• Saturday, May 25, 2024
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BusinessDay

Lekki risks being new Apapa on port, refinery

Firm clears Lekki Free Port Terminal first container

Francis Edidiong, a computer engineer, lives in Bogije in the Ibeju-Lekki area of Lagos and works with an information technology firm in Victoria Island.

Although Lekki Deep Seaport and the Dangote Refinery, both located in Ibeju, have yet to come on stream, the 31-year-old Edidong faces at least four hours of traffic gridlock from his house in Bogije to Victoria Island on a daily basis.

He said he usually leaves his house at 4am to beat the traffic on the Ajah-Lekki Road and meet the 8:30am resumption time in his office.

He is concerned about what would be the situation of traffic on the Lekki-Epe Road when both the refinery and the port begin operations.

“Motorists and commuters are presently suffering on the Lekki-Epe Road because it is only one road to Lekki,” Edidiong told BusinessDay. “I worry that the port and the refinery have not started commercial operations and the road is the way it is today. What will happen if trucks start moving containers using this one road?”

BusinessDay understands that the Federal Government has approved the connection of a track from Lekki Port to the proposed Eastern coastal rail line through Ijebu-Ode and to Ibadan Rail Line.

It is estimated that from Lekki Port to Ijebu-Ode, it will be about 50 kilometres while Ijebu-Ode to Ibadan Rail Line will be about 70km.

Miracle Uche resides in the Sangotedo area of Ajah and works with a construction company in Epe.

She said that though the government has started work on the Lekki-Epe Road, she still hopes that the government does more in order not to allow Lekki suffer the same fate that befell Apapa.

“I have to leave home at 6:30am daily to be at the office at 8am due to the distance. The traffic on the Epe-bound lane of the road is usually light in the morning because both the port and the refinery have not started anything serious but the congestion is usually heavy on the Ajah-bound lane. But if trucks concentrate on using the Epe-Ijebu-Ode road, it will help the Lekki residents more,” Uche said.

This was why Hassan Bello, a maritime expert, said he hoped the Lekki Deep Seaport would not be plagued by the same problem faced by Apapa and Tin-Can.

He said there must be a multimodal connection to cargo delivery and evacuation because the use of only the road would result in congestion.

Bello warned the Federal Government not to give an operating licence to a port that has no rail or Inland water connection but relies only on roads.

“We need adequate infrastructure including inland connectivity. We have no access to Apapa and Tin-Can today because there is no rail. We have a congested port because of a lack of planning. The Lagos State Government and other investors should be keen on providing multimodal cargo delivery and evacuation from Lekki Port. A port should be served with as many means of transportation as possible including the inland waterway, road, and rail,” he said.

On the government side, Muazu Sambo, minister of transportation, said President Muhammadu Buhari does not want to see a repeat of the Apapa and Tin-Can situation, adding that Lekki Port will shift from focusing on the evacuation of cargo by road to rail.

He said that the Federal Government would ensure that Lekki Port is connected by rail within the shortest possible time. He added that the second option is to encourage the use of barges to move cargo from Lekki to Ikorodu or Ijora.

But some industry watchers are taking the minister’s assurance on rail connection with a pinch of salt because there is no existing national rail line, which a track from Lekki Port or Dangote Refinery can connect to.

Meanwhile, the management of Lekki Port has also put plans in motion to build a truck park that would have an initial 153 truck parking slots, a security booth, offices, and a waiting area.

The truck park will be located at the north boundary of Lekki Port to prevent unnecessary queues at the port’s gate when commercial operations begin next year.

Confirming this, Lawrence Smith, chief operating officer for Lekki Port, was quoted by Nigerian Ports Today as saying that the Lekki-Epe Road from Eleko Road to Eleko Junction had been completed recently by the Lagos State Government.

According to him, the road, being constructed by Hitech under government concession, is a six-lane freeway with a designated truck park by the side to manage the flow of port-bound trucks.

“Then, from Ajah to Eleko, the construction of a six-lane way is already taking place and there is an overhead bridge and flyover that are being built at VGC. By the time the port will start commercial operations, the road would be there to support the business,” Smith said.

According to him, it is expected that there will be about 15 to 20 trucks on the road every hour commuting to and fro the port in the first year of the port operations to avoid the repeat of Apapa gridlock.

“We have plans for a truck park, and to have a vehicle booking system so that only booked trucks can come to the port and the NPA would support in managing truck traffic. We want to avoid the situation where trucks come to wait for a business like some do in Apapa,” he added.

Read also: Lekki Port: Nigeria inches to hub status with transit cargo from Niger Republic

He said that there will be greater use of barges to evacuate cargo from Lekki Port to the Lagos axis to ensure dwell time does not exceed seven days to reduce costs for shippers.

In 2021, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, governor of Lagos State, told journalists after a tour of the Dangote Refinery and Petrochemical Facilities that the state government had entered into partnership with the Dangote Group to construct the ancillary road infrastructure leading to the Free Zones in Ibeju-Lekki.

He said the carriageway extends from Lekki-Epe Expressway into the Free Trade Zone area, covering several kilometres.

“We have met and cleared out few issues around approvals, right-of-way and the infrastructure. These are things that we need to come on this axis. We don’t want a replay of Apapa gridlock here. So, we have agreed and we have planned a timeline for ourselves on the construction of Magbon Alade Highway. This will come to the free zones from Lekki-Epe Expressway,” Sanwo-Olu said at the time.

He added the state government would complement the infrastructure being initiated in the Free Trade Zone with the Green Rail Line, which would raise transportation capacity in and out of the corridor.