Apapa: A cash cow on death row

Apapa
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Of the 20 local government areas in Lagos State, none is more strategic than Apapa in terms of location and economic importance.  Apapa is a port city. It is the first of its kind in Nigeria. The port city is home to two seaports—Apapa and Tin Can Island. It is estimated that the two ports account for 75 percent of import and export activities in Nigeria. Apapa economy is estimated at N20 billion a day.

Besides oil, Apapa is Nigeria’s cash cow. A substantial percentage of government’s non-oil revenue comes from this port city.  Before now,  Apapa was a splendour –a residential and commercial enclave where night life and other leisure activities thrived the most in Lagos.

But today, Apapa is a ghost town. It is a paradise lost. Gradually, but steadily, the port city is drifting and degenerating into a wasteland.  Apapa represents a city in static motion. It is a metaphor for a sleeping economy.  Apapa tells the Nigeria story—a story of paradoxes and contradictions; of a  country that cuts its nose in order to spite its face.

For inexplicable reasons, Apapa suffers government’s neglect reflected in its decayed infrastructure, degraded environment, decrypt, desolate and  deserted homes, offices and fun parks.  The port city has been invaded by desperadoes—people whose activities have put the city under siege, making it a difficult environment for business and residence.

The siege by trucks and tankers have created congestion and gridlock. These have combined to make haulage costs quadruple in the last 24 months.  The costs are such that it is now cheaper to bring goods from China or Europe than taking same goods from Apapa to other locations in Nigeria.

Today, transporting a 40-footer container from Lagos to Onitsha costs an importer N1.3 million, up from between N320,000 and N340,000 before the congestion in Apapa. Moving the same container from Lagos to Shagamu which before cost N120,000 to N150,000, is now N750,000 to N800,000. For an importer to move his goods from Lagos to Ilorin now costs him between N860,000 and N900,000, up from N220,000  to N260,000 he used to pay. Transporting same size container to Abuja now costs N1.3 million to N1.4 million, up from N420,000.

This is a huge concern to all, especially the consumers of the imported goods who are at the receiving end of the increased costs. Of greater concern is the parking of trucks on weak bridges.  Nigerians are afraid of the grave consequences if any of those occupied bridges collapses.

Bridges have collapsed before and history could repeat itself. On October 21, 1994, in Seoul, South Korea, Seongsu bridge collapsed as a result of structural failure. 32 people were feared dead and 17 injured. In March 2007, in South East Guinea, the bridge collapsed under the weight of trucks parked with passengers and merchandise, 65 lives were lost.

The most recent was in Italy, the largest city in Rome, where a highway bridge, the Morandi Bridge, collapsed over Genoa, causing people, cars and huge slabs of concrete to fall hundreds of feet onto the city below. About 30 people died.

Nigerians have seen one taskforce after another set up to deal with Apapa problem to no avail. The latest is the presidential taskforce which appears to be overwhelmed by the enormity of work at hand.

Expectation was that the presidential task force would be a solution to the problem, more so as it has the backing of the president. The dislodging of security agencies with their checkpoints and illegal ‘toll collection’ from truck drivers also raised hope.

But nothing is happening, meaning that government should be looking out for bether temporary and permanent solutions. In the immediate to short term, government should provide or cause private sector operators to provide parks for these trucks.

As long term measures, government should construct rails to convey goods from the ports and dredge the eastern ports. There is also  need to expand the ports to accommodate more activities as the capacity of the existing ports can no longer accommodate the influx of goods in and out  the country.

Fixing the ports and making it functional is in the best interest of all stakeholders. Experience from other economies may be useful here. In Rotterdam, for example, port-related activities accounted for 74,000 direct jobs and 13 percent of total metropolitan GDP in 2007.

Also in Shanghai, the number of jobs related to port activities reached 840,000 in 2012, up from 347,000 in 2002. Shanghai’s port accounted for 7.6 percent of the city’s GDP in 2012. One can only imagine what the figure could be today over 15 years after. This should be a lesson for both Lagos State and the Federal Government.

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