MWUN sets to ground port operation over Apapa gridlock

The Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN) has issued a 14-day ultimatum to the federal government to evacuate all petrol tankers and other heavy duty vehicles along the access roads to the seaports, failing which all ports operations nationwide will be shut down. The maritime workers’  threat is coming on the heels of assertion by the Chairman, Seaport Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN), Princess Vicky Haastrup, that the gridlock in Apapa is taking toll on operation at the Lagos Port Complex (LPC), Apapa and the Tin Can Island Port Complex (TCIPC).

The union, in a petition to the federal government through the Minister of Transport, Sen. Idris Umar, also demanded the relocation of all the tank farms and rehabilitation of all the access roads to the seaports within the next 14 days for industrial peace to reign in the ports.

In the petition dated July 9, 2014, MWUN, through its Secretary General,  Aham Ubani, lamented that incessant gridlock on the Oshodi-Apapa Expressway had practically shut  down all economic and other activities on the Oshodi-Apapa axis besides inflicting untold hardships on residents and those whose businesses are located in the environs.

The petition read: “We observe with dismay that petrol tankers and trailers have permanently taken over the access roads to our seaports; Apapa and Tin Can Island Ports in particular. The resultant gridlock caused by the indiscriminate parking of the petrol tankers and trailers that daily want to load petrol from the tank farms along the access roads to the seaports has made movement of people and goods in and out of our seaports and work places within the Apapa industrial and commercial area impossible. The deep potholes along the roads which are better described as gullies have now turned death traps is another contributory factor to the unprecedented grid lock that daily occur on the roads.

“The utter neglect of the access roads has not only compromised the efficiency and service delivery of the ports due to the huge loss man hour incurred daily on the roads; and this has no doubt impacted negatively on the national economy. We have repeatedly called on the government to relocate the tank farms along the Tin Can and Apapa Ports access roads for both safety of lives and property and for economic reasons.

“However, in spite of the assurance given that the tank farm would be relocated; we are surprised that up till date, nothing has been done. In consequence of the foregoing, we are hereby giving a 14-day ultimatum effective from the date of this letter within which: – all the potholes along the port access roads be fixed; all the tank farms built along the port access roads be relocated to another place where it would not inhibit free flow of traffic and all the petrol tankers and trailers be removed from the ports’ access roads.”

On her part, the Chairman of STOAN, Princess Vicky Haastrup called for an immediate solution to the perennial traffic gridlock experienced on the port access roads in Apapa.

Speaking at an event in Lagos on Monday, Haastrup said that operational activities at terminals in the LPC have been impaired as a result of the traffic situation in the port community.

She said: “The port industry is suffering badly as a result of congestion on our roads. It is only in Nigeria, like I have said it over and over again, that the ports are situated the way it is. In the last three weeks, all our ships have been lying idle. We do not discharge vessels anymore because of the congestion on our roads. It’s been a nightmare getting to Apapa.”

She charged the government to set aside political sentiments and collaborate with other port stakeholders to quickly remedy the situation.

“Let us not bring politics into the port industry. It is frustrating; it is not speaking well for Nigeria. It is going to cost more for people who are chartering vessels to bring them to Nigeria. Insurance is going to increase, we need to do something about it,” Haastrup said.

Meanwhile, Petroleum Tanker Drivers (PTD), an affiliate of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), has given the Federal Government two months to fix the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway to avoid fuel scarcity.

PTD National Public Relations Officer Comrade Adebayo Atanda, said though the union is not contemplating a strike, it might be impossible to access the tank farms along the axis and lift the petroleum products if the roads are not repaired.
Atanda said if the rain continues with the same intensity it has been falling in recent weeks, it might not take more than two months before the road fails and Apapa becomes inaccessible.
He said: “When this happens, we might not be able to do our business of lifting these petroleum products because we may not be able to access the depots talk less of lifting petroleum products; if we all realise the importance of the centrality of this road to the entire country as the only road from where fuel is moved to every part of the country, then its repairs should be given the urgency it deserves.”
According to Atanda, 56 tank farms are located in Lagos State alone, out of which 35 are located along the Kirikiri, Trinity junction axis along the wharf/Tin can road. This is where the condition of the road are most deplorable, causing extreme inconvenience to residents, tanker drivers and other road users.

He said the PTD is worried because that is the only road plied by all its members nationwide.
“Petroluem tankers come in from every part of this country to lift fuel from these tank farms, most of which were along the largest in the country and these tank farms were specifically permitted to be in this axis because of its closeness to the wharf, so there is so much pressure on the road as a result of the heavy commercial and industrial activity that cluster around the port, which is the busiest in the country.
“We have been told that the contract for the road repair has been awarded to Julius Berger but in the last one year when we have been told that they have been on this road, we are yet to see them around Apapa, and the Wharf area. They are yet to get to any of these tank farms and these are areas that their activities are most needed. That is why we are suggesting that maybe another contractor would be assigned to this area or government would direct them to make the Kirikiri/Wharf a priority on their rehabilitation programme,” he added.
He said PTD has often been at the butt of criticisms as residents and the government usually find it convenient to blame members of his union for creating problems on the road. At a time, he explained, the state government approved that his men could be parking only on service lanes, but these lanes are now so bad that they can no longer serve the purpose thereby forcing the drivers to get back on the road.

As part of the union’s corporate social responsibility, his members, he further stated, usually carry out remedial works on the road, sand-filling the depressed spots with crushed stones and rubbles, but these do not stand the test of time because of the pressure on the road.
He urged government to move swiftly and address the deplorable road in order to reduce the suffering of the people, especially his men, who according to him, are sitting on flammable products and to whom the roads have become a very grave danger.
Besides regularly fixing the road, the union, he added, constitutes a task force to manage traffic especially around all the tank farms and depots within the area, and these have helped greatly in minimising traffic gridlock around Apapa.
He thanked the Lagos State government for setting up the Drivers Institute, which his members have been patronising for regular refresher driver trainings, a development that has helped greatly in reducing the carnage on the road.
“On our part we complement this training with a thorough implementation of safety regulations of our members and we also have vehicle inspection officers at various depots who ensure that not only are the trailers road worthy at every trip, they equally ensure that any driver manning those trailers are duly certified and qualified to be behind the wheels,” Atanda said.
However, while admitting the slow pace of work, the Federal Controller of Works in Lagos, Oluwatoyin Obikoya, said work on the Oshodi/Apapa Expressway has reached 38 per cent completion.
Obikoya said the high volume of vehicles, indiscriminate parking of articulated vehicles and reckless driving have slowed down the pace of work.