When in 1990 Ayo Vaughan, a retired army general, had to make a choice of where to live between Apapa and Ikoyi, he chose the former. His reason was simple and clear—Apapa was better as a port city with paved Roads and Avenues lined with flowers, rich night life, thriving businesses and urbane residents.
Again, it was just a matter of minutes, less than 15, according Vaughan, to drive from Ikoyi to Apapa. As a matter of fact, Apapa at that time was called a city of aquatic splendour. Now, it is not any more. The story has changed. Pseudo characters and desperadoes have invaded and desecrated the city.
Today, Apapa has become a by-word for chaos and traffic gridlock arising from ports and other marine activities. As a port city, it has become almost a wasteland and a loathsome destination for business and living.
Property values have plummeted, from N4.5 million to N2.5 million per annum for a three-bedroom apartment. Businesses have either died or relocated while the landlords have become tenants outside the city with their investments idling away amid difficult economic conditions.
For these and other reasons, any solution to the Apapa problem elicits excitement and expectations among these squeezed residents, businesses and sundry stakeholders because it is about their investments, livelihoods, future and life itself.
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For them, therefore, Saturday, February 27, is yet another date with history. The day cannot come soon enough. It is a day when the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) will be deploying its Eto App, a new Electronic Call Up System it has acquired for traffic management and control.
Hadiza Bala Usman, NPA’s managing director, explained in Lagos recently that Eto had been developed to remove human intervention in the process of calling up trucks.
“Trucks found around the ports corridor in Lagos from February 27 will be impounded,” she assured, disclosing that seven trailer parks had been set up in the environments of the Apapa and Tincan Island ports to accommodate trucks.
It is pertinent to point out to the NPA management that, Eto App represents new thinking and new hope. Arguably, the fate of Apapa hangs on this new initiative. Residents and businesses in the port city do not hope for a situation where the present effort will become another ‘Great Expectations’ as recorded by Charles Dickens, the English novelist.
People’s investments have gone down the drain; business opportunities have been lost time without number and victims of these downturn occasioned by poor traffic management made worse by corruption and inefficient port process are looking up to NPA for an end to all of that.
The new call-up system is one step to that end. Another is its efficient operation and suitability.
For Apapa residents, what this new action plan means is that there will be reprieve on the stressed up Apapa roads and bridges and fresh breath in their degraded environment, all leading to what could be a rebirth and regeneration.
Even though some residents who spoke with BusinessDay have their reservations as to the success and sustainability of the call-up system, expectation is still high that, since Apapa problem is largely man-made, something positive will come out of it if truly human influence is eliminated.
“We will be happy with that development; we hope to have a free road, even if it is one lane dedicated to the residents; let them leave one lane open for us,” Ayo Vaughan, chairman, Apapa GRA residents association, said.
Bode Karunmi, another resident, shares this view. “We cannot wait to see Saturday come and go. By Monday, we will evaluate the situation.
It is a welcome development which we hope will succeed, but I will always insist they get the rail system right. I strongly believe that no port city without a rail system can work.
Apapa cannot be an exception,” Karunmi posited.
Among business owners and truck transport operators, the e-call up system is the big change that had been waiting to happen. It is a step forward in the search for solution to Apapa gridlock, offering useful suggestions on how the initiative can succeed.
Remi Ogungbemi, chairman of the Association of Maritime Owners (AMATO), said that truckers would appreciate it, if Truck Transit Park Limited (TTP), the private sector firm in charge of managing the Eto App, would effectively carry all the approved parks and garages along in the implementation of the automated call-up system.
Ogungbemi, who disclosed that all maritime truckers have agreed to move away trucks from roads and bridges to their respective parks in order to allow “eto” system seamlessly take-off as scheduled, called on the authorities to engage the services of private towing operators to handle the towing of faulty trucks from the roads at an affordable amount.
He also asked the NPA and Lagos State government to ensure that all the people that previously participated in various task force operations in Apapa/Tin-Can road axis, are not part of “Eto” implementation task force or committee.
A truck driver, who identified himself as Adamu Yusuf, commended NPA and its partner on the Eto initiative, saying that truckers look forward to the time when gridlock would become a thing of the past.
“We have lost so much to the unending gridlock within Apapa, therefore, we expect the deployment of this Eto App to revive trucking business where we would be able to do three to four trips per week unlike the present one trip in two weeks.
We also hope to see an end to the use of task force to control traffic because we have also suffered in the hands of task forces, who extort money from truckers in the past,” Yusuf said.
This, he believed, would help haulage business to become exciting again.
On the new empty container policy, which according to the NPA, would also take effect from February 27, to allow consignees to return empties at the shipping companies’ holding-bays while the shipping companies bears the responsibility of taking the containers to the port for export, there is this concern around who bears the cost of moving the container to the port from the holding-bays.
Tony Anakebe, managing director of Gold-Link Investment Limited, a clearing and forwarding firm, expressed concern around the fact that not all shipping companies operating in Nigerian seaport has functional holding-bays for empties.
NPA, according to him, needs to streamline the activities of these foreign liners to ensure they not only adhere to the new policy, but also ensure they do not introduce new surcharge to cover for the cost of moving the containers from the holding-bays to the port.
He, however, commended the effort, which if properly implemented, would go a long way in reducing the demurrage charges and high haulage cost, which consignees pay due to the persistent traffic congestion in Apapa port corridor.
“We expect to see reduction in congestion within the port terminal as cargo evacuation becomes seamless with the introduction of Eto App. We importers want to be paying less as storage rent to terminal operators, which in most happens due to congestion and its attendant delays,” Emma Nwabunwanne, a Lagos-based importer, said.