Apapa: Once my residence, shame of a nation

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In the 37th week of my weekly column, I wrote about the Apapa I once knew and what had become Apapa of today. The article was titled ‘A drive to Apapa and through Apapa to see the rot that is Nigeria’. In it, I described my most current trip to the area at the time where most of my early memories as a working adult were made. A journey that would usually take me no less than an hour on a bad day, which Sunday afternoon shouldn’t have been, took me no less than four hours. I pointed out that the once glorious Apapa had degenerated into a state of public shame characterised by its collapsed and collapsing roads, intractable gridlock, and the nearly stationary presence of trucks and tankers that have become the bane of the city. There is also the issue of bribery between tank drivers and security personnel who are supposed to attempt restoring some level of orderliness in the region but would rather use the disorder to benefit their pockets. How? A tipping tanker driver gets to pass faster than non-complaint tanker drivers. These qualities make Apapa’s current state the perfect recipe for a disaster waiting to happen. 

Many weeks and several promises later, Apapa is still crawling to be better.

As a young professional, I started living in Surulere then I moved to Ilupeju and after a promotion to managerial level, I was allocated a company flat in Apapa. This was one of the managerial perks that many staff looked forward to people as Apapa was a choice location in those days, competing with Ikoyi and Ikeja GRA. I also remember that those that became military leaders of our nation, the likes of the former head of state, some generals and retired admirals lived in Apapa before moving to Ikoyi. In fact, some of them moved from Apapa to state houses as governors. I married in Apapa and eventually moved to my home in Ikoyi. Every development infrastructure that were well designed and put in place between our then colonial government and our founding fathers, the subsequent leaders of this nation have managed to set back by a hundred years.

I am reminded of the year 1967 when I had just returned from the United Kingdom where I had gone to for a study leave. On my return, my employer – the then Federal Ministry of Works posted me to take charge of the geotechnical works for the foundation of the Apapa-Ijora Bridge. It was one of the biggest projects the ministry was embarking on at that time. Most of the funding for the project had come from the World Bank and they were actively involved in the construction of the bridge. In my role overseeing the geotechnical works, I was to report to a World Bank representative named Engineer Coleman. Engineer Coleman was a stickler for the rules and had very little tolerance for any level of unprofessionalism. I even recall almost getting fired by him for being absent from the project site for a few hours. In my defense, as a young man fending for himself without any family support, my salary meant a lot to me so when it was held back due to some administrative delay I was desperate. This fateful day, I had gone to the headquarters of the ministry in order to follow up on my three month salary that was yet to be paid.

I was probably gone for two to three hours but when I returned, I was met with a very upset project manager. Mr Coleman’s anger was that the foundation works of any construction was very critical talk less of at a project that meant so much to the country. He was of the opinion that I needed to keep an eye on things at all times, taking records of every excavation and filling that was taking place. I tried to explain my plight to him but he didn’t want to know about my unpaid salary because according to him, it was somebody’s responsibility to follow up on that just as it was my responsibility to be on the project site at a certain time. So, he recommend for me to be disciplined. This might have happened as being from the World Bank, Mr Coleman was very well regarded but for the intervention of Alhaji Sule Katagun, the then Chairman of the Public Service Commission.

You see, as Mr Coleman went on to explain, the Apapa-Ijora causeway construction was a very important project that had potentials to contribute hugely to the economy of Nigeria. Years later, his words still ring true at the Ijora bridge is one of the only two major routes to Apapa ports which are busiest sea ports in Nigeria.

If ever Ahmadu Bello, Tafawa Balewa, Nnamdi Azikiwe and Obafemi Awolowo should ever return to this country to find monuments that have been named after them, they will not only curse all of us, they will return back to their unknown world in a hurry. Why are we destroying the past this way? How can we keep building new things without taking care of the old? The old will therefore come back to haunt us. Maybe, that is already happening.

When I completed a postgraduate professional training in the United Kingdom, in the middle 80s, I wanted to bring back the car I had bought and was using in the UK and I recall taking the car to my company’s shipping department for shipment to Nigeria. They asked me the port I wanted to ship it to in Nigeria and I had the option of shipping to other cities asides Lagos. I wanted the car shipped to Warri, Port Harcourt or Calabar. The colossal damage that has been done to Apapa as a preserved living and well planned commercial city has been completely destroyed. The President of Nigeria visited, the Vice President also visited, they all came out and told the nation that the gridlock was going to disappear in a matter of days. I have a message for them and the rest of Nigeria. Apapa will never be the same again.

It will continue to go down the way the Independence Building and many other monuments all over the country have gone down. Most new cities around the world are preserving the old because the old matters in the present. Both can help define the future. By seeing historic buildings/monuments, whether related to something famous or recognisably dramatic, tourists and longtime residents are able to witness the aesthetic and cultural history of an area. They also become the face of city and reflect the changes that happened in that area over time and the prosperity of the society. In the case of our nation Nigeria, we are making nonsense of the old. If we continue with that progression, we will never come out of underdevelopment.

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