By lsaac ORIEKA and Alphonsus EFFl
The Powerful Pen newspaper, and the Maritime Journalist Association of Nigeria (MAJAN),held a rare feat maiden maritime summit at the Rockview Hotel,Apapa,Lagos, on April 14.The aim of the summit is to seek a permanent solution to the nagging Apapa perennial traffic gridlock, crippling the ports since the concession took place in 2006.The Pen media took a bold step to bring maritime stakeholders together to address critical issues and proffer workable solutions to the government for the industry to bounce back and take its rightful position in the sub region and beyond.
Mr.Ray Ugochukwu,Editor-in-Chief of the Pen newspaper, and chief host of the event, revealed how MAJAN, had embarked on a protest march from Mile Two to Alausa, the Lagos State government House, lkeja, December 2016,with a move to sensitive stakeholders, Nigerians at large about the imminent Apapa traffic crisis. Yet no action was taken by the transport ministry, NPA, and other giant port operators.
No nation in the world thrives without the maritime industry. It is the second largest sector after the oil and gas sector. Therefore, every nation guides it’s economy through the maritime sector. The port reforms was to drive the economy competitively to a higher level compared with other world economies. But the reformers had hidden agenda, which is manipulation, fraud and a world bank tool designed to milk Nigeria’s economy.
The devastating traffic snarl in Apapa, began after the concession. Before then NPA, had enough space for trucks to park. However, the real problems started in the 90’s,with the vandalization of oil pipelines, this brought about road trucking leading to congestion at the loading depot of Ejigbo and Mosinmi, which leads to the access port loading bay.
The Apapa gridlock took a new dimension when the trucks were displaced, after the scheme came into force in January 2006 as shipping companies had no holding bays to accommodate the empty containers. Shipping companies embark on unwholesome practices, they manipulate the porous economic policies and exploit the loopholes to make money for themselves.
Added to this, government was still giving out licenses to private investors to build tank farms along the congested access port roads. While petrol tankers all over the country queue up to lift products from the tank farms with their container-laden counterparts making the Apapa port community jammed.
The question to ask is; how did this traffic build up in Apapa started? And did government agencies in the transport sector not aware?, Despite several awareness campaign? Is the current Apapa traffic gridlock redeemable? YES. And what are the practical solutions? The traffic snarl in Apapa, is not about paper presentations, talk shows, conferences, tea party sessions, writing letters and issuing communiqués. But finding concrete and strategic ideas to nip the problem in the bud.
An expert and a key note speaker at the summit, Forwarder Francis Omotosho, Registrar NAGAFF Academy and Secretary General, said the gridlock had been on for years and this summit came at the right time and for more than six years Apapa traffic gridlock has been a nightmare to motorists, residents, importers, exporters and all other sundry businesses in the Apapa community. He said a new generation of tank farm owners formed an association to protect their interest, like Agip, Total, lbru jetty, capital oil, Escon and others. This made it cumbersome for a free flow of traffic as no government authority can move them out of their current location. Also, Creek road became a hub for loading, including Liverpool roundabout as well as ljora,Malu road, ljora causeway and TinCan lsland all contributed to the persistent traffic blockade.
Why the gridlock became uncontrolled
1.Poor management of drivers by truck owners
2.Poor management of the trucks. Very rickety and below standardized trucks used abroad
3.Truck drivers staying weeks and months on the roads to deliver or offload their empty containers or consignments.
4.No maintenance culture and no remuneration for drivers.
5.Bad roads with huge gullies and potholes
6.Corruption by government agencies at the port and on the roads.
7.Negligence of the rail system
8.Government not proactive to sensitive issue like the traffic problems at Apapa
when it started
9.lncompetence and administrative bottle neck by NPA and the Shipping companies
10.Lack of modern technology to monitor trucks movement in and out of the ports.
11.illiterate truck drivers who cannot read simple road signs,with very poor training and orientation.
