There was excitement a fortnight ago that the new strategy adopted by Lagos State Government would proffer a lasting solution to the perennial gridlock around Apapa and its corridor, occasioned by articulated vehicles that have turned Lagos ports access roads into parking lots. This was more so since stakeholders had jointly agreed on the new move, which they also felt was a good step going forward.
For sometime now, all those needing to access the ports, as well as those living or working at Apapa and its environs have been subjected to untold hardship, due to the logjam that has become a permanent feature on that axis. So, the e-call up introduced by the state government was considered a welcome development.
Surprisingly, however, just days after the new arrangement kicked off, articulated vehicles have returned to the access roads, bringing in their trail the annoying holdup. At Mile 2, Marine Bridge and Orile-Ijora, the ubiquitous articulated vehicles are still parked on the roads, obstructing free flow of traffic.
Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babajide Olusola Sanwo-Olu, who went on a tour of the Apapa corridor days after the new system started, must have been alarmed that the new method did not yield the desired fruits. Expectedly, he had expressed frustration at an event hours after monitoring the area, when he said the state government would name and shame all the people undermining the state government’s efforts at ensuring that sanity returns to the area.
The Apapa crisis has been on for over a decade. And though previous administrations had also taken definite steps to combat the menace, these mostly yielded positive result for only a few days before the truck drivers would return to the roadside and the whole place become congested again, with commuters and motorists spending hours in traffic going to or leaving Apapa. This is aside the fact that many businesses also feel the negative impact of the crisis, as cost of transporting goods into and out of Apapa has increased.
Interestingly, this is not the first time the federal or state government would take action, either jointly or separately to resolve the Apapa crisis. Past Lagos State governors from Babatunde Raji Fashola to Akinwunmi Ambode and now Babajide Sanwo-Olu have all tried to end the chaos, but have failed to record much success.
During the Fashola era, he had tried to sanitise the corridor, but all his efforts were in vain, as not much headway was made. He even criticised the Federal Government for not giving the right support to end the problem.
When his tenure as governor ended, Fashola was appointed the Minister of Works, Housing and Power, and the ruling party, to which he belongs, was also the party in Lagos State. This had raised the hope that something tangible would be done about the Apapa gridlock. Unfortunately, however, the four years ended with no clear solution in sight to resolve the problem.
During the four years, a presidential committee was set up by President Muhammadu Buhari, and the then Governor Akinwunmi Ambode also established a joint task force involving security agencies and stakeholders in the maritime sector to remove all containerised trucks and tankers parked along access roads to the ports, including the Oshodi-Apapa Expressway.
Tagged ‘Operation Restore Sanity On Lagos Roads,’ the state government’s task force had involved 2,271 personnel drawn from the police, Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA), Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA), Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), and Nigerian military, including army, air force and the navy. But nothing concrete came out of this also, though there was some sort of relief for few days.
Another presidential committee was set up by Buhari, owing to the Federal Government’s desire to end the lingering crisis. Vice President Yemi Osinbajo had headed the committee, which prompted his official visit to Lagos, and was accompanied by the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi. The delegation was conducted round the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway by a chopper for an on-the-spot assessment of the menace. At the end of his visit, Osinbajo had directed the police boss to clear the gridlock within 72 hours.
Based on the Vice President’s order, personnel for the operation were deployed to the locations for the evacuation of over 20,000 petroleum tankers and flat belt trucks that were causing the gridlock from service lanes and expressway to the six holding bays at Ijora, Isolo, Amuwo Odofin, Orile and Apapa. At the end of the day, the officers only succeeded in making the trucks stay away for only two weeks, after which they returned in full force and once again, the access roads became the parking lots for articulated vehicles.
John Benjamin, who works in Apapa, told The Guardian that there has not been much difference since the e-call up system started.
“Getting in and out of Apapa is still problematic, just like in the past when there was no e-call up system,” he said. The new strategy is not effective. For many of us working in and around Apapa, Ajegunle is the saving grace we have. Trucks are still parked on the roads, especially on the Marine Bridge, which rubbishes the much-celebrated e-call up of the Lagos State Government. Sadly, this is less than two weeks after it was initiated.”
For Nnamdi Alex, an accountant, who also works in Apapa, the Apapa traffic issue cannot be solved by the e-call up system.
He said: “The reasons are not farfetched. People from all parts of the country come to Lagos to clear their goods from Lagos ports.
Some spend weeks just to come into any of the port, which might not be part of the company’s operational cost. So, on the part of the company, anything that will fast track the process, even if it involves cutting corners to get their goods from the port to reduce cost is acceptable to some transporters and business owners.”
He noted that some godfathers are profiting from the chaos. This group of people has made millions of Naira from the lingering crisis.
“So, they will frustrate any effort to stop the illegal businesses that have been created as a result of the Apapa traffic crisis,” he said.
Also x-raying the new system, a transporter and exporter, Emmanual Odili, explained that the e-call up system was tampered with, after running smoothly for some days, as some people started producing fake call up system.
He said: “There is a kind of manipulation of the platform. This is because some people have approached me that I could go into the port straight without having a stopover at Lilypond, if I could pay between N40, 000 and N50, 000. And this is sabotage of the process. And we cannot achieve something positive, if the process is sabotaged.
“Secondly, people that developed the app should have involved stakeholders in the process, as they appear to be overwhelmed by the whole exercise. They claimed the number of articulated vehicles verified by Nigeria Port Authority (NPA) was 7000, but there are about 60,000 trucks in Lagos alone. And the trucks in Lagos are far less than those outside Lagos. If all the trucks outside Lagos come into the state, Lagos will just collapse in one day.”
He observed that the few days that the trucks disappeared from the road was due partially to the fact that those operating barges could not immediately understand the new process.
“The Nigerian economy is going down, yet export is not given priority,” he said. “With export, the country will earn income in dollars, but those managing the process before now prefer to favour importers. Exporters would have their products in garages and these products are perishable.
“If they start counting their losses, you will not believe how much they lose in dollars, because of one or two persons’ selfish interest. But it will be good if they can make the process better by giving priority to trucks conveying export goods to the ports.”
He disclosed that when the process started, trucks conveying export goods went to Lilypond before going to Wharf. But suddenly, the process was changed for export trucks to assemble in Ojota before going to Wharf.
“For instance, take a truck that is carrying ginger. The owner of the ginger had dried it to specification and obtained the international standard certification moisture for the ginger. But for three weeks, the container did not leave the garage for the port.
“And the container was under sun and because it is metal, which is a conductor, at the end of the day, when the ginger worth $40, 000 arrived at its destination, a large portion of it was spoilt because of the delay and the heat from the sun. The people that suffer most are those dealing in melon and cashew, because one ton of cashew is close to $900.
“Two trucks of groundnut were sent back from Russia recently, because the produce did not get to the terminal on time. The National Export Promotion Council should also be given the right and support given to NNPC. With that, this country will move forward.”
Odili said some trucks are parked on the roads because there is a back door to moving the trucks to the port without entering Lilypond. “They do fake paper. You go to the terminal, get your papers signed and stamped without the truck entering Lilypond after parting with some money,” said.
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