Once the nation’s pride, Apapa now dons a garment of decay
By Cosmas Omegoh
Lagos, Nigeria’s long acclaimed economic capital is a megacity in every respect. And Apapa is one of its foremost upmarket cities.
Indeed, Apapa is one city that has evolved through the ages, having garnered a reputation that reverberates in lands far and near. It is one place many do not forget in a hurry; not when it is home to Nigeria’s two standout seaports, money-spinning facilities that place the area in pole position in the comity of cities.
But nowadays, there is the growing fear that Apapa is in steady retrogression, which sees its hard-won reputation of many years plummeting to rock bottom, and emerging as a centre of crumbling infrasructure.
Sometimes seething with anger, many who have followed Apapa’s progress over the years don’t seem to understand at what point the city began to get things wrong. They are insistent that, now, Apapa is a decaying city.
This worry recently fired the correspondent to traverse Apapa to see how bad things have turned. A lot of things have changed for the worse. Everything is pointing to an Apapa that is trapped in the jaws of decay, courtesy of years of neglect and the self-destructive attitudes of the residents bent on killing the community that keeps them alive, so that, right now, Apapa is forlorn and stripped of its former glory. That confidence of yesteryears, which saw the business community, people of might and means, streaming into it, has waned. Much of its awe has gone, leaving it glorying in the past. Some who had endured in the area for long are leaving, closing their shops as they walk away, complaining that Apapa has largely lost its soul.
Here is a litany of Apapa’s losses. First, the main roads into the community are rundown, riddled with craters, flooded with dirty, stagnant water with or without the rains. The drains, where they exist, are filled to the brim, spilling gallons of sewage onto the streets. Articulated vehicles weaving in and out of the ports are a terror on their own. Commercial motorcycles, aka okada, are the dominant means of movement; they are a bundle of issues. Okada riders rule the roads with gusto. Some street corners feature refuse dumps and faeces, and crime is on the rise. The aggregate of these problems have taken Apapa many years backwards. What is left now is the fading silhouette of its past. It needs a miracle to get out of the gutter.
In the beginning
A long time ago, Apapa had a nice appeal to residents and visitors. For many senior citizens who saw the city while it was in full flight, Apapa is always on their mind. They never cease reliving how it once ranked the same in value as England’s port city of Liverpool on the weighing scale.
With the presence of the Apapa and the Tin Can Island ports, the area was every sailor’s destination. Once their ships berthed, they hopped into the warm embrace of a receptive city. In no time, they were ‘rocking’ in Apapa’s many entertainment centres, enjoying exquisite, local cuisine and savouring the Nigerian air. Then maritime-inclined businesses flourished. Apapa boomed. It became a haven for the nouveau riche, its army of invading Caucasians rising astronomically. It became a city that everyone wished to live in, a measuring rod for how far anyone had come. Things remained that way until the slide set in. Yet no one saw it coming.
Sole Administrator of Apapa Local Government Area, Mr. Lukman Babatunde Aloa, shares in the travails of this city. “Indeed, Apapa has lost much of its past glory,” he said recemtly. “I took office in July when the Governor of Lagos State, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, appointed me to steer the affairs of the council.”
He blamed the city’s woes on the last administration, insisting that it was unfair to the country to allow such a degree of infrastructural decay take place.
Bad road to Apapa
Two roads lead into Apapa from the Lagos Mainland. The first one, Wharf Road, runs straight from Ijora, emptying into the Apapa Wharf. From Ijora, motorists go on the bridge, descend at Barrack Bus Stop opposite the Nigerian Flour Mills. From the foot of the bridge, one sees a line of tankers waiting to load petroleum products at the nearby tank farm to the right. Daily Sun learned that, on a bad day, the drivers could shut down the road, leaving everyone convulsing with rage.
The bridge itself features bumps. “Every six months, I change my car’s shock absorber because of that road,” Chief Blessed Anachuli, a clearing agent, said. “That portion is bad. They (government) tried to rehabilitate the area around Flour Mills recently, but it is still bad.”
On this occasion, it had just rained before the correspondent arrived. There was large pool of water in front of the police barracks stretching up to Nigerian Flour Mill gate.
As one progressed to Commercial Road junction, opposite Eleganza complex, many refuse heaps were observed dotting the road median. The last one stood nearly 70 metres to Apapa Wharf gate opposite the Nigerian Customs Service long room.
The second road leading into Apapa runs from Mile 2 axis through the Tin Can Island Wharf. For long, it has gained notoriety as a no-go-area. Only undiscerning strangers dare. For in season and out of season, it is in the firm grip of articulated vehicle drivers that refuse to let go.
At Trinity Bus Stop, both sides of the road were flooded. In some instances, the floodwaters might reach up to 120 cetimetres deep. Fuel tankers going into a nearby oil facility were swimming through that stretch of the road featuring chains of potholes that had rock boulders in them. An army of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), some wearing rain boots with wipes in hand, were on hand as they kept shepherding erring fuel tanker drivers.
