Idris Umar, Transport Minister
By John Iwori
Truck drivers have defied the Federal Government order not to park along the ever busy Apapa-Oshodi Expressway, which leads to the nation’s premier port, Apapa Quay.
Over the years the truck drivers have constituted a menace to traffic in Apapa and its environs as it has become increasingly difficult to drive smoothly and safely into the area.
The situation was not helped by the location of all the busiest ports in Apapa. These include the Lagos Ports Complex (LPC), Apapa which has not fewer than four terminals and Tin Can Island Port (TCIP), and Lily Pond, several bonded terminals and tank farms built close to each other.
This prompted the Federal Government to give the truck drivers a one week ultimatum to leave the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway or face severe sanctions.
The order, which was handed down recently in Lagos, was aimed at addressing the problem of poor access to the ports situated in Lagos.
The ultimatum, which was handed down by the Presidential Port Reform Committee, was meant to give port users have easy access to the nation’s seaports situated in Lagos.
The Committee enjoined truck drivers to return all empty containers to the ports as it would no longer allow them to queue on the access road in order to eradicate congestion at the gateways.
It explained that it hinged its order on the high number of trucks on the port access roads that has caused traffic gridlock along the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway.
The Committee Chairman, Prof. Sylvester Monye, told journalists in Lagos that a triangular movement has been developed for trucks operating at Lagos ports (Tin-Can Island and Apapa ports).
This is such that any truck operator that takes delivery of laden container to importer’s warehouse should return the empties to the off-dock terminal owned by the shipping company that brought the container into the country.
He said that it was unacceptable for trucks with empty containers to continue to queue at the port area to make free movement impossible for commuters, port users and goods leaving the port.
His words: “There will be no more direct movement of empty containers into the ports and trucks will not be allowed to enter the port unless the operator has loading permit from Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) to come in and pick laden cargo for delivery to the importer’s warehouse.
“Empty containers will be offloaded at the off-dock terminals so that the shipping company can bring them wherever they are ready to take them back. If we can move trucks with empty containers out of Apapa-Oshodi Expressway, the traffic problem on the road will be resolved, though tankers entering the tank farms may be a problem, but the major problem lies with the trucks,” he added.
He stated that members of the committee were disturbed with the state of things along the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway, adding that reducing the traffic gridlock on the expressway was a “national call to duty.”
He advised transporters to comply with the ultimatum call, as the committee would begin to impound trucks at the end of the expiration period.
Monye said that port users and motorists have been facing serious traffic congestion, which has in no small measure affected trade facilitation. He said President Goodluck Jonathan was considering a lasting solution to the traffic gridlock along Apapa- Oshodi Expressway.
On the allegation that majority of shipping companies do not have holding-bay to serve the need of off-dock terminal, he noted that the committee has met shipping companies and all of them assured the Committee that they have capacity within and outside the port, and “this is why the committee wants to put them to test.”
The Presidential Aide promised that the committee was working out the possibility of having truck terminals for truck operators to use as parking space and wait for their turn to come into the port to load containers.
The chaotic traffic has affected the inflow of motorists along the ports and access roads prompting the stakeholders to attribute the decay of the infrastructure, especially roads leading to the nation’s gateways.
This is due to the insensitive and nonchalant attitude of the three tiers of government, the Federal, State and Local governments for failure to put in place a functional transport policy that would have boosted economic activities at the ports.
However, THISDAY checks revealed that the truck drivers have defiled the Federal Government order as many of them still continue to park their trucks along the port access roads.
Though many of the truck drivers were not willing to speak on tape, those who spoke to our reporter on the condition of anonymity said they still park on the road because they have not been given any alternative place to park their vehicles while waiting to take their consignments in the ports.
They also said the shipping firms and terminal operators do not have space to keep their empty containers, thereby making them to rove around along the road until they are needed in the terminals.
“My brother, do you want me to put my truck on my head? If the Federal Government is really serious about addressing the problem of congestion in the port, they know what to do. They should provide Parking Bays where the trucks will stay until when they are needed in the terminals.
“They should also compel the shipping companies and the terminal operators to provide a space for empty containers. Those who are asked to monitor the traffic should be checked by the authorities so that they do not turn it into avenues to extort money from truck drivers”, one of the truck drivers, who did not want his name in print, said.