By Patrick Dele Cole
IT started with one truck parked outside the gate of the Tin Can Port, Apapa, Lagos because the truck park was full. The next day, two more trucks parked on the road awaiting their turn to lift cargo. The park was busy and so were the factories for wheat, sugar and cement (rebags, etc).
Before long, and as Nigeria’s appetite for imports grew, more and more trucks parked on all the roads leading to the ports on the flyovers, under the flyovers from Iganmu to Surulere, to Lawanson, on the Second Mainland Bridge, Eko Bridge creating a truck park that has almost strangled port activity. The trucks drove most residents in Apapa away.
The cry to clear this horror has been shrill and long, but there is no respite. Why? Lagos State government claims that the bridges and roads leading to the ports are federal roads and therefore they can do nothing much about it. A Trumpian lie. Then they blame the Nigerian Ports Authority for the truck gridlock. The NPA may be guilty of all sorts of things, but you cannot blame them for the pillage on Lagos roads.
Lagos State Government benefits substantially from the ports even if it does not own equity in it (we have always argued that Lagos State is entitled to equity in the airports and Lagos ports.)
Are there factories inside the ports in Lagos? What kind of factories? If so, is it not time to decommission these factories and move them elsewhere. Lagos is the main port of Nigeria, bringing in fertilisers (ammonium nitrate) and storing them and other inflammable imports at the ports, including petroleum products and tank farms. The explosion in Lebanon was caused by the blow up of ammonium nitrate (fertiliser) at the ports.
Ideally several truck parks should be built outside Lagos(Mombasa, Eritrea, Angola, etc., have new state-of-the-art port facilities) and trucks should only be on the road to go to the ports, pick up cargo quickly and leave. The NPA has to be ready to release cargo, as it has promised ad infinitum, within 24hours of cargo landing in the ports. Accelerated clearing of goods must be a priority for all engaged in this business.
Is Lagos secure? Can it blow up like Beirut? Most definitely. We do have fertilisers in the ports. We have other inflammable materials. To ask the NPA to be more transparent in its operations is to speak as a fool. But the dangers persist. Let us build a scenario.
If one of those trucks parked jowl-to-cheek were to catch fire, every truck on all those roads from Apapa, second bridge, Iganmu, Badagry road, etc., would catch fire because they cannot move and each has fuel tanks.
The fire would be quick and compulsive, burning nearby petrol stations, tank farms and even the ports themselves with all their factories, etc. I believe that most of Apapa, Surulere, Badagry road, Festac Town, Alaba, etc., would be at risk.
While on this subject of fire, has it occurred to anyone that South West Ikoyi is a fire hazard? It was built as a residential area, but like all things in Nigeria, good intentions succumb to unfathomable greed. One day we saw one shop in Awolowo Road then another, then offices, petrol stations, etc.
There is a military arms and explosive dump in Dodan Barracks. There are 10 petrol stations on Awolowo Road. When an area has been planned for a particular purpose should we not try to maintain that purpose?
The most dangerous area of Nigeria is still the ports. Suppose Nigeria is fighting a war with Benin and Togo or any other country. Our ammunition stocks are low and we have ships at the ports to re-equip our army. The ports are jammed because of the trucks. The military cannot be resupplied. What do we do? Or suppose a dissident group was to fire-bomb those trucks?
The problem can be solved. A few years ago Mr President threatened to come on a state visit to Lagos. Apart from the usual preparation of school children, after hours of drill, learning to sing for the President while waving flags welcoming him, something extraordinary happened.
Every single truck parked on all those flyovers, all trucks blocking Apapa, Iganmu, Badagry road, etc., was removed. The Lagos State government announced the closure of a good number of roads from Ikeja to Lagos. Of course, the airport was closed to all traffic. All trucks on Airport Road were removed.
The President came. He flew from the airport to the State House, thus depriving the children the opportunity to show Lagos hospitality. Mercifully he did not spend the night. He returned to Abuja. My plane from Lagos to Abuja was delayed for six hours!!
Who pays for all those trucks causing the gridlock outside the ports? The owners of the trucks are paid by the importers who simply add the cost to the price they sell the goods which you and I have to pay for, thus keeping inflation high.
The trucks/trailers clogging the roads make travelling to work and around slow, more expensive and dangerous. And again, we pay for it. If you spend eight hours in traffic daily, it is eight hours you could have done productive work. The tedium of the delay affects your mental state, causing stress and other psychological problems that will impact on our health and economy.
Finally, having noticed what has happened in Beirut, please let us do something to clear the roads of Lagos before we all get blown up. The Lagos airport is in a similar danger to the existence of Lagos considering hundreds of petrol tankers parked on the airport roads waiting to be supplied from the airport flow stations. If one of those trucks catches fire and the tank farms are ablaze can the fire be contained?
What kind of contract did Lagos sign with China stopping it from finishing the railway and the 12- lane road to Badagry and Seme? China has shown its ability to carry out such projects in Luanda, Mozambique, Mombasa, Somali, Eritea; why not Nigeria?
What we need in Nigeria is a whole reconstruction of the supply routes to the ports, consisting of first class secure roads, trailers parks, hotel, etc. The people of Lagos have suffered enough. They demand and deserve better facilities. Government must meet its standards and promises. If not, there is always the vote.
People who live in Lagos must rise up to the dangers they face. Five years ago, it took most workers one or two hours to get to work and back. Today, it takes five to six hours for the same trip; why?
Why should you vote for a government that punishes you so? Their pedigree would show that they can do better. LSDPC is now a shadow of its former self. People could vote for Alhaji Lateef Jakande because he did what he promised.
He built new schools and stopped children having to go to school in two streams, morning and afternoon, so that you found children returning from school as late as 10 or 11pm. You could get a house for N30,000.
He repeated this feat in Abuja when he was Minister of Works. When he fell out with SDP he left the party and the people of Lagos followed him. He remodelled schools, paid teachers, controlled Lagos traffic, built estates and roads fulfilling the old electoral jingle of life more abundant: indeed life is now short and brutish and insecure; and Lagos is liable to massive conflagration.
As if that is not enough, Lagos may also be extinguished by refuse and chemical and human waste. We cannot wait for the landfills before opening near truck parks but the landfills system of LASMA is outdated and corruption-ridden.
Lagos still pollutes all the water around it by dumping waste from soakaways in the lagoon. All the factories in Lagos do the same because Lagos has no plans for liquid waste. If the ports do not get you, Alausa will.