Like several other Africans, I enjoy listening to Fela's songs. I love music generally but as the late wolrd statesman, Nelson Mandela said in his book Long Walk to Freedom, the music of my own flesh and blood goes right to my heart.
The curious beauty of African music is that it uplifts even as it tells a sad tale, Madiba said. And that is very true for me with regards to Fela's songs.
ITT (International Thief Thief) was a great album recorded by the Abami Eda in the 1980s. It told the story of how politicians connived with businessmen to loot the public treasury. He infuriated the political establishment by dropping the names of ITT Corporation vice-president Moshood Abiola and then General Olusegun Obasanjo at the end of the hot-selling 25-minute political screed.
Another of my favourites is Perambulator. The dictionary meaning of perambulate is to walk or travel through or around a place or area, especially for pleasure and in a leisurely way. Perambulator on the other hand means "a machine, similar to an odometer, for measuring distances by means of a large wheel pushed along the ground by a long handle, with a mechanism for recording the revolutions". It is also means a baby carriage; pram. Irony of the English language!
Well, Fela's perambulator means a person who makes a lot of motion without making any progress; a man that is full of activities without an iota of productivity.
Fela made the analogy of a commissioner in charge of dirt in Lagos. The commissioner is worried that the "town council" had been collecting salary without ridding the city of its stench. He determined to do something about it.
The commissioner's starting point was go on radio to announce: "I am going over to London to learn how English carry dust bin."
Fela: "Wetin commissioner no know be say other people dem go there to learn atomic energy, but our own commissioner dey go there to learn dust bin carrying.
"You see, him just dey perambulate and him still dey same same place."
One of the morales in the song is that we waste so much time on frivolities. We look for exotic answers to simple and uncomplicated problems. And we talk too much.
On a subject, we will hold seminars, workshops, talkshops, symposiums, conferences, debates, forums, awards, launching, get-togethers and all. We will do everything except solve the problem.
The Apapa gridlock, which remains a sore point for the managers of our roads and for this administration, is a typical example.
Series of seminars and all manners of stakeholders' meetings have been held on the same subject by almost every other interest group within and without the maritime industry yet several years after, the problem lingers.
All the recommendations are there, rotting away on moth-infested papers piled up in some archives as if they would grow feet and implement themselves.
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 on the need for the Lagos State government to dedicate a sizeable portion of land for use of truck operators as holding bay.
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.
Desperate situations require desperate measures; there is need for spirited move to salvage the situation. All these seminars are not the answer. We need to do the needful, now.