By Chico Nwakanma
The port city of Apapa in Lagos is one of the most precious pieces of real estate not only in Nigeria but Africa. It covers only a land area of 39 square kilometres. In that little space, it generates so much wealth for the coffers of the nation.
Officials of the Lagos State Government and the military began Monday, September 24, 2018, another attempt to get the ubiquitous trucks off the approaches to and main roads of Apapa. It is the umpteenth effort to control what has become the menace of lorries on Apapa roads. Denizens of Apapa can only hope and pray that this current effort would yield positives. It looks, though, as a forlorn hope.
Apapa lies north of the Lagos lagoon. The main attraction is the ports and terminals it houses for various commodities such as containers and bulk cargo, houses, offices, schools. It also houses a small and disused line for the Nigerian Railway Corporation.
Apapa hosts 80 per cent and counting of the facilities for Nigeria’s external trade, both import and exports. There are container terminals including the one the Federal Government handed over in March 2005 to A.P. Moller-Maersk Group.
There are two main ports, the Port of Lagos, Apapa Ports and the Tin-Can Island Port, launched in 1977 with roll-on, roll-off facilities described then as “ultra-modern”. Apapa also houses refineries such as those of Bua Group, blending plants and the commercial offices of shipping, clearing and transportation companies. Apapa is of course home to two newspapers, BusinessDay and Thisday.
A third newspaper, Vanguard, has offices on the way to Apapa through the Tin Can Island port. It observed in a report in June: “Since the beginning of the year 2018, it has been hell for motorists and other road users in the Mile Two/Berger/Coconut/Tn Can axis of the Oshodi-Apapa Expressway. This is no thanks to the lingering traffic congestion in the area taking an alarming turn for the worse each successive day. Last week it degenerated into a climax of chaos as over 5, 000 tankers, trucks and other articulated vehicles invaded and seized a whole section of the dual carriageway, completely paralysing traffic from Oshodi to Tin Can, inward Apapa”.
The Apapa North terminal of the Nigerian Railway Corporation worked in the period 1975-1980 that I schooled in one of the landmark schools of Apapa, United Christian Secondary School. We used to board the train occasionally for fun. We also used to board the ferry to cross from Apapa to the Marina. The boat still operates, luckily, but the terminals reek of decay.
I have known Apapa for 43 years. It was pristine, clean, livable when I first made contact as an 11-year old who skipped Primary Six to enter the secondary school. Apapa was a beautiful bride, the place we learnt of in various subjects, from Economics through Commerce, as significant because of the ports and their role in transportation, national income etc. The government built the Apapa Amusement Park in this period, and it added to the allure of Apapa for young people. There were two main supermarkets of the era, Leventis and Kingsway Stores. There was the Roxy Cinema and the Leadership and Training Centre, Sea School. During various activities, we would visit the Park Lane residence of the Awolowos.
We witnessed the unfolding of the Tin Can Island Port and how it created a new route to and from Apapa, linking to Mile 2 and the new expressway. We occasionally joyfully walked from school then on Bombay Crescent to Mile 2, pocketing our transport fare in exchange for camaraderie.
I drove through Apapa recently and experienced deep pain and despair. Forget the trucks on the bridges and all the approaches. I went from Point Road through Wharf Road, Creek, Liverpool, our old Bombay and Pelewura Crescents. I visited what used to be Kingsway.
Apapa stinks! Apapa has become a slum and is now no different from Boundary on the Malu Road. There is a population explosion. Then a burst of commercial spots in places not meant for that purpose. The streets are dirty. The roads are woebegone.
The neglect of the treasure that Apapa represents started then with the Cement Armada. Then as now going into Apapa was a chore as the place was jam-packed.
Apapa speaks to the confusion and wrong priorities in our national planning or lack thereof. It is inconceivable that the place that contributes so much to the nation’s income and resource base would suffer such wanton disregard until all of its infrastructures would collapse. What is wrong with officialdom in this country that allows such egregious errors happen? Is there an Elite Consensus to enable Nigeria to die? Drawing any other conclusion is difficult.
We similarly neglected the Niger Delta until our brothers and sisters revolted from the stranglehold and choking effects of the deprivation and degradation. Nigeria began to respond only after the agitations. We have not felt the urgency of the need even now.
As with Apapa, we are doing the same with the new bride of Lagos, the Lekki Free Trade Zone. Lagos State and the Federal Government project and position this zone as the new engine room of the Lagos economy. It houses the upcoming Dangote Refinery, LADOL and several other massive projects.
Governor Akinwunmi Ambode recently posted a video wherein he showcased the zone and its potentials to investors and entrepreneurs. Drive to the place, however, and you could develop a fit at the state of the road and approaches to the zone. The way is terrible once you enter Ibeju Lekki.
At Abijo and Bogije, motorists spend an average of two hours each way, locked in traffic caused by bad portions of roads. Those portions deteriorated gradually over the last two years. The conclusion of the whole matter? We do not care even for the sources of our wellbeing. How very sad.