With several measures previously adopted in tackling the perennial traffic gridlock in the Apapa and other roads linking the major tank farms in Lagos State and their subsequent failure, trailer and truck drivers have called on the government to reconstruct the roads, go for infrastructural renewal, kill corruption and to summon the political if it hopes to find a lasting solution to end the torturous traffic situation, Oge Obi reports. The recent confederation of forces to tackle the perennial traffic gridlock on the Apapa axis of Lagos State and other roads linking the major tank farms in the country, may not seem new. The complexity of the Apapa gridlock has often times proved these interventions and measures incapable of arresting the situation.
Interestingly, the chaotic traffic situation in Apapa and the subsequent effect on other roads in the state has not been left without efforts from different quarters. The torturous situation which has persisted for close to a decade now has seen government pronouncements, repeated on the spot assessment of both infrastructure and traffic management in the area by the government functionaries, military and paramilitary interventions, concerned stakeholders’ outcry and interventions, just like a riddle has remained unsolved.
The situation which was described as a “national disaster” that calls for concern by the Lagos State Commissioner of Police recently had a joint task force tagged “Operation Restore Sanity” set up with 1,000 policemen deployed to work with other relevant agencies to bring back sanity on the affected areas. This current effort which seems to be the long-awaited magic wand needed to end the perennial hardship road users have been thrown into for some years now, indeed brought some relief to Lagosians. However, for some stakeholders, it is not yet Uhuru! According to them, the current measure just like similar ones in the past is unsustainable. The government was advised to summon the political to bring an end to the unsavory situation. Our reporter who visited some of the roads in a chat with some trailer and tanker drivers trying to access Apapa for different purposes was told that government needs to summon the political will to bring an end to the age-long traffic chaos in the area.
Describing the Operation Restore Sanity as an unsustainable solution, a trailer driver, Mr. Dada Abbas disclosed that the new task force had only worked effectively for the first three days. He warned that sooner or later, the situation may return to status quo if the government fails to tackle the root cause of Apapa traffic. Abbas explained that members of the task force have since resorted to extorting money from drivers after top government officials left the scene. He said, “I have spent about N5, 000 just to move Cele Bus Stop to Second Rainbow. The simple truth is that the new task force is not working. The higher your bribe, the better your chance of getting to your destination earlier. I will advise government to walk her talk by reconstructing the roads, tackle corruption among these official overseeing traffic management in Apapa and put the necessary infrastructure in place. “You need to understand that this new task force is not working. Now that the Ogas have returned to their offices, what these people are after is how much they can make from us. As you are seeing me, this is where I sleep, birth and defecate. If it takes me a month or two weeks to get into Apapa in this weather, that is the condition we will live with”, Abbas said. According to another truck driver, Mr. Samuel Ola who said that he had spent six days to move from Cele Bus Stop to Second Rainbow, he expressed fears that it might take him up to one month to get his destination in Apapa. Ola who is headed to Second Gate in Apapa, blamed his predicament on his inability to mobilise as much as N40,000 for express passage. The driver said, “I must confess that the present situation is better than what it used to be, but the painful aspect is that these people have turned into a money-making venture.
“If I have enough money like N40,000 to settle the soldiers, police, LASTMA, and others, my vehicle will be called up for express passage. That is why when you get to places like Mile 2, Freedom Market and farther down, this single line here becomes two. The shorter line is for those who have settled”, Ola explained. Speaking further, the driver appealed to the Federal Government not to delay any longer in commencing the reconstruction of the roads as was pronounced by the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo. He also noted that in addition to the road reconstruction, the government should consider infrastructural renewal. According to the Ekiti State indigene, delays in getting their papers checked and containers loaded are often blamed on faulty computers, shortage of personnel, among others. Calling for infrastructural renewal, Ola said, “Truck owners should organise themselves and buy land wherever they want and build a truck bay where their vehicles can park while they wait to be called up. If done, this will take care of lot things. For example, after spending these long days under this harsh weather, to enter either the First or Second gates become another huddle because the workers only work for three days in a week. There also, we are faced with another phase of extortion from the terminal workers as well as the security people. And if you don’t want to have problems with them, you will collect their phone numbers for your next trip.”
