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Apapa gridlock: Another dimension of insecurity in Nigeria

A major socio-economic problem that seems to have defied solution in Nigeria today is insecurity. Though the country has other serious problems such as hunger and poverty which are fallouts of unemployment, insecurity remains its biggest burden because it is no respecter of persons or position.

Insurgency and banditry which have become the defining features of the Northern part of the country are as bad as the loss of lives and destruction of properties which they leave in their trail. Kidnapping is yet another variant of insecurity in the country that has not only impoverished, but also caused family dislocations.

Another dimension of the insecurity situation in Nigeria today is the perennial, intractable and seemingly insurmountable gridlock in Apapa, Lagos. Apapa is Nigeria’s first port city. It is home to the country’s two busiest seaports – Apapa and Tin Can Island – which account for over 70 percent of export and import activities in the country.

Many see Apapa as an aberration and a contradiction. It is a metaphor for suffering, stress and pain. Apapa is an unsafe, loathsome destination and driving to the port city is a huge risk for which many—individuals, institutions and sundry businesses have chosen to avoid it as much as they can.

Ironically, this is a city that is estimated to be N20 billion a day economy. It is a city from where the Federal Government rakes in billions of naira monthly revenue, but finds it difficult to make it safe even for its agencies. Many believe that the government is only dancing on the graves of businesses here.

The gridlock in Apapa has, apparently defied solution. One taskforce after another has tried to bring sanity on its roads and bridges, to no avail. This is because the gridlock which has brought ruins, impoverished many homes, and closed down businesses, has become a goldmine for many, especially security agencies and other dare-devils that have made the roads their shops and offices.

No organised attempt to solve the gridlock problem here works, because there are people that ensure it never works. They feast and grow in the disorder, the risk and the threat to life. And that is not all.

Against wise and professional advice, Apapa has continued to harbour tank farms scattered all over the place in close proximity to residential quarters. In many of the Customs area offices and police stations in this port city are packed seized trucks containing substances that could be poisonous and explosive.

We see danger in all of this and fear that in the case of fire incident, what happened in Beirut, Lebanon recently will be considered a child’s play. This is why we join calls to the government to come up with a legislation that will compel owners of the tank farms to relocate them to safe environments.

Over time, engineers have warned that it is not healthy and safe for trucks to be packed on bridges for days and weeks, explaining that such actions affect the stability of the bridges. But, in Apapa, trucks will leave transit parks and pack on the bridges which, incidentally, are the major routes to the port city.

We recall with pain the early morning tragedy that struck in Italy, the largest city in Rome a few years ago. That was the collapse of a highway bridge, the Morandi Bridge, over Genoa, causing people, cars and huge slabs of concrete to fall hundreds of feet onto the city below.

Government officials estimated that 20 people were found dead in the rubble, while other accounts put the death count even higher at above 30 in what Italy’s deputy transportation minister then called Europe’s worst major bridge disaster in decades.

For us, that unfortunate incident in far away Italy holds a grave lesson for Nigeria as it calls to mind quickly the disaster that may be waiting to happen in Apapa where thousands of trailers and tankers surging towards the ports are parked almost permanently on the Ijora-Apapa Bridge, exerting enormous pressure on the bridge and weakening its structural stability.

It is easy to see a similarity between the Morandi Bridge and Ijora-Apapa Bridge in terms of age, stress and decay. The Ijora-Apapa Bridge, according to Babatunde Fashola, the country’s minister for works and housing, was built 40 years ago and is being subjected to wear and tear on daily basis.

We share the view of many that a stitch in time saves nine, just as prevention is a lot better than cure. It is not safe that trucks that are supposed to be in Lilypond Transit Park, Tincan Truck Park and other private parks are unleashed on roads and bridges that do not have the carrying capacity for them.

It is painful that at the receiving end of these abnormalities are residents and businesses for whom life has become a misery with loss of income (rents), reduced productivity, and decline in bottom-line.

Driving through the snaking, interminable rows of trailers and tankers is risky. But getting trapped and being attacked and dispossessed of precious, valuable personal effects is riskier. And these are frequent occurrences that align poignantly, in both savagery and cruelty, to the insecurity elsewhere in the land.

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