I am persuaded that as we optimise multimodal means of transportation of goods and cargo from the port, we would minimise vehicular traffic, and the Apapa gridlock will become a thing of the past.

As a long-standing player in Nigeria’s maritime space, I have watched the traffic gridlock along the Apapa axis progressively deteriorate and grow into the colossal national embarrassment it has become over the years.

Since I started conducting business in the Apapa Area in 1998, access roads into that part of Lagos have never been anything that reflect the revenue that the country reaps from the natural endowments that the heavens have blessed Nigeria with in the two ports, as well as the multi-billion-naira investments in the area.

I have thought about this year-on-end and it has continued to appear to me that successive governments have been at a loss as to what to do about this situation that has not only brought monumental losses to the national economy and is doing damage to the environment but is equally resulting in serious human hardship. Even as it continued to get worse and has finally reached a shameful head lately. How does a country priding itself as the foremost on the Africa continent allow its premium port facilities to become such eyesores? That is not to say that no effort has been made to reverse the situation at all, but these have been largely tentative palliative measures that provide no sustainable solution. The roads have always come out worse than they were before the series of initiatives to fix them, while life around the area has, expectedly, become more tortuous.

Not even hopes that the swearing in of President Muhammadu Buhari would improve things have materialised and I, like many others who I know, have given up on prospects that government would get its acts together as it concerns improving the hellish congestions that exist in Apapa.

This is even more so when you read stories about government bodies throwing blames about who should do what to terminate this disgraceful situation that faces Nigeria. One has heard, for instance, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing bicker over whether it is the roads or the volume of cargo coming into the ports for which they do not have holding capacity, that is responsible for the congestions. So you wonder how, for goodness sake, agencies of the same government, responsible for the welfare of the citizens, are unable to sit together to solve this problem permanently. I have been particularly peeved at the NPA for the seeming failure to take the initiative and save Nigeria the shame that Apapa has become. This is more so when the completion of rehabilitation of the Wharf Road, which the NPA commendably spearheaded in collaboration with Messrs AG Dangote and Flour Mills of Nigeria, did not contribute anything significant to the actual decongestion of Apapa. Even though it had coughed out a whopping N1.8 billion in this collaboration, the fact that this congestion persisted made stakeholders in Apapa expect that the NPA would, at that time, put up an aggressive plan that attends to holding trucks that have become a nuisance on the expressway and turns the country into a banana republic.

But it seems the NPA is currently doing its best to find a solution to the situation that we have at hand in Apapa and that is heartwarming. The recent news about the conversion of the Lilypond Container Terminal into a truck park gave a deep sense of relief that the NPA is set to deal with this issue terminally. And this is a thing of joy. If NPA is deliberate in improving the call-up system for truck gaining access into the ports for cargo evacuation and removal, as what it introduced in 2018 as feelers in Apapa indicate, then we would be on the path to permanently resolving the perennial congestion in Apapa. The call up system, which is said to have been delayed due to the need to protect the shorelines at the Tin Can Island Port, will take trucks off the road and free up more space to enhance the free flow of traffic along the Apapa port access road.

And just before the end of last week, news filtered in that NPA had signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with a company, A.P Moller capital, on how to exploit the waterways for the movement of cargo. This is truly not a new initiative, given that the NPA had sometime last year spoken about its licensing companies to evacuate containers to the Ikorodu Lighter Terminal, and this current arrangement is reportedly considering to extend the use of barges to evacuate containers from the ports beyond Ikorodu to Epe. Public-private partnerships like this is what one expects of liberalised entities like the NPA.

One assumes however that the NPA realises that the combination of Lilypond and the new initiative with A.P will not sufficiently take care of this congestion challenge. There are many private parks on that road and the NPA should not relent in the effort it made last year made to license private park operators.

Arguments about the congestion in Lagos being attributable to the inactivity in other ports in the country is largely debatable because the port business is usually determined by the most convenient location for port users as such, rather than suggesting that more traffic in Onne, Warri and Calabar would have direct effect on traffic congestion in Lagos, Nigeria should work to make the ports in Lagos competitive. Even then, however, one has heard about efforts that are being made to improve service delivery at these ports. Was a contract for the dredging of the channel into the Warri ports not awarded last year for instance?

Given the positive steps the NPA has taken so far, I advise that it should pursue the recently signed contract between the federal government and Dangote AG for the construction of the Apapa Oshodi Express way. And the enabling environment should also be created for greater private sector involvement, taking greater advantage of the inland waterways and rail network in the evacuation of cargo to and from the ports.

I am persuaded that as we optimise multimodal means of transportation of goods and cargo from the port, we would minimise vehicular traffic, and the Apapa gridlock will become a thing of the past.

Babatola Oke, a licensed freight forwarder, wrote in from Lagos.