Individual group efforts urging the federal government to have a re-think on her decision not to rehabilitate the ports access routes even after three years of the present administration’s in office appear not to be paying off. Stakeholder collaboration and massive push involving the National Assembly may be all that is needed to compel executive action in this direction.
The Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN) had, in February, issued a one-week ultimatum to the federal government to commence a comprehensive rehabilitation of the neglected Apapa-Tin Can Port expressway and other port accesses nationwide or risk a massive lockdown of operations in the ports. But in a volte face even before the expiration of the deadline, the port workers chickened out. They claimed that the Labour Minister had intervened and that the federal government would expedite action on fixing the neglected roads. Among other agreements, the workers said, the federal government promised them that it would empower a special task force to remove trucks and trailers on the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway to make access into the ports easy.
PIX 1: Raji Fashola, Minister for Works and Ex - Lagos State Governor
Nigerians were told that the Labour Minister, Dr. Chris Ngige, had reached the agreement with the union and the Ministry of Transportation, Federal Ministry Power, Works and Housing as well as the management of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA). Consequently, the strike threat was suspended.
PIX 2: The flag-off of palliative work on the port access road
On May 14, 2017, the MWUN had issued a similar ultimatum which it later suspended after securing assurances that the roads would be fixed. But a year and nine months later, the federal government took no action to fix the roads, prompting the port workers to embark on another cycle of a strike threat. As the MWUN said in 2017, “We have waited and endured very harrowing experiences on the access roads to the ports in Lagos, Port Harcourt, Calabar and Warri, hoping upon hopes that government will at least do a quick fix on the roads to make them motorable. Nine months after we suspended the ultimatum, the roads have completely deteriorated, in addition, claimed several lives and properties”.
PALLIATIVES BY TANK FARM OPERATORS
Shortly before the MWUN February strike threat, a group under the aegis of Committee of Directors (COD), Ibru Complex, Ibafon, Apapa in Lagos commenced the repairs of the dilapidated portions of the Apapa-Oshodi expressway.
The group, which comprises tank farm owners operating at the Ibru Jetty and other business enterprises in Ibafon, said it had provided N222.5 million for the construction which includes the main carriageway of the expressway and feeder roads from Sunrise to Coconut Bus Stop.
The directors said the contractor for the project, Segulat Nigeria Limited, had already received 30 percent of the contract sum for the repair of the road which for years has remained a nightmare to commuters. COD said the reconstruction work would last for three months.
PIX 3: Senator Chris Ngige, Labour Minister
At the flag-off of the palliative works, the group’s arrowhead, Olorogun Oscar Ibru, the vice chairman of the Ibru Group, noted that operators who were yet to key into the project might be sanctioned as, according to him, the dilapidated state of the access road has negatively affected supply of petroleum products to other parts of the country.
Ibru who also doubles as the president of the COD maintained that the bad roads in Apapa and its environs had created bottlenecks along Apapa-Oshodi expressway.
“We have a system where we don’t force anybody to do what they don’t want to do. That is why I decided to start the project immediately,” he said.
“I believe when they see the project is up and running, it will encourage them to contribute as requested.
“On the other hand, if they don’t, I will have to ask them not to come to my jetty anymore because the jetty is also getting some attention,” Ibru said of the carrot and stick approach to making all stakeholders key into the project.
Much as industry operators hailed the COD initiative, they expressed concern with the idea of a palliative and the impression that individual groups can go it all alone. To what extent can COD or any other forum for that matter achieve their aim if they do not work in liaison with other interest groups? To what extent can individual stakeholder groups muster the financial muscle needed to rehabilitate such a critical infrastructure that has been left to rot for many years? What is expected is a permanent rehabilitation which only the federal government has the resources to put in place.
BONDED TERMINAL OPERATORS AND STATE OF EMERGENCY
Still in February, the Association of Bonded Terminal Operators in Nigeria (ABTON) advocated a common front of all maritime groups to confront the challenge posed by the continued neglect of the port access roads by the federal government.
The association explained that it had started rallying other interest groups with the objective of jointly declaring a state of emergency on the port access roads. The forum called on groups such as the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) and the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) to join forces with it. It also invited truck owner groups such as the National Association of Road Transport Owners (NARTO), Association of Maritime Truck Owners (AMATO) and Joint Council of Seaport Truckers (JCOST) to align with the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria in declaring a state of emergency on the port access roads.
