Home Sports Okunnu: NPA should be blamed for Apapa gridlock

Okunnu: NPA should be blamed for Apapa gridlock

The gridlock in Apapa has remained hydra-headed and seems to be defying solution. How did we get there and what is the way out?

The present gridlock in Apapa and the chaos at the ports is a function of mismanagement by the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA). The government had the foresight and had taken steps to prevent the present situation way back in 1973. In 1973, the then Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) under General Yakubu Gowon (retired) awarded a contract to Guffanti Nigeria Limited to build the Apapa Road linking Western Avenue with the old Lagos Port. As part of the project, which I met at its commencement when I was made the Federal Commissioner for Works and Housing in May 1967, was a truck terminal to be constructed to contain 600 to 800 trucks heading for the port. This was because congestion had been building up at that time, hence, the FGN’s decision to build a truck park to ease congestion. We all know Apapa Road and the complex at the 7up junction. You have the road coming from Iddo to Apapa Causeway, up to the 7up junction, with a network of roads in that area, that is, Eko Bridge from Apongbon to Iganmu and the Apapa Road to the 7up junction leading to Apapa port on the right hand side and leading to Western Avenue on the right hand side (left to the port, right to the Western Avenue), it was necessary to have a depot for trucks going to Apapa port to carry goods to the rest of the country outside Lagos. There was a little congestion of trucks parked on the new road. We should pay tribute to the foresight of those who conceived the idea of a new road leading to the port which is the gateway to the rest of the country when the number one port (that is Apapa Port), was the Port you could see from as far as Marina across the Lagoon. I pay tribute to those before my time who planned for a container terminal so that there would be little or no congestion in one of the finest parts of the Lagos city at that time, Apapa. Then, Apapa was exclusively residential and a little bit of commercial area. So Apapa was a golden city with people living in choice houses, and people working at the ports and the commercial areas created because of the ports. There was no Victoria Island or Lekki or Ajah or Banana Island at that time.

The truck terminal had been planned to take in the trucks for Apapa ports, and I had the singular honour of being the Federal Commissioner to construct this truck terminal. My memorandum of understanding (MoU) to the Federal Executive Council (FEC), was dated October 8, 1973, and it was headed “Apapa Road Truck Terminal”, it was presented to the FEC. The truck contract after preliminary studies of the nature of the ground where the truck terminal was to be located because it was swampy, so Westminster Dredging Company was the number one dredging company in the country involved in the reclamation of Victoria Island, was invited to do the sand filling and other things. Afterwards, the MoU was presented to the FEC for the award of a contract to take in between 600 to 800 trucks.

The terminal was built to avoid congestion along the major roads leading to the ports at a cost of over N2 million. The truck terminal has always been part of the Apapa road –Ijora Courseway project as a necessary complement to remove the port congestion outside the port area. The terminal in addition to parking facility will have living accommodation and cafeteria for truck drivers, vehicle servicing facilities and a telephone link with Apapa Quays for coordinating request for vehicles at all times. This is to call in vehicles one by one to go in straight to the port to carry their goods so that there would be no vehicle congestion on these major roads in the country.

Read also: Presidency to restore traffic sanity to Apapa in 14 days

What later happened, sir?

These facilities were built and handed over to the NPA in 1974/75. What beats my imagination is why NPA all these years of congestion building up in these areas; it is abominable and we are all suffering for it. The last time I inspected this truck terminal, I was very flabbergasted to see it as a container terminal. If you look back at many Nigerians living in Apapa, who because of the denigration of the area, moving now, makes it more saddening. I have been concerned about these structures, their life span, I have been praying that none of them will collapse like what happened in Genoa, Italy, last year.

