There is a growing concern over the impending traffic congestion at the Lekki axis in Lagos due to industrialisation going on in the corridor. In this piece, YUSUF BABALOLA writes on how to avert such looming traffic gridlock by connecting railway and inland waterways for cargo evacuation at the Lekki Free Trade Zone.
Apapa in Lagos State, before now used to be home to the elites and expatriates because of its closeness to the sea. This coastal town also attracts multinational and manufacturing companies because of its nearness to the seaport for easy evacuation of imported raw materials to factory or exportation of finished products out of the country.
But, the explosion of traffic which was caused by poor infrastructure and lack of intermodal connectivity worsened the gridlock in recent years and transformed a onetime booming city into a ghost town as businesses and residential owners moved en-masse out of the port city to other highbrow areas such as Ikeja, Lekki, Ajah.
Although, they find succour in the above mentioned areas but the relief may be short lived except the government at State and Federal levels do something about the impending traffic congestion looming at the Lekki axis due to industrialisation going on the corridor.
The Lekki-Ajah axis aside from being the fastest growing settlement in Africa with its developing real estate market, huge construction projects and major development in the country, it is also the fastest growing industrial city in Africa.
The Lekki corridor is attracting huge individual and institutional investments such as the Lekki Free Trade Zone (LFTZ) which hosted a 650,000 barrels per day (bpd) Dangote Refinery and the largest seaport in Nigeria, Lekki Deep Seaport.
The free zone also attracted about 70 companies cutting across diverse sectors of the economy which are said to have signaled interest to do business within the LFTZ with many of them promising billions of dollars of investment in the corridor.
For instance, the layout of Lekki Port which is located in LFTZ has all the trappings of a modern port except for the rail infrastructure.
The port, sited about 70 km east of Lagos, is a port development for chemical tankers (160,000 DWT) and container vessels of 8,000 Twenty-foot Equivalent Units (TEUs). The layout of the new port, including the layout of approach channel, turning circle and harbour basins, has been derived from optimisations based on port operations, construction costs and possible future extensions.
Two different breakwater concepts were applied for the main breakwater: A rubble mound with geo-bag core for the near-shore sections and a composite breakwater for the more exposed sections.
The secondary breakwater was replaced by a barrier. The barrier consists of a core from sand, internally fortified by a protective geo-bag layer, a revetment on the harbour side and an artificial beach on the seaward side.
The project area is estimated to be about 60,000 hectares excluding the areas allocated for the Lekki Free Trade Zone, and International airport.
The port which construction commenced in 2015, was expected to be completed in 2018 but has been shifted to next year.
But Lekki Port LFTZ Enterprise (LPLE) owned by Tolaram Group, is the Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) which was awarded the concession agreement for development and operations of the port by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA). LPLE is required to develop, build and operate the port and has the right to sub-concession terminal operations to other companies.
However, when fully operational, Lekki Port would be the largest seaport in Nigeria. It would be able to handle around 6 million TEUs of containers, together with a significant volume of liquid and dry bulk cargoes.
But the bane of this multi-billion naira project is the absence of a rail track which has marred most ports in the country.
The absence of viable evacuation plans such as railways linkage to the deep-seaport or the free trade zone, alternative roads for evacuation or jetties for cargo evacuation through badges are source of concern to stakeholders including head of maritime agencies, lawmakers, shipping experts and stakeholders.
Speaking last weekend, the managing director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Hadiza Bala-Usman, said she was alarmed at the discovery that the Lekki Deep Seaport has no plan for rail connectivity.
“Before we took over two years ago, there was no provision for rail connection out of Lekki, in the Deep Sea port plan, which I found quite strange that you can have a deep seaport without the need for rail connection.
“It will take you two years to build the port but five years to build the rail. So, we have written the Nigerian Railway Corporation to ensure that there is a rail connection.
“The same way we have written the Dangote Refinery to have pipeline evacuation mechanism out of Lekki, so that you don’t have trucks parking and looking for where to pick products from the refinery. There is also a proposed Lekki by-pass in addition to the rail connectivity.
“So, one, there must be pipeline for product evacuation; two, there must be rail connection, three, there must be additional means of road transportation and access.
“Also, we need to work to have some sanity in five years’ time. If we do not deploy what is required now, in five to ten years’ time, Lekki will be unmanageable. I am a believer of starting something, even if you do not finish it, start it,” she added. Also, the senate committee on marine transport had expressed similar concerns over lack of plans for rail link to the seaport.
