The Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osibanjo last week declared that the current administration would explore every available option to eliminate the perennial gridlock in Apapa. He made the remark at a government/private sector meeting on how to resolve the enervating traffic situation that has become the brand image of the gateway to Nigeria’s premier port. The Vice President consequently directed the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing and the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) to work on finding all-encompassing solutions to the problem. This is coming at a time when stakeholders seem to have given up on possible government intervention in addressing the excruciating tragedy. The situation has remained the same for many years and no government has successfully made extensive steps to ameliorate the pains of users of the ports and inhabitants of the area. It may appear unneeded to restate the huge amount of money the country loses to this persistent traffic situation. But it must be established that the devastation caused by the traffic situation in Apapa goes beyond economic concern; it constitutes a health hazard to inhabitants of the area.
Although belated, the meeting spearheaded by the Vice President is a step in the right direction. He deserves commendation for initiating the meeting and the attendant resolutions to ensure a comprehensive solution to the nightmare in Apapa. As a show of commitment, the VP has said that the current administration would do everything possible to end the gridlock in Apapa. Encouraging as this may sound; it will not be the first time a highly placed government official would make a weighty statement on the Apapa situation. Beyond issuing statements, virtually all the Ministers of Works and Transportation in recent years have conducted on site assessment of the traffic situation in Apapa just like the VP did aerially. At the end of the assessment, the usual promise is to fix the evident problem; afterwards, stakeholders are usually left to endure the agony, only expressed in lamentations of the dejected. The Minister of Works, Power and Housing has said repeatedly that the traffic in Apapa gives him sleepless nights. Sadly, halfway through his appointment the situation remains unchanged, and the sleepless nights have not translated to gridlock-free days for stakeholders. We only hope all that is about to change.
The positive sides about the meeting facilitated by the Vice President are the action items that have been handed to the Ministry of Works, Power and Housing and the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA. To ensure traffic free Apapa, empty containers within the area will now be relocated to holding bays. Shipping companies will be restricted from operating holding bays within Apapa, and tank farms will no longer be permitted to operate within the area. Also, a task force will be established to manage the traffic situation around the ports – Apapa and Tin Can – among other resolutions. Clearly, there will be visible improvement in traffic situation in Apapa if the agreed resolutions are thoroughly implemented without fear or favour. However, the government seems to have only addressed the external issues (outside the ports) propelling traffic situation. There is need to address our customs processes.
More importantly, the government need to review Nigeria Customs Service’s cargo clearing processes, which are largely manual and archaic. We need to align these processes to conform to international standards. The time spent on customs clearance can be reduced with digitalised operations, which will eventually reflect on cargo waiting time and ultimately impact the traffic situation.
Furthermore, the nature of the traffic situation in Apapa requires a synergetic relationship among all stakeholders. The required synergy in the execution of these lofty dreams must be embraced by all especially between the Ministries of Works and Transportation to ensure unity of direction and purpose. Just few weeks ago, the Minister of Transportation revealed plans to divert import containers to Papalanto in Ogun state. However, this was not captured in the resolutions reached at the meeting with the Vice President. It will be counter-productive if different parastatals of the government are working separately on addressing the same issue without the necessary and very fundamental cooperation.
Ultimately, our leaders must realise that solving the problem in Apapa requires a holistic approach that takes into consideration every aspect of port operations and the value chain. Inasmuch as a short term solution will be appreciated, a comprehensive solution with long term benefits will be more beneficial. Such solutions may not happen without touching on the masterplan of the Apapa metropolis. We believe that the Vice President is trustworthy and can be relied on to lead this important national assignment to a conclusive and beneficial end.
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