Monday, 21 July 2014

When Ijora bridge collapses...

The Ijora bridge leading to Apapa in Lagos is under the threat of collapse. The bridge, like the Carter bridge and the Eko bridge, was originally constructed by the British colonial government, prior to Nigerian independence in 1960. I was unable to obtain the exact year the bridge was constructed but I know it has not enjoyed regular maintenance over the years. 
The parking of articulated trucks and tankers on the bridge has resulted in both severe road congestion in addition to contributing its rapid deterioration.
In 2003, the Nigerian Institute of Structural Engineers (NISE) noted that the parking of vehicles on the bridge may result in collapse if left unaddressed. To address the issue, the Lagos State government instituted a N50,000 fine for persons parking their vehicles along the bridge. 
In addition to congestion, Ijora bridge is perceived as unsafe at night due to the lack of streetlights. 
Eleven years after the NISE report, parking of vehicles on the bridge has continued unabated. And as one writer puts it; there will be plenty of chaos and pandemonium  because the casualties will be heavy when Ijora bridge collapses. 
The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Federal Fire Service and other response agencies will not be able to cope with the catastrophic consequences of the collapse.  
Motorists and commuters plying the bridge do so with a sense of foreboding and prayer not to be caught  in the catastrophe that may result from official indifference.
Trucks park for a long time on Ijora bridge because of the gridlock and traffic congestion in Apapa. The gridlock is as a result of four major factors namely; increase in the volume of business activities at the ports and jetties without corresponding increase in road infrastructure; lack of holding areas for trucks; collapse of Apapa-Oshodi expressway; and the insatiable appetite for graft by security operatives.
It is a fact that cargo throughput at the ports in Lagos have doubled over the past five years from less than 40 million metric tons in 2008 to over 70 million metric tons handled last year. Container throughput for both ports has also risen to more than one million TEUs in 2013 from about 400,000 TEUs in in 2006. But despite these increases, the road infrastructure has remained the same. Tank farms and petroleum jetties are now preponderant in the same port corridor, a situation that was alien to the port environment about 10 years ago. Yet inspire of all these, government has not deemed it fit to either construct new roads or develop alternative modes of transportation to cope with the rising cargo volume. Many of the tank farms and oil jetties were licensed by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) with the understanding that they would evacuate their products by rail but none has complied with that licensing condition. 
In the days of Abacha, the dark-goggled General was accused of grounding the nation's refineries in order to dish out patronage to his cronies to import petroleum product. But the level of importation, fifteen years into our democratic experiment, is unprecedented in the history of this country. And the refineries are in worse shape than during the Abacha era. So long as we are not refining petroleum products, importation will continue unabated and tank farms will remain in business. And as long as they continue to conduct their businesses in Apapa, their trucks will continue to compete with trucks plying the port for the shrinking and collapsing roads. 
The second factor responsible for the gridlock is also man-made. For almost ten years, operators have shouted themselves hoarse about the need for the Lagos State government to dedicate a sizeable portion of land for use of truck operators as holding bay. We are already sounding like a broken record. Over two thousand trucks are required at the ports and oil depots daily to evacuate cargo to various parts of the country yet there is nowhere the trucks can park. So they stay on the road. The ideal is to have a parking lot where the trucks will all go to and wait until they are called into the port to either drop or pick up cargo. It is common sense but then, someone said it is not common. 
For the umpteenth time, Fashola, Jonathan et al, please allocate a land space that can hold up to 5,000 trucks at a time for use as holding bay for trucks plying the port. Such facility should have canteens, dressing rooms, resting rooms, showers, repair yards etc for the truckers who will be happy pay to use it. It could even be concessioned to a private operators. 
The collapse of the Oshodi-Apapa expressway is another major factor responsible for the pains commuters are being put through right now. Every vehicle, every truck going in and out of Apapa now uses the narrower Ijora-Apapa road with its attendant consequences on the Ijora bridge. The result of this is the chaos which has become a daily occurrence and which is capable of leading to the collapse of that bridge. Static trucks remain on the bridge day and night. And of course, operatives of the Western Naval Command of the Nigerian Navy, with base on dockyard road Apapa, are cashing in on the ensuing commotion. They 'charge' N2,000 per truck to pass through. They don't mind delaying a truck for hours if the driver fails to 'cooperate'. The Police, Army and other security operatives are not left out of milking the hapless truck operators.
The Ijora bridge is already vibrating dangerously and letting out creaking sounds ominously but are we listening?

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