The chairman of the committee, Senator Ahmed Yerima, suggested during an oversight visit to the Lekki Deep Seaport in 2016, that the sponsors of the project should include rail transportation in the plan in order to avoid gridlock along the port access roads.
He warned that if the project was completed without facility for railway, there might be a repeat of the same challenges currently being faced by operators at the Apapa Port.
“We will not want what we are experiencing along the port access roads in Lagos to occur in the Lekki/Epe area, because it is really affecting the system,” he said.
Similarly, the executive secretary of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC), Mr. Hassan Bello, warned against the development of the seaport without rail connectivity.
Speaking in Lagos, Bello stressed the need for rail connectivity to the deep seaport for the evacuation of bulky goods.
He noted that the chaotic traffic situation currently being experienced at Apapa and Tin-Can Island ports was due to the reliance on the road for the evacuation of goods and petroleum products.
Bello advised the Lagos State Government to connect the Lekki Deep Seaport to a rail line so that the Apapa experience would not be replicated in Lekki in the near future.
He further argued that although the Lekki Deep Seaport with a depth of about 9.5 metres is different from the Apapa and Tincan ports with a depth of 7 to 8 metres translating to the port accommodating larger vessels, the gain may be eroded without interconnectivity.
The NSC boss however warned that the mistakes of Apapa and Tincan ports should be avoided wherever deep Seaports are sited adding that modern facilities should be put in place while constructing them using the world best practices and processes.
According to him, “However, the Deep Seaport is another thing, we need to have Deep seaports because frankly, the ports in Apapa and Tincan have served their purpose, they are tired ports; that is why you have the problem of transportation. They are city ports, somehow the city met the port and that was not supposed to be, you should have exclusive access to the ports even if it is by road.
“And that was why the Nigerian Shippers’ Council has expressed worry on the new deep seaport in say Lekki, I have not seen that connectivity. We went with the minister of transportation two days ago to the Lekki Deep Seaport, it has a depth of about 9.5 metres, it is different from the 7-8 metres that we have here, it may accommodate larger ships.
“The economies of scales are obvious which means Nigeria could afford to build larger ships, could afford to be the hub centre where smaller ships could take it to any other port because Nigeria with the population is actually the preferred destination of shippers, most of the things being consumed in the neighbouring ports, they are here.
“When we design any transport infrastructure, it is important we take cognizance of what is happening in our neighbourhood because we are facing competition. We have advocated for people to bring their goods to Nigeria but it is not a command, it is a function of efficiency and our neighbours watch what we do and they improve on it.
“But I think we just do things not taking into consideration what our neighbours are doing and then there is another thing which is extremely important, I think this is the first time I heard somebody mention it, interconnectivity, you don’t build infrastructure on isolation to others. They must be interconnected.
“If I have truck Transit Park in Edo State for example, it must be connected with the seaport; that connectivity is very important but in Nigeria, I think we are going towards that.
“So, I have expressed fear about the Lekki Deep Seaport because where are the roads and where is the rail? Are we going to use the same Lekki road? That means we are going to have Apapa again and that is really sad.
“We must insist that the loopholes of Apapa should not be repeated in all our ports whether it is in Badagry, whether it is in Lekki or in Akwa-Ibom, wherever we have deep seaport. So, deep seaports must be constructed with modern facilities as we said and using all the processes,” he said.
A lecturer at the Lagos Business School, Dr. Frank Ojadi, also bemoaned the absence of plans for inland water access and rail linkage to the seaport.
While considering the huge traffic that would be created by the deep seaport and the Dangote Refinery among the other major projects cited in that area, he reiterated the importance of the Fourth Mainland Bridge to the deep seaport project.
According to him, a deep seaport was essential because good nautical access is important to connectivity of ports.
Ojadi said, “Over the last decades, ships have rapidly become bigger and deeper. For example, the draft of the largest container ships at this moment is approximately 14.5 metres, which is deeper than what most ports can accommodate.
“Port depth thus becomes a competitive advantage for attracting the largest ships and a challenge for many ports that are estuaries and have no direct deep sea access.”
He added that deep seaports would create opportunities for transshipment operations, generate more employment, promote local shipping business and boost trade in the country.
He expressed worries that the senate committee on ports, harbours and waterways had earlier identified the issue, but nothing concrete had been done.
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