Addressing the root cause of Apapa traffic congestion

Apapa Gridlock

PHOTO CREDIT: SHIPS & PORTS archive

So much has been written and said about the infamous Apapa gridlock. In fact, no subject has attracted as much protracted attention and press coverage in Nigeria over the years as the Apapa traffic logjam. The Apapa traffic phenomenon is well known all over the world. The global maritime community, like most Nigerians, are amazed that finding a solution to this traffic mess that has drained the life out of the once thriving port city of Apapa, and continues to inflict heavy losses on the nation’s economy, has remained rocket science to Nigerian authorities.

In November last year, Bloomberg magazine noted that the congestion outside and the problems within Nigerian ports were choking the country’s economy. It also noted that in the World Bank’s Trading Across Borders survey, which measures the time and expense involved in importing and exporting goods, Nigeria ranks 182 out of 190 countries, below Syria and Afghanistan.

The Lagos Chamber of Commerce & Industry also a few months ago lamented that Nigeria loses $19 billion annually, or about 5 percent of its gross domestic product, from the delays, traffic jams, illegal charges and insecurity that are increasingly prevalent at its ports.

Nigeria’s world renowned businessman, Aliko Dangote, at the same time last year decried the implications of the Apapa gridlock to the economy and other business concerns in Nigeria, saying that the situation was costing the country an estimated N140 billion in revenue weekly or more than N20 billion daily. He described the Apapa road gridlock as an embarrassment to the country, remarking that the state of the ports access roads affects businesses across the country.

In the same vein, the Seaport Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN) also said the nation’s economy was losing N20 billion daily to the Apapa gridlock. The association had on several occasions called on the Federal Government to take urgent steps to resolve the protracted Apapa gridlock. The Chairman of STOAN, Princess Vicky Haastrup, had described the situation of Apapa roads as a monumental national disgrace, wondering how successive governments in the country could allow the ugly situation to continue to degenerate to what it is today.

Though some efforts are being made lately to address the situation, such as the repair and reconstruction of bad roads, and NPA’s opening of truck parks and electronic call-up system for trucks, stakeholders still believe that these measures will not bring the ultimate solution to the Apapa road problem. The permanent solution, to them, lies in the total decongestion of Apapa, since the problem has much to do with the heavy volume of traffic to and from the port city.

And how is this huge volume of traffic generated? One may ask. To the average observer, the problem of Apapa roads is caused by trucks, both those having business to do in the ports and those that loiter around in search of business.

But the fact is that trucks that evacuate cargoes from the ports constitute only a percentage of the articulated trucks that litter Apapa roads. Other trucks are either owned and operated by big manufacturing companies domiciled in Apapa or are trucks that come to evacuate finished products from the companies. Of course, one cannot forget the presence of numerous tank farms in the city, which attract petrol tankers from all over the country.

Apapa is known as a port city. It is developed for port operations, and all the facilities and infrastructure, including the roads were designed to cater for port operations and a moderate business and social life. But today, big manufacturing companies and petroleum products tank farms have taken over the port city, competing with the ports and Apapa residents for the road infrastructure, and contributing in no small measure to the deplorable state of Apapa roads. In fact, Apapa residents see the ubiquitous petrol tankers as the major threat to lives and property in the area.

Proper investigation will reveal that more than half of the trucks in Apapa are those evacuating petroleum products from tanks farms and manufacturing concerns including Honeywell Group, BUA, Dangote Group and Flour Mills Nigeria Plc. These companies, like the tank farms, use trucks to evacuate their products from their factories located in Apapa.  According to a report last year, “Little attention is being paid to the volume of trucks that call at Dangote Sugar factory and Flour Mills Nigeria. Both factories are located inside the Lagos Port Complex, Apapa, and their operation has nothing to do with the port. They’re strictly production concerns. Dangote Sugar has an annual production capacity of 600,000 tonnes of refined sugar, which it produces mostly for the Nigerian market while Flour Mills has an annual capacity in excess of one million tonnes.

“Every day, no fewer than 300 Dangote trucks are required to move its sugar from the Dangote Sugar factory while about 400 trucks are needed by Flour Mills every day to move its products to the market.”

The report added that in addition to the two companies, Honeywell Flour Mills, and BUA Sugar Refinery, both located within the Tin Can Island Port Complex, also attract a large number of trucks to Apapa and its environs. Honeywell, with a daily production capacity of about 2,000 tonnes requires 200 trucks to move its products to the market daily while BUA’s over 500-tonne daily output requires more than 50 trucks daily to move finished products to the market.

Thus, it is clear that collectively, these manufacturing concerns located within Apapa attract close to one thousand trucks daily. If these business entities can be compelled to evacuate their manufactured goods by barges or rails to designated points where they can be loaded into trucks and taken to their destinations, the traffic gridlock will ease considerably.

Addressing the problem of Apapa traffic gridlock, therefore, should take into consideration the distortions in the Apapa master plan. The Federal Government should take the bull by the horn by ending fuel importation in the country as promised. An end to fuel importation will mark the end of the influx of petroleum products tankers from all over the country into Apapa. The way to end fuel importation is doing everything to ensure that the country refines its crude. This could be achieved by privatizing the nation’s moribund refineries and encouraging the establishment of private and modular refineries. In the interim, petroleum products received by the tank farms can be evacuated by rails instead of using tankers that congest the roads and constitute threat to lives.

The Apapa gridlock requires total and wholesome approach to solve. Present efforts to tackle the problem should, therefore, take a critical look at the operations of manufacturing companies in the ports as well as the tank farms that attract unprecedented number of tankers to Apapa.  Anything less than this will end up as temporary palliatives.

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