The Impunity of Truck Drivers

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Truck drivers must be tamed if Apapa must retain its shine – and some of its treasures

In the crowded field of reckless drivers in Nigeria, truck drivers stand out. They are apparently more powerful than the state as they always act as though above the law. They go on strike at the least provocation. They block the roads anytime and anywhere without a care for other road users. Penultimate week in the port city of Apapa, Lagos, their impunity bordered on lunacy when dozens of them went on the rampage and set ablaze Diamond and Sterling Bank branches, after a policemen accidentally killed one of their colleagues.

The trucks and petroleum tankers’ drivers had customarily used their vehicles to block the entrance of the banks, limiting access to customers entering and exiting. On that particular day, the policeman attached to one of the banks reportedly had approached them to move their trucks, an appeal which fell on deaf ears. In the altercation that followed, one tanker driver died. That was when all hell broke loose as they, typically, took the laws onto their own hands.

For more than a decade, Apapa has been afflicted by the irresponsible acts of tankers and haulage trucks’ drivers. They have turned most of the roads, bridges and highways in the nation’s busiest port town into parking lots. Virtually every company located in Apapa is short-changed by the excesses of these truck drivers as well as their owners. Primarily in an attempt to beat the long queues, the drivers fight to beat each other to the game and in the process constitute themselves into a menace.

As a result of the indiscriminate parking and sometimes abandonment of broken-down trucks on the roads, Apapa has become a traffic gridlock, writ large. Motorists using the two main access roads to the town spend agonising long hours on the traffic before they could get to their various destinations. The daily horror, besides the loss of productive man hours, is accentuated by craters and potholes on the roads, particularly during the raining season. Besides, the owners of the tank farms and depots do not help matters by not allowing these trucks into their parking lots. This evidently helps to create an atmosphere of chaos which makes life very difficult for Apapa residents and visitors. Hoodlums, like they did at the banks, have often taken advantage of this state of confusion to unleash mayhem on road users and businesses.

Many groups have long protested the lawlessness and the public nuisance constituted by trucks and tankers in the vicinity of the nation’s prime seaports, all to no avail. Several interventions initiated by the Lagos State Government were also fruitless. The effort to instil discipline and orderliness among these truck owners and drivers through the allocation of parking lots elsewhere was flagrantly disregarded. On several occasions, the drivers went on strike to blackmail the government and created artificial scarcity of petroleum products. Even an inter-ministerial committee on “Port Approach Roads” laced with members of the Federal Road Safety Commission and security agencies, including the navy and the police, could not resolve the criminal recklessness among the drivers and bring them on the path of sanity. They have continued to operate with scant regard for road regulations.

Yet the cost of this unruly behaviour is high on the economy. Apapa is a prime business district and should ordinarily be the heartbeat for corporate Nigeria. The seaports in Apapa account for some 65 per cent of the cargo traffic and about the same percentage of total port revenue annually. Years of toeing the path of impropriety and poor infrastructure development are having their heavy toll on other forms of business. Some billions of naira are lost routinely due to the persistent parking chaos, the indiscipline among truck drivers and the accompanying traffic gridlocks.

The present efforts by Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Dangote Group and others to reconstruct parts of the port town are praiseworthy. But until the government checkmates the excesses of these drivers, and more importantly, revives our rail systems and create a more orderly and cost effective means of lifting bulk cargo and petroleum products, Apapa will continue to be a nightmare to our collective shame.

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Until the government checkmates the excesses of these drivers, and more importantly, revives our rail systems and create a more orderly and cost effective means of lifting bulk cargo and petroleum products, Apapa will continue to be a nightmare to our collective shame