Chatting the way forward, Ola said that government must be willing to bring an end to the chaotic traffic in Apapa area of Lagos. They must be willing to deal with the problem of corruption because many of these trucks are owned by top politicians and people who are highly connected in the society. “So, they don’t allow their trucks to and their drivers to go through what we suffer. All it takes is a phone call or exchange of some Naira notes. They are the ones that enjoy express passage because they can afford”, he alleged.
For Ossi Osim, whose efforts to drop an empty container at some designated places outside the wharf/Apapa area has proved impossible and was forced to join the queue, the story is the same. Narrating a similar experience in the hands of those coordinating the traffic, the Edo State indigene said that they were also not free from the area boys’ harassment and extortion. According to him, “we are troubled on all sides”.
He noted that “the painful aspect is that the task force team can turn you back at any point if you “misbehave”. They don’t care how much you have spent or what you have suffered before getting to that point. All they care is that you settle well.” Asked why he and his colleagues would prefer to park on the roads rather than make use of the available truck parks like the one at Orile Iganmu area of the state, Osim said that lots factors discourage drivers from using the park. According to him, the problem ranges from insecurity to arbitrary charges. “For me, it is better for me to park on the road than go into that Whites and park. There is no security there. There, the thieves will ‘tear’ your motor down! They steal just anything! In that park, you will lose your side mirrors, battery, diesel and other removable parts and nobody cares. Then, at night, the armed robbers will come with all manner of weapons to dispossess you of your phone or maybe the little money you have for sorting yourself out on the roads.
“At Orile, the thieves come at night to attack us, it is even safer here on the road. Although Agbero (miscreants) take money from us, we prefer it than the danger we are exposed to in that park. Here on the road, we stay awake at night to guard our vehicles and if there is an attack, other drivers and motor boys respond promptly whenever anyone raises any alarm, Osim said. “Please, help us tell the government to please adopt a more permanent solution to this problem than the temporary measures it has been applying for years now. They should be tired of playing politics with this situation. The loss we have incurred from this situation has been huge. Lives that have been lost on these roads are so many. It has sent so many out of work and business. This is time for both Federal and Lagos State to corroborate match their words with commensurate action. The humiliation is too much on us, the drivers. Just because I couldn’t afford N25,000 to drop my container at this terminal by that Lacasera company at Mile 2, I was turned back and directed to go and turn at Cele to join this queue that I don’t know when I will get to Apapa. If there are enough terminals to drop our empty containers, we won’t be suffering the way we are, today.
For a truck driver who identified himself as Abdulahi, the journey into Apapa is a lot better since the task force took over traffic management in and out of Apapa. According to the driver who was going to load his tank at MRS tank farm for onward delivery to the northern part of the country, said that it would get better if the government could reconstruct the road as promised. He further said that if other ports are made functional and petroleum products transported through oil pipelines to different states, it would reduce the concentration on the Lagos road and the subsequent risk. This also corroborated the Lagos State Governor’s view when he said that “The Apapa congestion is a national issue that requires urgent attention. The oil pipelines should be revived to discourage the trend of thousands of trucks coming from other parts of the country to lift petroleum products from Apapa. “It is bad that we still use trucks to lift petroleum products from Apapa to other parts of the country. As it is now, other ports in Nigeria must begin to work immediately to decongest the gridlock in Lagos. Whatever has led to the continual use of trucks to lift fuel, which is, vandalism of the pipelines, should be addressed immediately. “We believe that this will allow the roads to become free. We don’t need to continuously use taxpayers’ money to build roads that would be destroyed by tankers. We call on the Ministry of Petroleum Resources and the DPR to work towards reviving the pipelines”, Ambode said