To the average Nigerian, the traffic nightmare notoriously known as the ‘Apapa gridlock’ is caused by trucks entering and exiting the Lagos ports to evacuate imported goods or to send in goods for exports. In other words, such people believe that it is the articulated trucks engaged in trucking containers or goods in and out of the ports that cause the intractable traffic gridlock in Apapa and its environs. But this is far from the real situation.
Very few are aware that a good number of the trucks that clutter the port access roads have nothing to do with the import and export business that go on at the ports. The fact is that trucks that evacuate or bring in cargoes from the ports constitute only a small percentage of the articulated trucks that litter Apapa roads. The rest of the trucks are either owned and operated by big manufacturing companies domiciled inside or directly outside the ports, or are trucks that come to evacuate finished products from these companies. The case is the same with the numerous tank farms that litter the vicinity of the ports, which attract petrol tankers from all over the country.
Recently, the Life Patron of the Nigeria Institute of Shipping (NIS) Mr. Caleb Okoye, drew attention to this grievous mistake which previous governments made in the past. Okoye, who spoke at the last annual general meeting of the institute, said past governments made mistakes by authorizing the establishment of sugar, wheat and cement factories inside the ports. According to him, it would have been appropriate to site only factories that manufacture products for export instead of consumer goods that attract huge trucks into Apapa, and compound the traffic gridlock.
In the same vein, he decried the indiscriminate approval of petroleum products tank farms near the ports without due regards to the implication they would have on the ports access roads. Okoye, one the Nigerians who witnessed the heydays of Apapa Port, is alarmed at what the port has become on account of these huge distortions.
There is no gainsaying the fact that as today, big manufacturing companies and petroleum products tank farms have taken over the Apapa port city, competing with the ports and residents for the road infrastructure, and contributing in no small measure to the deplorable state of Apapa roads. In fact, Apapa residents see the tank farms and the ubiquitous petrol tankers as the major threat to lives and property in the embattled port city.
Investigations have revealed that more than half of the trucks seen in Apapa roads are those owned by the Dangote Group and Flour Mills Nigeria Plc. These companies use trucks to evacuate their products from their factories located in Apapa. According to a report released last year by a leading maritime consulting firm, “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 said 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, collectively, these manufacturing concerns located within Apapa attract close to one thousand trucks daily. These trucks, besides contributing immensely to the traffic gridlock, help in damaging the port access roads.
Commendably, aware of all this, the Dangote Group and Flour Mills Plc collaborated with NPA in the recent repair and reconstruction of Wharf Road –a 2.5km access road to Apapa Port. Construction works are also going on at the Apapa-Oshodi end. But ultimately, the solution to the Apapa traffic gridlock is the use of alternative modes of transport.
In May this year, the Presidential Task Force set up by President Buhari to clear Apapa and its environs of traffic gridlocks said part of its work plan would be the deployment of “effective and efficient traffic management system for the control of cargo and fuel distributions and business district traffic within the entire port area.” The task force has ended its intervention on Apapa roads with nothing achieved.
That leaves alternative modes of transportation as the ultimate solution. Stakeholders strongly believe that after all said and done, the ultimate solution lies in the use of other modes of transport –rail and barges –to evacuate cargoes from the ports. The same modes should also be used to move imported petroleum products received by tank farms, and the products of the factories out of the ports.
It is gratifying that actions are being taken in this direction by NPA and the federal government. Last May, NPA signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with APM Capital to extend the use of barges to evacuate containers from the ports in Lagos to Epe. One hopes that work is still ongoing in this project. Similarly, the Lagos-Ibadan rail line is to link Apapa Port.
The owners of the factories in and around the ports and petroleum tank farm owners should be compelled to key into these initiatives since they are part and parcel of Apapa traffic nightmare. They could evacuate their products by barges or rails to designated points where they can be loaded into trucks and taken to their destinations. That way, Apapa will receive a new lease of life and the road infrastructure will be better for it. This is the way to go, as anything less will always end up as mere palliatives.