“We have expended 10 lorry-loads of rock boulders on this bad portion of the road just to ensure that fuel tankers don’t sink or fall here,” Mr. Chike Nzeadachie, chairman, NUPENG, Capital Oil and Gas chapel, told our correspondent. “Before now, this place was so bad that no vehicle, no matter the size, could pass through. And you know these vehicles carry highly inflammable liquid. If any loaded vehicle goes down here, the disaster we will have at hand is better imagined.”
He attributed the long queue of fuel tankers, which stretched up to Mile 2 and beyond to the bad spots, saying that without them, traffic on the road could move freely.
The alternate side of the road was not any better, as it was a paragon of chaos, with floodwater reaching up to the knee. Motorists and okada riders kept struggling in it for the right of way in both directions.
Movement between Trinity and Coconut bus stops was like a walk through the valley of the absurd. A resident, Mr. George Aluo, put it rather sarcastically. He said: “With the chaos on that stretch of the road and some other places in Apapa, perhaps what the people need now are vehicles that can fly with the press of a button.”
At Coconut Bus Stop, a mountain of refuse covered a large area, oozing putrid fluid. “This place is terrible,” an okada rider, Umar Turaki, said, shrugging. “What does it take to repair this road? What does it take to keep this place clean?”
Atop the canal bridge close by, a truck driver, Lanre Abolaji, was agonising; he kept peering into the distance. Three lanes of heavy-duty trucks had formed on the road, taking it over completely and stretching as far as the eyes could see. Abolaji’s truck was trapped in the gridlock with the sun beating down savagely. He was headed for the Tin Can Island Wharf, a shouting distance away, to lift goods. He said had been rooted to the same spot for days, waiting.
“Just look ahead,” he wailed, his voice ringing with pain and anguish. “Is all you see here not the shame of a nation? I have been here for three days, sleeping inside this truck simply because I want to load goods at the wharf.
“Please bring this unending suffering to the attention of government. Let them come and fix this road so that big trucks can pass. Let them spare us this agony. When you get there you will see potholes, some as deep as a well.”
He accused serving and retired government functionaries of owning the trucks and tankers yet doing nothing to ease the trouble the drivers were experiencing.
As far as Tin Can Island Wharf first and second gates, there was a long stretch of heavy-duty vehicles. Both sides of the road were completely run down, with some portions featuring shocking craters very deep. They kept worsening and widening as the trucks manoeuvred across them.
Going further down, it was clear that only a section of the Creek Road leading into Apapa Wharf was open to motorists. Yet, it was equally a no-go-area, completely taken over by trailers waiting to lift goods from the wharf. The alternate side was undergoing rehabilitation, which appeared to have lasted for a lifetime and was closed to traffic. The area used to be home to many businesses, but most premises were clearly disserted.
Enter fuel scarcity and tank farms
At the point that Nigeria began to import refined petroleum products, various individuals and organisations got permits to construct private tank farms where the commodities were stored before being lifted by tankers. Because of the proximity of the area to the sea, a section of Apapa became the preferred choice for those facilities for ships to come in, berth and discharge their liquid cargo. That is why many of such facilities are in the area.
But the sad side of this development is that it opened Apapa to chaos and death. For instance, a couple of days ago, a fully-loaded fuel tanker in Kirikiri, a part of Apapa, while attempting to manoeuvre out of a pothole, upturned and caught fire, burning three cars and a number of tankers and trailers as well. Tens of shops and goods worth millions of naira were destroyed. Three lives were lost in the accident. In the past, fully loaded fuel tankers had also caught fire, leading to loss of lives and properties.
With the presence of tank farms in Apapa, therefore, many residents are sitting on a keg of gunpowder, especially residents of the Beachland Estate who have one of such facilities next to them.
“We recently moved out of Beachland Estate for fear of fire disaster,” Anna, a former resident, said. “Every now and then, when the alarm sounded, warning of an impending fire, we usually fled for safety. So, not sure of how long we would continue like that, we left the area.”
Tanker and trailer terror
This Tuesday morning, the Mile 2-Apapa Road was completely taken over by trucks. The road was blocked from Mile 2 all the way down. Every inch of space on the five lanes was taken up by articulated trucks going to load cargo at the ports and tankers inching towards the tank farms to lift fuel. There was hardly any space left for the ubiquitous okada riders to meander through.
At Berger Under Bridge, a team of police, Navy and Lagos State Traffic Management (LASTMA) officials was seen arguing hotly with drivers whose vehicles were part of the gridlock. They blocked an exit to nearby Olodi, thereby holding down every motorist angling to get away from the gridlock. The traffic officers were wary and overwhelmed; the situation was far beyond them. Such scenarios often stay that way for hours and days, easing only when traffic improved upfront.
