24 May 2012

Nigeria: Lagos and the New Face of Apapa

Photo: Rodger Bosch/MediaClubSA
Container ships.

Lagos — In the last few days, officers of the Lagos State environmental task force have embarked on a sanitization exercise aimed at clearing shanties and stationed vehicles in the port city of Apapa and its environs. Daily Trust correspondent who has been monitoring the operation takes a look at the development.

The Oshodi/Apapa expressway is quite popular in Lagos.

Its popularity stems from the fact that it serves as the entry route to West African most patronised port: NPA Port of Lagos (Apapa Quay), otherwise known as Apapa Wharf and its kindred, the Tin-Can port. But unlike its ignominious past, Oshodi/Apapa expressway is now beaming with a new lease of life, not because the road is actually laced with gold or because its many pot-holes had been rehabilitated, rather, it is about restoration of sanity on a road that was known with the infamy of traffic gridlock.

Instructively, the highway isn't the only one basking in that euphoria. Other adjoining streets and roads, many of which are situated in the most interior of the port city, are not left out of the frenzy. From the popular Creek road to Mobil road, Liverpool to Marine Beach flyover, Agbo Maalu to Western naval command, a new port city seems to have been defined.

Prior to this time, the ever-bustling highway and other adjoining streets in Apapa enjoyed unenviable reputation in the eyes of Lagosians and business men who commute through these places for one business activities or the other. That notoriety wasn't arrived at overnight. It was a culmination of years of neglect that reflected in rapid growth of slums and shanties, poor road networks, and uncoordinated activities of tanker/trailer drivers. The latter being the most worrisome.

Given the opportunity, the trailers drivers would tell anyone who cared to listen that their service was key to the sustainability of the port business which invariably enhanced Nigerian dependant-economy. Indeed their argument has an iota of truth. Only that, not a few many would want to take that as an excuse for being rudderless.

Oftentime, the trucks were parked at will, not minding the hindrance such vehicles actually posed to other road users. More pathetic was even the fact that many of the vehicles were not road worthy as they broke down on regular basis. When this happened, commuters who might be unfortunate to be plying the road at the time may have to waste several hours to get to their respective destinations. And like the typical Lords of the jungles, the trailer/tanker drivers will resist any attempt to checkmate their excesses. On many occasions, they have had to deliberately drive and blocked the main roads to demonstrate their grievances. Such were the height of wickedness that have grinded commercial activities on many occasions.

The drivers' line of argument has often been hinged on the fact that as major players in the channel of distribution, they can't afford to operate from obscure places if they are to sustain their roles in the port businesses. And if anything, it is the government duty to provide them with alternative parking space as that remained the only way the roads can be eased of vehicular stress.

Apapa vehicular dilemma has an accompanying environmental challenge. It was the rapid growth of slums, shanties and illegal buildings. Observers said this may not be unconnected with the influx of people to the area since the port business is like the taste of honey that sweetened every mouth. And because majority of those within the lower class could not secure descent accommodation in the area, they made do with shanties beside the roads or beneath the flyover bridges.

The class of Apapa slum dwellers also cut across different strata. While it is being alleged that many were non indigenes of the state but who in a desperate bid to earn a living came to the area, some are said to be illegal immigrants from neighbouring countries of Chad, Niger republic, among others. What however appeared most intriguing in the case of Apapa slum dwellers was the infiltration of their ranks by criminals whom security agents claimed have converted the area to their hideout. Hence, when the state government through its task force, chose to clear off environmental nuisance crippling Apapa, it surely has its job cut out.

"As we all know, Apapa is the home of Nigerian busiest port. Aside serving the nation as a commercial hub, it used to be blessed with serene environment but which has been jeopardized over the years. Coming through Oshodi-Apapa expressway has in fact become a hellish experience as most of the trailer and tanker drivers who have little or nothing to do here often occupy both sides of the highway. As if that was not enough, the flyover bridges have suddenly become criminal havens with many illegal buildings and shanties occupying prominent places. We as government can't fold our arms, it is our duty to restore sanity to this place and that we must get done," SP Bayo Sulaimon, the Lagos state environmental task force chairman, said.

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