farms posed to the residents of Apapa. He noted that the two governments would make a definite pronouncement on the plan to relocate oil tank farms from the residential areas of the Apapa Central Business District soon.
To show that it was a purely political issue and those involved were highly connected to the government of the day, the best the Goodluck Jonathan government could do at the heat of calls to relocate the tank farms, was to direct the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) to relocate tank farms.
The then Senior Special Assistant to the President on Maritime, Leke Oyewole who gave the directive at an interactive forum in Lagos, said that the tank farms should be relocated to the hinterland. He said that the relocation would help to avoid further fire disaster in the area.
He said there were large expanse of lands in Mosimi, Ejigbo, Kwara, Ibadan and Ore that could be developed for tank farm owners.
“The development of tank farms close to the ports is a dangerous trend. Recently a family escaped disaster when fire engulfed their house. Imagine, if the tank farm around the house had been affected, the whole of Apapa would have been on fire. NPA should look at developing places where tank farm owners can relocate. They can properly utilise the area,” Oyewole said.
That was all until the government was replaced by the APC. Those who heard Oyewole speak knew he was playing politics because the matter involved was way above the management NPA.
Although the tank farms were cited in Apapa many years ago, it obviously did not appear then that civilsation would ever come to that area. Now the situation had taken a new turn. Residential houses and the farms had joined together creating cause for serious panic daily. Many had shuddered at the thought of fire disaster and what the outcome would be. Consequently, Nigerians in and outside the government had offered suggestions on how this threat could be resolved.
A former Lagos State Sector Commander of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), Chidi Nkwonta said the relocation of tank farms from the Apapa Port roads remained the permanent solution to the persistent gridlock and danger posed in the area.
“We expect the tank farms to be moved from Apapa; they cannot be on the port roads in Apapa; the siting of the tank farms is inappropriate. It is in the heart of the town and it is unsafe, it is causing congestion. As such, it is endangering the entire environment. So, the tank farms must move at the long run, while the roads must be fixed.
“You cannot control the traffic on those roads when the roads are so bad. The number of vehicles on the roads is large and there is no parking space for the trucks. Most of those trucks enter the potholes and they get stuck; some of the trucks lack maintenance; and coupled with the existence of the potholes it is difficult to move them.”
According to him, lack of functional loading bays, dishonesty among stakeholders in coordinating the movement of the tankers in and out of the farms made drivers to resort to queuing on the access roads to avoid being pushed to the back by other loaders of products.
A safety campaigner, Patrick Adenusi while offering his opinion on the dangers constituted by the presence of the tank farms on Apapa said, “I am not an environmental specialist but a safety practitioner and I also have common sense. The tank farms composition and concentration in Apapa is one of the most unsafe conditions we have created in this country. If any of those tank farms ruptures and it goes up in flames, Lagos will cease to exist. The tank farms need to be decentralised; the concentration of those tank farms has made Lagos to be the most unsafe place people have ever been in the world.”
Managing Director of a prominent firm located within Apapa axis, who spoke in anonymity blamed the existence of tank farms in the area for the menace of gridlock. “The only way forward is to relocate the tank farms. Apart from the traffic challenges, what do you think will happen if there is an explosion within the vicinity of the tank farms. Over 10,000 innocent people may be consumed.
“The government should not wait for disaster to happen before doing the right thing. The tank farms attract thousands of trucks to Apapa on a regular basis. The only viable solution to the problem is to relocate the tank farms to another location,” he declared.
One of those who has voiced out on the dangers constituted by these tank farms is the Chairman, Seaport Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN), Vicky Haastrup, describing the gridlock being experienced in Apapa as a direct consequence of alleged system failure in the oil and gas industry logistics chain.
According to her, “There is an over-concentration of oil tank farms in Apapa, an area predominantly designed for port operations. There is now a situation where we have proliferation of oil tank farms without regards for the safety logistics implication. I issued a warning over five years ago, advising government to discontinue tank farm operations in Apapa, but nothing was done. The problem is now staring all of us in the face,” she noted.
Recently, the incidence of petroleum tankers parking along the road and constituting traffic jam had compelled Governor Ambode, to issue a 90-day ultimatum to the 57 tank farm owners in the area to build loading bays for their trucks or he would be forced to shut down their operations.
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