Although it seems Apapa is saying goodbye to the gridlock that plagued it before now, businesses and individuals that left the port city are still not ready to come back as they fear the gridlock easing may be temporary.
In October 2021, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) announced that the electronic call-up system, which started operations on February 27, 2021, has cleared 80 percent of the 12-year-old traffic congestion in Apapa.
This would have been an answered prayer for businesses and Apapa residents, but BusinessDay’s investigations show that businesses that fled the port city are yet to return.
Plazas still have empty office and shop spaces, and individuals are reluctant to move into the city.
Bode Karunwi, chairman, Schubbs Dental Clinic, a resident of Apapa, says, “Commuting to Apapa is a lot easier now, however, my patients are sceptical and hesitant when asked to come.”
“We used to have four dental institutes in Apapa; we now have two, because we weren’t able to sustain it due to the reduction in the customer base,” he explains.
Port cities across the world are revered as centres of magnificence. From ancient Florence in Italy to Southampton in England to Los Angeles in the United States, the story is the same.
The bubbling hustle gives these neighbourhood a character that permeates the city. But this cannot be said of Apapa, which has remained a shadow of itself after the crippling impact of traffic congestion.
Charles Efudo, centre manager for 9Mobile located in Shoprite on Park Lane Road in Apapa, states in an interview that, although the traffic seems to be improving, it could be better as there are still trucks parked on the road.
“The customer level has dropped because our customers, who are mostly employees of businesses, have left Apapa,” he says, adding, that their other contact center at Warehouse Road had to close down due to insufficient customers to sustain the branch.
The Apapa Amusement Park has also seen a moderate increase in visitors coming to relax and have fun. Although in the past, a lot of parents prevented their wards from visiting.
“When parents get to know that their children’s school intends to visit Apapa Amusement Park for an excursion, most of them withdraw their children from going,” an employee of the park says.
“However, we now see more people coming to have fun at the park compared to the time when traffic was worse. Normally, we rarely see a lot of customers come in during the week; we see more visitors come in during the weekend,” she says.
Apapa was once not only a residential but also an investment and commercial destination, which explains why so many people moved to the port city and built homes for their own use and for rent.
Others arrived and established enterprises, such as banks, schools, restaurants, recreation centres, shopping malls, ports and marine service companies, and so forth.
When our reporters visited Creek Road, one of the business hubs of Apapa, there were a lot of empty office buildings and spaces. Eateries such as Tetrazini had shut down, Tantalizers, Mr Biggs had closed their Apapa branches. These outlets are yet to reopen despite the return of sanity to the port city.
Film House Cinema inside Apapa Mall has also shut down while MRS filling station is a shadow of itself with only one fuel pump working.
Dizengoff, an agricultural company that was on Creek Road, moved to Ojodu-Berger due to the heavy gridlock and the inconveniences their customers faced while trying to locate them. That too is yet to reopen.
Although some may argue that things aren’t yet business as usual in Apapa, malls like Polysonic on Point Road seems to be gaining momentum.
“We’ve had new businesses move in since the traffic in Apapa reduced, and more businesses have been coming to make enquiries about our office spaces,” Benjamin Ekunta, facility manager at the mall, states.
“As at 2015, the traffic was very bad and many businesses moved out of the mall,” he discloses.
Chudi Ubosi, the principal manager of Ubosi Eleh+ Co, a real estate company, says it will take a minimum of 18 to 24 months for people to move back to Apapa, and even when they move in, they would have the mindset of leaving once there is a slight change in the ease in traffic.
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According to Ubosi, “We have about five properties up for sale in Apapa that the owners want to sell because their tenants kept moving out.
“Most businesses who don’t have a direct need for the port have also moved out.”
Therefore, although there has been an ease in traffic for the past few months, the question on residents and Investors’ minds is, ‘will it be permanent?’
Before now, Apapa had garnered notoriety for its snarling traffic congestion. According to Muda Yusuf, CEO, Centre for the Promotion of Private Enterprise, the inability of businesses to move back has a lot to do with how people perceive Apapa.
In order to solve this, Yusuf suggests that the government has to instill confidence and earn the people’s trust and to do this the government has to sustain the reduction in traffic congestion
“In the past, there was temporary ease in gridlock in Apapa, which came back shortly after. This is one of the reasons businesses would rather wait for a long time before coming to make long term investments,” Yusuf says.
“The government has to sustain the ease in traffic and ensure it cuts across the whole of Apapa. Only this way will the confidence of businesses and individuals be rekindled,” he adds.