PIX 4: Dilapidated portions of the port accesss road
While reacting to the reported palliative works put in place by some tank farm owners led by Olorogun Oskar Ibru, ABTON’s Executive Secretary, Mr. Haruna Omolajomo, regretted that government has failed in its responsibility to provide the necessary infrastructure for port businesses to thrive.
Omolajomo said the level of federal government’s neglect of the roads has got to the point where all hands must be on deck to forcefully draw government’s attention to the lives that are being lost daily and businesses ruined by the failed roads.
According to him, the government should understand that the sector is a key factor to economic growth and must be given the urgent attention needed to encourage and complement the entrepreneurial spirit of the private sector.
Omolajomo stated that only a fraction of the revenue generated daily from the ports is needed to rehabilitate and reconstruct the port access roads and wondered why government has failed to realize the enormous harm being done to the economy by neglecting the roads.
"Honestly, I am in total support of what the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria did to ensure that the roads are fixed for once," he said of the strike threat issued recently by the union.
"I am expecting that ANLCA, NAGAFF, bonded terminal operators and others will declare a state of emergency on the port access roads because it appears government is not worried or bothered about what we are facing going to Apapa to earn a living.
"If the various groups in the sector can withdraw their services for just two days, I believe that the government will understand the importance of the stakeholders and their roles in maritime operations," he said.
The bonded terminal operators scribe, however, lauded the efforts of tank farm owners over the ongoing palliative works on the Sunrise to Coconut axis of the Apapa-Oshodi expressway in Lagos.
One issue Babatunde Fashola, former Lagos State governor found very disturbing during his eight-year tenure was federal government’s unwillingness to fix the Apapa port access roads, a critical infrastructure which falls under her exclusive responsibility. Fashola used every forum to condemn this, describing it as irrational and disgraceful. Like every other concerned citizen, he was quick to attribute federal government’s disposition on this matter to political differences as the party in power in Abuja was different from the one in Lagos. In the heat of political campaigns prior to general elections in 2015, Fashola was unsparing in his criticism of the then federal government for neglecting its cardinal responsibility. He urged voters to ensure the party in Lagos was installed at the federal level. This was the only way deserved attention would surely be paid to this facility. In the 2015 presidential election, the people voted as he urged them!
But three years since the same political party in Lagos was enthroned at the federal level under President Muhammadu Buhari, Abuja has clearly demonstrated nonchalance to the deplorable condition of the port access roads in Lagos despite people’s cries. Even with Fashola heading the very strategic ministry under whose purview the rehabilitation falls, nothing tangible has been done.
PIX 5: Ahmed Sani Yerima, Chairman, Senate C'mttee, Marine Trspt.
In December 2015, the Senate Committee on Marine Transport visited the Lagos Ports Complex and the Tin-Can Island Port to assess the impact of the gridlock that has done much damage to businesses on the access roads. At a meeting with the committee by government agencies and stakeholders, how to tackle the gridlock dominated discussions.
Led by its chairman, Senator Ahmed Sanni Yerima, the committee had a feel of the gridlock as its convoy was trapped in the traffic.
The committee members which included Senators Kabiru Gaya, Ighoyota Amori, Isiaka Adeleke, Theodore Orji, Clifford Ordia and others were forced to drive against the traffic from Liverpool end of the road to the port. After passing through the second entrance of the Tin Can Ports, their vehicle got stuck between the container-laden trailers. At this point the lawmakers alighted from their vehicle to assess the failed portion of the road.
PIX 6: Haruna Omolajomo, ABTON Scribe
After the assessment, the vehicles could not move forward or make a U-turn, but had to reverse under a very dangerous condition. “This is a disgrace to our country. I didn’t know that the situation in Apapa is as bad as this. There is an urgent need for us to address this problem because this is where the government makes a lot of money”, one of the lawmakers lamented. That was way back in 2015! The committee’s chairman could not agree less. Describing the situation as “a serious national disaster” which must be tackled, Yerima said the gridlock had severe consequences not only on the road users and the state, but also on the national economy.