Port access roads: Articulated vehicles, tankers suddenly disappeared on Buhari’s visit
By FRANCIS EZEM
Nigeria evidently is a nation built on falsehood and hypocrisy, and this reflects in every aspect of her national life. Most of her policies, whether economic or political are adhoc, as they are designed to address immediate challenges, not based on long term needs of the country. Just like Lord Frederick Lugard merged the Northern and Southern protectorates to achieve an immediate administrative convenience, not considering the peculiarities of the various people being brought together, the country has continued to do things in an adhoc manner and this has remained the nation’s albatross till date.
What is even more worrisome is that as a people, Nigerians, especially policy makers have not learnt anything from this, 58 years after political independence. For instance, for the first time in more than two years, all the gridlocks on most of the port access roads, through which many Nigerians have met their untimely death disappeared. All the trucks and articulated vehicles were nowhere to be found. The reason was that President Muhammadu is visiting Lagos State on a two-day state visit.
What I deduced from that was that the powers that be in the state ordered owners of the petroleum tankers and other articulated vehicles to leave the port environment to give the president the false and hypocritical impression that all is well and that what he had been reading on newspapers and watching on national televisions about the Apapa gridlock were false; what a nation living in deceit.
What that tells me is that the Apapa gridlock is a man-made problem, which is easily surmountable if the right set of principles were applied. Another implication of the sudden disappearance of the trucks is that there is actually a place they could be taken to and from there they could be called upon, under a call-up system to come and pick or drop consignments at the ports when the need arises instead of parking perennially on the port access roads, causing untold hardships to residents and other road users.
Recall that for two consecutive times, the Lagos State Government gave the truck owners 48-hour ultimatum to clear their tucks off the roads and for two consecutive times, they defied such orders. Similarly, the Nigerian Army penultimate week, or thereabout issued a similar ultimatum to the truck owners to leave the roads, which was never obeyed and on these different occasions, nothing happened. Obviously, the only thing that moved the truck owners to evacuate their vehicles off the roads was the mention that the president was visiting Lagos. Most of these port access roads were constructed more than 40 years ago when the annual cargo import volume was less than 40 million tonnes, which have more than doubled now.
As a nation that does everything on an adhoc basis, the Federal Government under President Olusegun Obasanjo decided to concession the seaports sometime in 2003 to make them more efficient and competitive, attract private investments, reduce cost of doing business and enhance the chances of the country’s emergence as a hub seaport in West and Central African sub region. The government also believed that the concession would address the problem of perennial port congestion then. By this projection, the government then expected that all the cargoes coming into the sub region from America, Europe and Asia would have to come to Nigeria as a seaport of destination before taking them to the various countries.This was a lofty and brilliant idea. But the same government did not consider the fact that existing infrastructure cannot support the expected increase in cargo throughput. This is partly why the country is experiencing gridlocks on her port access roads due to slight increase in cargo volumes because Nigeria is yet to achieve the hub port status.
Prior to the port concession, the various terminals under the Nigerian Ports Authority NPA, had small truck terminals, which served as waiting areas for trucks that pick or drop consignments at these terminals but the Bureau of Public Enterprises BPE carried out a wholesale of the port terminals to private operators, who have now converted the waiting areas for stacking areas to increase their terminal capacity, making the trucks to convert access roads to their waiting areas.
It is also on record that the BPE in the course of the port concession engaged the services of World Bank consultants, Haskonings to ensure a smooth and hitch-free exercise. The consultant had proposed that Nigeria should adopt a staggered port concession programme over a period of five –ten years, under which it canvassed a pilot scheme, which will be monitored for a while. BPE ignored this advice by the same consultant hired with tax payers’ money.
I recall that the then Director General of the BPE, who is the current Governor of Kaduna State, Malam Nasir el-Rufai, told journalists during an interview that the government would goa head with the port concession whether the legal framework was put in place or not. This underscores the hasty and shabby manners the ports were concessioned. Nearly 12 years after the port concession, the ports are still facing the same kind of challenges, shows that Nigeria is indeed a country of hypocrisy.