Opinion: FG, sort out Apapa ports roads mess

Oshodi-Apapa Road

LOT of Nigerians believe that government is ponderous and lacks the leadership acumen to move the country forward. The result is a dysfunctional entity where there is chronic infrastructure deficit. This chaos is particularly pronounced in road infrastructure. Apapa, Lagos, Nigeria’s maritime hub, is an archetypal example. The remiss hampers business and is a nightmare to residents. Considering the significance of the ports to the economy, the Federal Government should move with speed to sort out the mess.

On Tuesday, businessman Aliko Dangote brought the rot into a sharp focus. “The economy loses more than N20 billion daily. It affects businesses across the country,” he said. At a computation of N140 billion weekly, the economy is losing N7.28 trillion per year. This is a colossal loss, just N160 billion short of the 2017 budget of N7.44 trillion. How terrible!

Oddly, the decay of Apapa roads has been there for a long time. It did not matter which government was in place: military or the civilians, that have been in power for the past 18 years. This beggars belief as Nigeria witnessed a period of high income until mid-2014 when oil prices nosedived. However, the country still generates huge annual revenue from ports operations, but like a typical delinquent, the government abdicates its responsibilities.

As a result, the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway to the Orile-Iganmu Carriageway, Wharf Road to Creek Road, and all the access roads in Apapa, which houses the Tin Can and the Apapa ports, are decrepit. With government shamefully shirking its responsibility, Apapa is overwhelmed by gridlock on a daily basis. Importers and exporters incur inflated overhead costs and wasted man-hours. Many of the residents have relocated owing to the mayhem.

Sadly, things may not get better soon. Top officials in Abuja fail to see or look the other way the debilitating effects of the roads in Apapa on the economy and the health of the citizens. In May, Babatunde Fashola, the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, lamented that the Apapa repairs would cost N100 billion. He is therefore seeking partnerships with private operators to construct the roads. This does not offer much assurance.

Yet, compared to the N11.9 billion and $873.7 million that the Nigerian Ports Authority raked in as fees in 2015 from the ports, according to its former managing director, Habib Abdullahi, it is flawed economics for the government to abandon such a rich source of income. The terrible infrastructure is a strong reason why Nigerian ports are losing business to the neighbouring ports in West Africa, where goods get cleared quickly.

Although the Federal Government, through the Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, promised to release N350 billion for capital projects from the 2017 Appropriation Act on Monday, the hope that this will significantly change the fate of Apapa road users is being watched closely.

Nevertheless, the Federal Government has run out of excuses on Apapa roads. The Muhammadu Buhari administration needs to see the tackling of this embarrassing situation as a top priority. One solution is for the executive to present a special supplementary budget to the National Assembly for the project. The whole world saw government in action between March and April when it reconstructed the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport Abuja runway in just six weeks at a cost of N5.8 billion. This type of determined effort ought to be evident in Apapa, which is as economically strategic as the NAIA. Two, Abuja could seek financing from multilateral agencies to fix the roads. Economic activities associated with Apapa would pay for the loan.

However, the reconstruction of the roads network is not the complete solution to the debacle. Having cost-efficient port operations demands an integrated transport solution. More than ever before, there is an urgent need for a rail network in and out of Apapa. A study by the Lagos State Government estimates that 6,000 trailers and tankers converge on Apapa daily to offload and load goods. No matter the road network, business will continue to suffer if the massive vehicular pressure in Apapa continues. In contrast, 250 loaded freight trains leave the Antwerp Port in Belgium en route to their various destinations daily, according to the port’s annual report. This makes it imperative for the Federal Government to develop rail infrastructure to reduce the pressure on the roads and ease business operations.

For the new Executive Order on efficient port operations issued by Acting President Yemi Osinbajo in May to really benefit the economy, all the associated facilities – roads inclusive – have to be in a good shape. Osinbajo’s order had expelled several public agencies from the ports and decreed a 24-hour operations aimed at reducing cargo downtime. Yet, the cleared cargoes have to be quickly transported or the ports’ congestion will persist.

Government should undertake its responsibility by providing parking infrastructure for trucks in Apapa. The dated practice of trucks parking and blocking the expressways is disorderly. This narrows and spoils the roads, built at a great cost to the system. To expand its scope, the NPA should decentralise its operations by upgrading its other four ports across the country to handle larger maritime traffic. It should modernise its operations with digital technology in all the six locations. Punch

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