Wednesday, August 24, 2016

It is not for want of raising the alarm over the years that rather than get reasonable attention, the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway has continued to go from bad to worse.

It has reached an extent that someone asked: "What else are you going to write that has not been written about this road, yet no one cares?"The reply was: "But, the road is of such importance that it cannot be ignored. We will continue even if it means shouting ourselves hoarse, until someone decides to do what is necessary."

Today, probably more than ever before, the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway constitutes a major setback to businesses as terminal operators, shippers, tank firms and other industries in that axis are losing millions of dollars to the gridlock.

The Guardian's investigation showed that shippers have been diverting their cargoes to neighbouring countries due to difficulties encountered in clearing goods from the port.The road, which has suffered neglect for over 40 years now is described by operators as an eye sore and a testimonial to infrastructure decadence in the country.

Besides, customs agents are lamenting that the bad roads have necessitated astronomic hike in cost of clearing goods, as vehicles find it extremely difficult to access the terminals for easy delivery.

Yet, the route is one of the most economically strategic to the national economy as it links the seaport in Apapa with the airport in Ikeja.It is currently posing threat to over $650 billion investments at the Apapa and Tin Can Island Ports, going by the estimates of the operators.

The road was partially completed from Cele Bus Stop to Berger with the uncompleted part from Berger to Wharf now taken over by commercial motorcyclists who shuttle between tankers and container-laden trucks to access core port commercial area in Wharf. Many are compelled to ride against traffic while the few conscious one have to wade through the heavy pit of holes to find a route.

Indeed, the terminal operators, Customs officials, port users, truck drivers, depot owners, and transporters who spoke with The Guardian, lamented that the road is retarding business growth and development.The Acting Managing Director, Ports and Cargo Handling Services Limited, Alhaji Mohammed Bulangu, said the access roads to the ports are in a deplorable condition and this has created a source of worry to stakeholders in the industry.

He described it as a major challenge to operators, while appealing to the Federal Government to urgently address it for the overall good of the economy.Bulangu said the company has done some palliative work on the road several times, but this could not help unless government look into complete overhaul of the road.

The President of Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCAN), Prince Olayiwola Shittu said: "The road is in the hands of government. Several ministers have made several promises and yet nothing has been done. No individual can tackle that road, even to do palliatives. Some of the companies there came together, but it was difficult because the foundation needs rebuilding.

"Considering the heavy traffic and heavy load the road carries day in day out, it should be concreted with iron, but the government said it does not have money to do it."Some sections of the road had been fixed sometime ago, but it is very difficult to complete because of the monetary measures put in place by the government.

To do procurement, it will go through some rigorous steps and many offices. That is what you see in some of our budget. There is no way we can do even 40 per cent implementation of the budget because of the restrictions. We have many of our members who sleep in Apapa and go home at the weekend.

"Importantly, let me say this: anybody who has no business should not be at the ports. Go there, you will see people reading newspapers, idling away their time along the road. Ask them what are they doing they will say: 'I am looking for my importer.' Why don't you go to the office and wait for your importer.

"The new parking space is provided for them, I think NPA, which is the landlord and transport workers should tell us what is the issue with the parking lots. You will also see petroleum tankers parking on the road and waiting to lift fuel. In fact petroleum depots should not be located near the ports. No country allows tank farms near residences and ports. They could as well locate them in Epe and access it from that end in other to decongest the ports route. The ports have been in existence but those who took money in government to approve these tank farms have taken the money and they have gone, that is what we are suffering today," he said.

Managing Director, Lagos Deep Offshore Logistic Base (LADOL) Amy Jadesimi, said it was high time the Federal Government fixed the road to boost industrialization. Although, the route does not really affect LADOL since it is located on an Island adjacent Ikoyi and Apapa, Jadesimi said it is key to success of other important businesses that contribute immensely to the economy.

"Those who know LADOL very well know that we reach LADOL by water and we chose that location specifically for ease of logistics. Ikoyi to Lekki by water takes you less than 10 minutes, but to travel by road takes you more than one hour depending on the traffic situation. It is not affecting us because we have other routes that we can take.

"However, I need to say that it is critically important that we resolve this infrastructure issue to save our economy.Fewer than 20 per cent of the roads in Nigeria are okay, so we have a national crisis in terms of infrastructure which needs to be addressed, because unless we stand to fix the infrastructure deficit we are not going to industrialise our nation," she said.

Meanwhile, there are indications that AG Dangote Construction Company are planning to commence works on the roads.As part of the arrangement, the General Manager, Western Ports of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Michael Ajayi has appealed to all owners of underground cables along Apapa Wharf road to urgently clear or get alternative custody for them to allow for the commencement of reconstruction work on the road.

Ajayi reiterated that the early commencement on the Wharf road reconstruction project would depend on the timely cooperation of the owners of some underground infrastructures whose facilities may be affected by the project.

The general manager explained that as the handily contractor on the project Messrs AG Dangote Construction Company, a subsidiary of Dangote Group has mobilized to site and ready to commence work on the road. It has become necessary to appeal to all owners of these underground facilities to clear them or get alternative custody for them to allow work on the project to commence in earnest.

It would be recalled that the Federal Government had approved Messrs AG Dangote Construction Company, to re-construct the Lagos Ports Complex access road from the Port to the foot of the Apapa Bridge by Area "B" Police Station along Wharf Road, Apapa.

It could also be recalled that in order to ensure a hitch free commencement of the reconstruction , the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) Western Ports (Headquarters) convened a meeting of stakeholders to discuss modalities for the successful execution of the project.

Ajayi pointed out that it is in the interest of all stakeholders and all those doing business in Apapa to see to the early commencement of the reconstruction work on the Wharf Road and its successful completion as unnecessary further delay on this project would not be in the interest of the overall economic activity of Lagos State and the nation as a whole.