The Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) Apapa Branch recently expressed concern over the imminent closure of the Third Mainland Bridge.
It is worthy of note that on the average, more than 117,000 vehicles ply the Third Mainland Bridge daily. That statistic raises the question of what alternative route would suffice for the more than 1 million daily commuters of the bridge.
That concern was raised recently by Engr. Frank Onyebu, chairman, Apapa Branch of the MAN who used the occasion to appeal to the government to delay commencement of work on the Third Mainland Bridge until some of the alternative access routes are completed and opened to traffic.
Although maintenance of the bridge is a necessity, the timing and planning rightly raises socio-economic concerns because the existing alternative routes have their inherent traffic problems that make it improbable to absorb the burden from the TMB. The alternatives are already facing some degrees of closure.
Eko Bridge is littered with trucks queuing to gain entry into the Apapa Port, which narrows the four lane road to two. Access to Carter Bridge is hampered by bad roads. Getting to and from the island via the Apapa route has been a nightmare for close to a decade and counting due to traffic congestion. Hence, passing part of the traffic burden to an already congested Apapa road would only exacerbate the already messy situation there.
The situation promises to inflict further economic loss emanating from extant traffic gridlock on the Apapa Road.
Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry survey in partnership with the Nigerian Economic Summit Group, Manufacturers Association of Nigeria and other OPS outfits reckon that Nigeria loses about N3.06 trillion (or $10 billion) on non-oil export and about N2.5 trillion corporate earnings across the sectors annually to the challenge.
It would be difficult to gainsay the above statistics considering the fact that daily traffic lock jam creates problems for exporters and importers desirous of meeting deadlines to supply or take delivery of their products.
Stationary traffic stretches from the ports to Fadeyi on Ikorodu Road, a distance of about 20.8 kilometres. Five thousand tankers/trailers invade Apapa daily for business. Every effort by the government in the past to end the bottleneck has failed woefully, principally because the roads are decrepit and observance of the law is in breach.
Consequently, cargo dwell time at the ports has increased to 22 days. This is against the global best business practices in the maritime trade, as it is the longest in the West Africa sub-region. Comparatively, the Abidjan-Lagos Corridor Organisation says that cargo dwell time in Togo is nine days; 14 days in Benin Republic; and 15 days in Ghana. One report says “with a capacity of 3 million twenty-foot equivalent units (which is far less than South Africa’s volume of 5.5 million TEUs), the Nigeria Customs Service should have realised as much as N1.25 trillion as against the N692 billion it made from 1.5 million TEUs in 2017.”
The scenario reduces the potential for job creation in Nigeria’s maritime sector. For instance, 25 per cent of perishable products like cashew, which was being exported to Vietnam in 2017, rotted away after overstaying for weeks at the ports.
For employment, it is another kettle of fish. The Lagos ports employ about 35,000 workers; in South Africa, 700,000 people are employed at its ports. Industrial capacity utilisation, which stood at 53-60 per cent in 2015, declined to 38-40 per cent in 2017, still owing to traffic gridlock.
A few years ago, billionaire business magnate, Aliko Dangote, raised the alarm that Nigeria was losing N140 billion weekly to the debacle.
On the larger economic scale, the general public suffers as the prices of commodities, especially imported items must be passed on to final consumers.
At present, it takes at least one month for any truck to make a round trip in and out of any Lagos port. By round trip, it means accessing any of the ports from any part of Lagos, picking a container, taking it to any location within Lagos and returning the empty container to the port or any of the bonded terminals. The situation has in fact, become so bad that currently, an average truck spends lesser time going to Onitsha or Kano than transporting goods within Lagos. It may seem surreal, but it is the true situation of things in the maritime sector. This is no thanks to the poor state of the roads leading to and out of the Ports.
Consequently, a Lagos local delivery which would ordinarily take a day or two, depending on time of loading and exit from the ports, now takes one month or more.
But the immediate result of the poor state of the road and obvious insincerity of government in tackling the ugly situation is the huge loss to government revenue profile, aside crippling other business activities.
For example, haulage owners who had borne the brunt for too long, recently resorted to raising their fares, if only to accommodate the losses they incur on account of the weeks and months their trucks are on queue. In the process, the cost of delivering goods from the Ports to any destination in Lagos, has jumped from less than N100,000 to N600,000 – a cost that is ultimately borne by the final consumer, in this case the already starving poor masses.
With the impending pressure on the Apapa Road, Nigeria will witness another round of hike in the prices of commodities, especially imported items, in the days ahead.
Aside crude oil, the next major source of revenue for the federal government is from import duties. Not fewer than 85 percent of the import duties, incidentally, accrue from Lagos ports, given that other ports in the country are under various levels of underutilization, or totally abandoned, in some instances. But the revenue accruing from the Lagos ports, may soon witness a drastic drop if not complete halt, if the government keeps paying lip service to the challenge of inaccessibility to or from the Ports.
The residents are not spared the harrowing ordeal either. Due to the perennial gridlock in the area, some residents have resorted to seeking accommodation in other parts of Lagos, which has resulted in loss of rental income and property value.
It was in this sentiment that Engr. Frank Onyebu told LEADERSHIP that his association had issued a statement to the Lagos State Government appealing to delay the planned closure of the Third Mainland Bridge until the alternative routes to traverse the mainland and island are put in better condition and eased of traffic congestion. He said the manufacturing sector is already suffering because of COVID-19, and any further congestion would be an economic disaster.
Adding his voice, the chapter chair of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarder (NAGAFF), Dr. Segun Musa, said Apapa would have been a good alternative route, but the route was already congested, which smacks lack of planning.
He said the essence of transportation is to move from one place to another, adding that Lagos is replete with waterways that should make movement seamless and intermodal to cover the transportation gap.
He said the Third Mainland Bridge should have been planned long before now, and that its impending maintenance exercise will be a headache that all will be forced to surmount, because there is no transportation policy.
Musa also raised concern that the maintenance work is scheduled to last six months; and that there is no certainty that government will deliver the maintenance exercise on time.