The gridlock on the Apapa-Wharf Road has all but disappeared. There were times before now that the traffic on that corridor was so massive, snaking from the beginning of the Ijora Bridge on Western Avenue to Wharf. Trucks, trailers, tankers were the standard fare on the route and they took every available space.
It was nightmarish for motorists and commuters who worked on that axis or had business to conduct at the Wharf as they spent hours on the stretch every day for a journey that shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes ordinarily if you were commuting from the Surulere area for instance.
So, the disappearance of the gridlock on that route should give cheer even though it is not a result of some suddenly inspired traffic management. An exultant commuter, Ifeanyi Nlebem, couldn’t hide his relief recently:
“I am so happy that the traffic on that road had become so light. It doesn’t take me more than 20 minutes now to get to the office. Before now, especially on really bad days, it could take me between two and three hours.
The trucks, tankers and trailers that usually caused the gridlock are not there in large numbers anymore.” As it turns out Nlebem’s joy, shared by commuters and motorists alike, is the uninitiated’s appreciation of the whole situation playing out on that corridor.
Those 40-foot trucks and trailers laden with all sorts of goods, were a sign of a thriving economy.While the traffic mayhem may have disappeared and this should be a cause for joy, it points to a graver situation.
The portents are not encouraging and Nigerians should not be jubilant. It is paradoxical. President, National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents, Lucky Amiwero, provides some insight into what is really happening.
“The truth of the matter is that nobody is managing the traffic situation there. It is just that our activities, throughput, traffic inflow have dwindled significantly due to lack of planning.
There was a malfunctioning in the system when the exchange rate was wrongly applied; this is done by the Central Bank of Nigeria and the CBN circular indicates that the rate will be based on Approved Form M. The import guidelines also say the same thing but when we misapplied it, it created dislocations in the economy.
“The import duty assessment was based on $317 instead of $197; that is where the dislocation came from. That affected predictability, consistency, transparency.
It shows that the system is not predictable, consistent or transparent and that is not good for business. “The upshot is that nobody is ready to take the risk, nobody is willing to bring in goods.
The port is now like a graveyard; that is why that road is less busy these days. Many people have closed shop and prices of goods are skyrocketing as a consequence.
In trade, there must be a grace period, so if there is a change there must be a period of 90 days grace, but here we are trying to increase revenue but we are killing everything else,” Amiwero clarified.
He also pointed the way out of the woods when he stated that people who are conversant with the workings of the different ministries, departments and agencies should be appointed to head the various parastatals.
“The laws are there but if you don’t adhere to them, you cause dislocations in the system. The people in positions of authority are new- ministers are new, they are learning on the job, those in charge of parastatals are equally learners.
Most of the appointments made in maritime are of people you have to train in shipping, in practically everything. You don’t appoint just anybody to run Customs for instance.
“Let me say this, Ghana is developing its ports with $1.5bn but we are not doing anything about our own to attract our cargoes back. 50 per cent of our cargoes are outside, going to neighbouring countries like Benin Republic. It is terrible, we are not getting it right,” Amiwero lamented to Saturday Telegraph.
President, Shippers Association of Lagos State, Rev. Jonathan Nicol, echoed the same sentiments. He noted that a situation where Nigeria had lost a huge percentage of its cargoes to other countries was naturally going to lead to reduced activities at the port, hence the disappearance of traffic on the route leading to it. “We, shippers, have been saying it for a long time but nobody listened.
We said that shipping had moved to other countries. We have lost about 75per cent of our cargoes to other nations and without cargoes you can’t have activities,” Nicol stated. “The trade is no longer lucrative.
You can bring in a 40-foot container and will not make 20 per cent profit because of the multifarious bills you have to pay. Rather than continue to stay here, shippers moved to other ports in other West African countries.
Again, there are no roads in Apapa, the roads are so terrible; that is why most of the houses there are vacant. People are relocating from the area. It is not good for the blood pressure.”
The Lagos shippers’ boss also fingered the exchange rate regime as the reason for the current situation shippers are facing. “Let’s say you are able to raise ₤2000 at the current exchange rate, how much are you going to sell whatever goods you bring into the country? You don’t even know what Customs have for you; the demurrage alone will kill you.
As it is now, it is only operators in the formal sector that still bring in containers, the informal sector is practically dead and that is where the money is. “Again, you have the Standards Organisation of Nigeria whose charges are outrageous.
They will deliberately wait and then hit you with charges as high as N2m just to give you the SON certificate; they call them port charges, yet they don’t render any services. So, I wonder why they call them port charges.
These issues make it extremely difficult for shippers; the question, therefore, is why bother to do any business in the country?” Nicol queried.
In the same vein, Secretary, Association of Registered Freight Forwarders of Nigeria, Apapa Branch, Sam Elem, attributed the significant drop in traffic on the Apapa-Wharf Road to the fact that the demand for articulated vehicles has gone down significantly.
He noted that although government carried out repair work on the road and also deployed some personnel in that place to control the traffic, these palliatives were not the major reason for the light traffic on the corridor.
“The traffic has reduced drastically and this can be attributed to the fact that the demand for articulated vehicles has gone down because of low activity. Import has fallen considerably.
“The economics of transport is a derived demand, that is to say that there must be a benefit to derive in the demand for articulated vehicles, but if that benefit is longer available, traffic naturally dwindles.
The same also applies for supply. If the supply in terms of goods is high, the demand for such vehicles will also go up. This is not to say that government has not done something at least.
They did some repair work and also brought in traffic managers, but that is not as significant as the lack of activities. That is the main reason,” Elem stated.
On what led to this situation, Elem was unequivocal. ‘’Of course, it is quite clear why we are where we are today – the over transaction on imported goods.
Our demand for foreign goods is so high and our production so low; the duty on foreign goods has gone up and when you add that to the current exchange rate, it becomes doubly difficult to engage in importation.”