“Sometimes, this gridlock lasts for an upward of four days,” Olawale Jimoh, a vulcaniser, said. “Perhaps the drivers of these smaller vehicles you see trapped here are new to this place. Those who are conversant with the trouble cannot venture to come here for anything in the world.”
This correspondent followed the gridlock up to Trinity Bus Stop, where some tankers were going in to load fuel. Beyond that spot, there were trailers going to the ports. Most of them were bogged down at the failed portions on the road.
Okada to the rescue
In Apapa, okada riders are kings. They are the only ones able to transport people without hindrances. There is hardly any other quick means of transport. They are reckless, yet they an evil no one can do without in Apapa.
“It is fruitless attempting to drive into Apapa, as the roads are never free,” Adams Osahon, a clearing agent told Daily Sun. “It has been like this for years. From Mile 2, we simply mount an okada and then hand your lives over to God. If you allow the fear of the unknown to rule you, you might as well forget your business for the day.”
Since taxis were almost non-existent, commercial motorbikes were transporting people for a fare of N100. It is big business and there are thousands of people engaged in the trade. An okada rider, Umaru Adamu, dexlared that motorcyclists in the area were the livewire of commerce. “Now that the roads are bad and many vehicles don’t come in, it makes sense to use okada,” he said.
But Mr. Aluo is vehement that the riders constitute a real danger and challenge. “Over time, the state government has placed embargo on okada in some parts of the state. So, in the weeks ahead, we are going to constitute a task force on okada riding to curtail the activities of the riders because of the environmental nuisance they constitute,” he said.
Mass exodus from Apapa
A ride around Apapa revealed that most businesses in the area had closed down. But did that start yesterday?
A little while ago for instance, the Nigerian National Shipping Line (NNSL) closed shop. Till now, its building, the Development House, on Wharf Road, has been an empty shell. There are several other businesses like that on Creek Road and Commercial Road, among other places, that are no more.
A clearing and forwarding agent, Mr. Gilbert Ukaigwe, revealed that since traffic in Apapa became a pain in the neck, he had wound up his activities in the area. “I won’t go there anymore, until things improve; it is sad to be trapped in traffic. I know of some workers who go to Apapa on a Monday and won’t go home until Friday because of the crisis on the roads, some because they don’t have money to go back home every day.”
His counterpart, Mr. Emeka Abua, in a separate encounter, admitted that some businesses in Apapa had closed down owing to the bad roads and the biting economic recession in the country.
He said, “The roads are really bad; some people who cannot endure this have moved away from Apapa. But, more importantly, we are suffering the on-going economic recession. Is it not when the importers bring in goods that we can clear them and make a little profit?”
Similarly, a parishioner at Sacred Heart Catholic Parish in Apapa, who did not want his name mentioned, also stated that people were leaving the area: “There are people I know, even foreigners, that have left because they can’t face the frustrating bad roads.” He gave hints that the exodus might have started forcing down rent and property prices.
The council boss, Mr. Alao, equally attributed the turn of events to the bad roads. But he expressed the hope that his administration would tackle the situation.
“This first thing we want to do now is to make the roads more motorable for everyone to move freely. We want people to come back to Apapa and invest,” he said.
Flooding in Apapa
Apart from the major access roads, some areas of the city are usually flooded. This was revealed during a ride around the area. For instance, Pelewura, Calcurik Street and adjoining areas are affected because of their low nature. They also do not have drainage channels. “Another problem we suffer here is flooding,” Abua said. “This Pelewura area is low; we don’t have drainages too. So whenever it rains, we experience flooding.”
Rising crime rate
Daily Sun gathered that, from time to time, Apapa faces security challenges, with armed robbers targeting bank customers in particular.
“Sometimes they come in with boats through the waterways, claiming that ‘man must whack,’” Ukaigwe said, attributing the situation to lack of jobs and the economy.
Abua explained that robbers often target customers who go to withdraw cash from the bank. “They lay waiting; as soon as one emerges from the banking hall, they trail him. Days ago, they shot a man who went to withdraw N4 million from one of the new generation banks and collected the money. It was a sad day for the victim.” Abua expressed worry at the high number of nationals of Niger Republic in the council, most of who were engaged in okada riding. He expressed fears that they might be part of the crime wave.
“Some of them who ride okada don’t have homes where they live. They sleep on their bikes and even defecate in the open, thereby contributing to environmental hazards.”
Police Public Relations Officer, Lagos State Command, Dolapo Badmus, said she was unaware of any upsurge in crime in Apapa. But she guaranteed that the police were equal to the task.
“We urge everyone in the area to be vigilant and carry the security personnel along. It is our job to make the state, not just Apapa alone, safe for all. We are ever putting operational strategies in place because it is our responsibility to secure everyone,” she said.