The distribution of petroleum products to all parts of the country from Lagos ports alone has made Lagos roads practically impassable and turned traffic to a bedlam. The problem has been perennial, but the over-concentration of port activities in one location has badly exposed the underbelly of our planlessness and lack of respect for order and discipline.
As it is now, fuel tankers, containerised trucks and sundry long vehicles have clogged most of the arteries to the major ports in Apapa and stretching back many kilometers on end to block access from Oshodi, Costain, Ijora, Ikorodu and Mile 2. Getting into and out of Apapa is almost impossible as all who have business there spend long and harrowing hours in traffic.
Several administrations, ministerial task forces, and security interventions to solve the problem have not yielded much results. As soon as they manage to clear the truck menace, it returns with greater fury as if to mock the best efforts of the authorities concerned. It has become intractable and has even grown worse, with the present degeneration in the fuel distribution architecture which now requires total dependence on road transportation of petroleum products from the ports in Apapa and its over 68 tank farms to all parts of the country. It is a disaster foretold.
Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, acknowledged the ruin this is causing to the socio economic life of the state and has called for an immediate restoration of the pipelines for distributing petroleum products and the decentralisation of the ports from Lagos. His suggestion makes economic and practical sense. How did we arrive at this unworkable situation where we have concentrated all our maritime and port activities in Apapa alone?
It is bad enough that Nigeria has to rely majorly on the port facilities at Apapa alone in its fuel distribution. It is even worse that the port serves virtually the whole of the West African sub-region. A more permanent solution to the Apapa traffic gridlock, therefore, would be to explore the alternatives of water and railway transportations. The rail lines have to be built and existing ones modernised and linked to the ports. In addition, the other ports in Calabar, Warri, Onne and Koko have to be developed to decongest the Lagos ports. The demands of a growing economy have made the age-long over-reliance on the Lagos ports no longer feasible.
There has been a realisation of this reality by successive governments, but the political will to commit the needed resources to its realisation is lacking. Order has to be restored to the fuel distribution system. The pipelines and numerous petroleum depots in the country have to be put to optimal use. The political uncertainties and their attendant security challenges violated the integrity of the petroleum distribution architecture. Urgent efforts should now be made to restore the system which served us very well in the past.
These recommendations may take some time to achieve. For now, all the trucks and long vehicles must be cleared from the roads and effectively monitored to ensure that they do not shutdown Lagos again. As the state government has promised, the Orile holding bay must be completed in one month. Other holding bays like the one at Ogere, Ogun State, must also be completed and utilised for the decongestion of the Lagos roads to free access to Apapa. Apapa is the economic nerve centre of the country and the losses the disruption of traffic causes are incalculable.
When the trucks have returned to their holding bays, then a more effective system of allocation can be achieved by tagging the vehicles and making sure that only those which the port facilities and the road infrastructure can accommodate are allowed access.