12.Negligence of other ports in Warri, Calabar and Portharcourt
13.Vandalization of NNPC oil pipelines across the country
These and many more brought Apapa port environment to its current traffic lock jam where the major means of transportation is anchored on okada, motorbikes. Ghana, a neighboring country had its port reform after Nigeria but do not use okada as a means of transportation in their port cities, why Nigeria? Countries like Burkina Faso,Chad,Mali,and Niger that used to route their goods through Nigeria, Lagos ports no longer patronize us again. As our ports have been described as the costliest for doing business in the world. Ships coming to Nigeria are seen to be trading in a war zone, with a high insurance premium and freight costs. Nigerian ports have been described as a pariah in shipping business.
The port concession was meant to create thousands of jobs for Nigerians, enhance efficiency and reduce cost of doing business, but today so many jobs have been lost, while Apapa port has lost its past glory and now a shadow in the maritime business even in the sub-region. Efforts by the Nigerian Shippers Council to appeal to our sister countries to come back failed due to the Apapa traffic confusion and bad management of the access roads.
Apapa residents are the weeping victims as many of the buildings remain unoccupied and abandoned. Businesses have collapsed or relocated due to the traffic nightmare. Also, with the high cost of doing business and to maximize profit by the shipper, the consumer now bear the brunt of increase in goods and services daily in the market.
Indeed, all the speakers from forwarder Francis Omotosho, NUJ chairman, Mr.Adeleye Ajayi, and Mr.Anaroke, publisher of MMS, spoke in the same vein by proffering expert and constructive solutions to the Apapa traffic confusion.
1.Revival of all the pipeline transport system.
2.Adapt usage of rail transport, barges and feeder vessels
3.Revocation of operating licenses of tank farm owners and relocation of the farms. That is GRID strategic plan
4.Expansion and development of new roads.
6.Create a dedicated cobi roads designated for trucks like the BRT.
7.provisions of holding bays by shipping companies
8.provision of terminal transit park for 72 hours to a nearby terminal station
9.Foreign shipping lines shoulder have their own terminals.
10.Provision of standard trucks with well trained drivers by truck operators
11.NNPC,should have refiling stations at the ports to keep the trucks off the entrance at the ports.
12.Traffic officials should do their jobs to avoid congestion and confusion.
13.Bad roads should be repaired and restored.
14.Technocrat in transport management should be appointed to man key maritime positions and not university lecturers.
15.Revive other ports for optimal performance to decongest Apapa ports.
16.Dismantle the powers of the cabals frustrating the maritime business
17.Set up a transport committee of experts to review and chat a way forward.
18.Ensure the E-CALL UP system is utilized by the ports operators to the best capacity.
19.CCTV should be installed to track movement of trucks on the roads nationwide.
20.National Assembly should enact a law for defaulting shipping agents.
21.Government should repair and maintain vandalized oil pipelines by oil thieves.
Prior to the concession project, NPA was responsible for running the ports operations, movement in and around the ports was smooth and less time wasting but today it is a nightmare as workers, agents now sleep in their business premises for traffic to ease.
The biggest problems we have is our politicians. They only travel abroad for pleasure to waste Nigeria’s money.You don’t drive a system you are ignorant of.Our leaders are blind with little or no understanding and knowledge of the industry. To them every thing is politics.The essence of governance is to create an enabling environment for business to thrive. Governance is not noise making and empty promises to the people.
Captains of the maritime sector and other dignitaries at the summit, lauded the Pen media for their initiative to organise the event, to re- echo the I’ll effects of the Apapa gridlock agony. Amongst them are,chairman of the occasion, Chief Eugene Nweke,Prince Olayinka Shittu,Mr.Pius Ojekeonu,Mrs. Adeshina,Mr.Kingsley Okulia,Chief Boniface Okoye,Mr.Stanley Ezanga,Mr.Charles Obi,Mr.Adebimpe M.A.,Mr.Temitope O.Badmus,Mr.Adam Kaziel and Mr Akin Oshinowo and others not mentioned.
In summation, participants and stakeholders agreed in unison that all hope is not lost as Apapa ports which is one of the most busiest maritime business hub in Africa can never defy solutions, rather we will continue to forge ahead until the traffic gridlock is fixed.