“Never leave a black man with anything beautiful; he will only spoil it.” White South African as Mandela was taking over as President.
Reading that statement by the white man who was migrating to Europe, I was temporarily livid with rage. The man was a racist quite all right. But, he was also telling the truth. African leaders have destroyed all the good structures the colonial masters left. While European Houses of parliament are still as pristine as they were six hundred years ago, ours less than one hundred years are uniformly eye-sores. If governments cannot maintain the structures close to them, is it any wonder that they almost always destroy those far away? The tragedy of Apapa Wharf is another reminder that governments, Federal and States have destroyed more than they built. There are no monuments for visitors to see.
Many of us who grew in Lagos in the 1950s and 1960s remember Apapa Wharf area and often recollect how neat and business like the environment was. The little residential area in Apapa, apart from Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, quarters, were so neat they could be anywhere in the world. When Mr. Coker-Dickens, a Ghanaian-Nigerian moved from Vincent Street in Lagos Island to his new house at Mercy Eneli Street in 1957, it was a joy for us, young boys, to go on the ferry to Apapa to visit our friend – Kwame – his son. Everything worked; streets were clean; the Public Works Department, PWD saw to that. Last week, when I got stuck in Apapa and returned the next day to assess the damage to our economy, I tried locating the house and the street which to us were wonders to behold. They told the story of the transformation of Apapa from the most vital business district in Nigeria to the most devastated; only rivaled by the Onne Axis in Rivers State.
Today, nothing works in Apapa because mindless governments have allowed the area to become the world’s greatest industrial slum with no good road to service it.
Flour Mills plant serves as proxy for all the vast businesses in the Wharf area. One of my researchers stationed in front of it noted that no single trailer entered or left the premises for ninety minutes. That was a plant which at least one trailer per minute entered or left before the lockdown. At 1.30 pm, the TANTALIZER main outlet around Randle Avenue was always a bee-hive of activities. On this day, only three customers came in within one hour. The suya sellers along Randle Avenue, the okada drivers and the money changers all have sad tales to tell. Some businesses have closed down. Hospitals located deep in the Wharf area are no longer getting patients referred to them because ambulances cannot be sure of getting in or out. Banks are on holidays.
How on earth did we get into this sorry situation? First explanation is the mindlessness of the Federal and Lagos State Governments. The two highways leading to and from Apapa Wharf and Tin Can Island were constructed for less than one hundredth the number and weight of vehicles they now carry. The roads from Oshodi and from Western Avenue, Ijora to Wharf were deprived of planned maintenance. They were allowed to break down as if it was official policy to purposely demolish them and create the lock down we now experience.
What the neglect of regular maintenance failed to wreck, the establishment of so many fuel tank farms finished. One government after another approved the establishment of tank farms bringing those behemoths called tankers to roll over roads that were not constructed in the 1970s and 1980s with them in mind. Sixteen years of Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and two years of All Progressives Congress, APC at the Federal level coupled with eighteen straight years of Alliance for Democracy, AD, Action Congress, AC, and now APC in Lagos have brought us to where we are today. None of the Presidents or Governors who were in office can escape indictment for their collective failure to take pre-emptive measures to ensure that the nation’s most important business district is open to business everyday and twenty four hours a day. Obasanjo, Yar’Adua, Jonathan, Buhari Tinubu, Fashola and now Ambode got us into this mess. Nobody else.
It is an indication of how governments and their agencies are self-deluded when the NPA recently announced its intention to achieve 24 hours clearance. Today, nothing can leave the ports in less than five weeks. NPA cannot charge demurrage because the importers are not responsible for not clearing their consignments and factories nationwide are experiencing low capacity utilization because raw materials, spare parts and components are stuck in the ports.
“Every country has the government it deserves.” Joseph De Maistre, 1753-1821. By our reckoning, the country is losing a lot more than N30 billion per day; or N900bn per month; N1.08trn a year, because we have been badly led and the quality of leadership has not improved. In Lagos, governments build flyovers which many people don’t use instead of maintaining the roads leading to the ports – which form the backbone of our economy. Is this what we deserve?