I have written letters to the Governor of Lagos State, the Minister of power, Works and Housing, and one to the management of NPA; until now, there has not been a response from the management of NPA. I volunteered to meet with the three authorities to see the way out of this problem of congestion because I remember very well that I built this truck terminal which has been turned into a container terminal. Six years ago, when Mr. Babatunde Fashola was still governor of Lagos, we discussed this problem of port congestion and trucks parking on the bridge and roads leading to Apapa. He asked me to show one of his commissioners where the truck terminal was; we went up and I pointed out the location to him. I was beyond words to find that the facility meant to take 600-800 trucks had been turned into a container terminal.

In this case of Apapa gridlock, it is 100 per cent the fault of NPA which refused to use the truck terminal built and handed over to them in 1974 for the purpose for which it was built. The public should ask the NPA what it has done to the truck terminal. The NPA should also answer questions relating to why it turned the truck terminal into a container terminal. NPA caused this trouble of Apapa now making Nigerians to suffer.

The terminal was concessioned at some point for 10 years. Presently, NPA is using the place as a truck park and implementing the call-up system. Don’t you think this is reverting to the original plan, sir?

Oh, this is coming after how many years? From 1974 to 2019? Why was the facility concessioned to anybody for stacking containers? Why was not used for the purpose for which it was built? NPA must answer this question. The public is asking, the Apapa residents are asking, Mile 2 residents, Lagosians generally are asking this question; we have all suffered from the effect of this gridlock in Apapa. Why must we all be subjected to this problem which has affected our daily lives? Those of us that built this terminal foresaw this problem back then; it is a problem that Lagosians have been suffering from for over 10 years. NPA must answer this question to the satisfaction of the public. NPA should be sanctioned for imposing this burden on the rest of the country.

Was the truck terminal as conceived back then meant to generate revenue for the NPA? Was there a fee to be paid by truck drivers for the usage of the facility?

All that was to be determined by the NPA. They were to manage the facility. The facility was built for NPA to use in other to ease their business and by extension ease problems on the roads. The trucks were to be called up from the facility into the port. It is not just the present leadership of the NPA that is guilty, but even the past leadership should be brought to book on this matter. That facility should go back to what it was meant for ab initio. It cannot be a temporary measure. Repairs should be carried out on it and use it as a truck terminal and have electronic means to call in trucks to go to Tin Can Island Port.

Should it be the responsibility of government or NPA to provide truck parks given that owners of the truck fleet are supposed to have a park for their fleet?

NPA and the Federal Government are the same. In our time, we provided this truck terminal as a duty to the public. So if the government provided truck terminals it is serving its purpose- enhancement of the country’s economy. The government should charge a fee for the use. If a private sector is buoyant enough to provide a truck park for itself or even for the public so be it. But these trucks are not meant to line up our roads and bridges. In fact, those who do so should be sanctioned by law. But what have you done with the provision done in 1974 for the truck terminal? The fault rests squarely on the shoulders of the management of NPA.

There are fears that this exercise of call up may be sabotaged. How can this be avoided?

Anyone caught in an act of sabotage should be sanctioned and punished by law.

Would you say the government has done well in tackling traffic congestion generally on our roads?

The issue of traffic congestion has not been tackled seriously by any government all these years since the 1970s. We are paying lip service to traffic control. Talking about traffic problem generally and not this isolated case of the truck terminal, Nigeria is not serious. The problem of traffic is a failure to effectively control traffic and failure to effectively enforce the law- those are the two major problems. I have also said this over 40 years ago. In my younger days, there was an officer in charge of traffic. He was called “Fine Country.” He would be on a motorcycle and go round the city on a motorcycle, punishing and arresting traffic offender. Every inch of our road is a bus stop.

How can the maritime industry be revamped for greater efficiency? What holistic approach should be adopted in this regard?

Discipline! Those in charge of the operations at the and the sector are not disciplined and do not respect the laws. If they resolve to respect the maritime laws, then Nigeria will be what we dreamt of in those days. It is a lack of discipline that is the cause of all these- whether in maritime or in any other sphere of the economy, we lack discipline, patriotism.

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