Reflecting on Dangote Refinery and Hell Awaiting Lekki Residents

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Like many, I’m really excited at the gargantuan Dangote Refinery in Ibeju-Lekki, Lagos State, reputed as the second largest refinery project in the world. I share the great excitement of the President, African Development Bank, Dr. Akinwunmi Adeshina, who recently visited the project with his team.

Both in terms of its estimated production output and other value chain, it will not only save the country billions of foreign exchange spent on importation of fuel and other derivatives including fertilizer but also likely provide the pull factor for other industries.

The Dangote refinery, an integrated refinery and petrochemical complex, will have an annual refining capacity of 10.4 million tonnes of gasoline, in addition to 4.6Mt of diesel and 4Mt of jet fuel.

It will also produce 0.69Mt of polypropylene, 0.24Mt of propane, 32,000t of sulphur and 0.5Mt of carbon black feed. The complex also includes a fertiliser plant, which uses by-products from the refinery as raw materials. These are huge outputs which will also immensely benefit the local market.

So I heartily congratulate Chairman of Dangote Group, Aliko Dangote, for this huge project. While others are ferreting capital out of the country to invest in things that hardly translate into any meaningful trickle down effects for our people, he has invested huge resources that offer the possibility of not only industrialising the country but creating massive jobs. The project is estimated to generate 4000 direct and 150,000 indirect jobs.

Next door is the $1.5 billion Lekki Deep Seaport that is also aimed at changing the face of maritime in our dear country. The Deep Seaport is expected to become the largest deep seaport in Sub Saharan Africa as the promoters are targeting 1.5 million 20ft equivalents units container capacity yearly, which is planned to grow to about 2.7 million and 4.7 million TEUs when operations commence.

Also within this vicinity is the Lekki Free Trade Zone that’s projected to accommodate more than 48 companies. This obviously is good news for our economy.

My biggest worry is where are the heavy duty trucks that are supposed to ferry supplies and cargo from the Dangote Refinery, the Lekki Deep Seaport and the Lekki Free Trade Zone to different parts of the country going to pass? Many do not appreciate that these projects could translate to six times the volume of cargo that are presently moved on the Apapa corridor with two ports that are referred to as river ports.

My heart therefore bleeds for the Lekki residents when I learnt that these projects are expected to be operational later this year. If Apapa which has two major outlets, has been a hell for its residents and other commuters for many years now, one can only imagine the awry nature of commuting that confronts the Lekki residents who will ply only one road.

Virtually all the roads that are meant to serve as buffers are not even in the works, leaving only the Lagos-Lekki Expressway presently choked with traffic as the only route. The Fourth Mainland Bridge is still on the drawing board in spite of several promises.

The Lagos state government has also been talking of a Coastal Highway and the expansion of the Lagos-Lekki Expressway from the Eleko junction to Epe, which are still in the works. The proposed monorail conceived to run between Marina and Lekki, to ease the pains of commuting in that corridor, is still on the books.

Given our experience with the Okokomaiko-Marina monorail which is not yet completed after 13 years, Lekki residents may not even be hopeful of any reprieve in the immediate future. I’m surprised that the government is silent on the single carriage way Eleko road itself which is now going to be traversed by huge traffic.

The 1,400 kilometer Lagos-Calabar railway which ought to complement these huge projects is still far from any groundbreaking ceremony. A spur from this rail line at Ijebu Ode could have provided the elixir by linking Ibeju Lekki. But transport minister, Mr Rotimi Amaechi seems to have predilection for rail lines that are like ox bow lakes which may not offer any help.

Were both the Ibadan-Abuja or Itakpe-Abuja lines given priority ahead of Kano-Maradi in Niger Republic, they could also have provided some breather to the movement of the huge cargo from these projects.

Even as far back as 2016, former managing director, Nigerian Ports Authority, Hadiza Bala Usman, had canvassed for a rail link to Lekki to stave off the potential haulage crisis envisaged to be caused by these huge projects. Surprised that there was no plan for a rail link to Lekki in spite of these projects, she wrote to the Nigerian Railway Corporation to ensure that this was included in their plan.

This according to her was to prevent the likely traffic disaster of the next few years. Usman, in a chat with journalists in Lagos, said she was shocked that there was no provision for rail connection to the Lekki Deep Seaport by the promoters when she came into office in 2016, according to The Guardian report of September 12, 2018.

She said NPA had to write the Nigerian Railway Corporation to ensure rail connection to the site, adding that Dangote Refinery was also contacted to make provisions for pipelines for products evacuation to avoid trucks parking on the roads while trying to pick products from that axis.

She recalled: “When we took over two years ago, there was no provision for rail connection out of Lekki, in the Deep Seaport plan, which I found quite strange that you can have a deep seaport without the need for rail connection.

“It will take you two years to build the port but five years to build the rail. So, we have written the Nigerian Railway Corporation to ensure that there is a rail connection.

“The same way we have written the Dangote Refinery to have pipeline evacuation of liquids out of the refinery in Lekki, so that you don’t have trucks parking, and looking for where to pick products from the refinery.

“So, one, there must be pipelines for product evacuation; two, there must be rail connection; three, there must be additional means of road transportation, and the Lagos access road also need to be prioritised.

“So, we need to work to have some sanity in five years’ time. If we do not deploy what is required now, in five to 10 years’ time, Lekki will be unmanageable. I am a believer of starting something; even if you do not finish it, start it.”

Whether anyone listened to her warning is another kettle of fish. But it’s clear that we are back to what appears like a game of revolving door.

By Tony Iyare

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