Ugo Aliogo, in this report, takes a look at the challenges faced by drivers and other road users in accessing Apapa and Tin Can ports   

Bolaji Bolakale sat in the driver side of his truck, pondering over lots of issues. On his face, one would see the look of long suffering that slackened his jaw and reddened his eyes. He seemed broken by worries. When he spoke there was a feeling of anguish from his voice. Sitting beside him in the vehicle is his assistant, a frail looking young man clutching two wraps of fufu and a plastic pack of Egusi soup. He seemed engrossed in the meal and not ready to start a conversation until he was done devouring the food. While for Bolakale, it was a different kettle of fish. His truck has been stationed in a long queue for five days and there is no hope of moving from the spot, from where it is to a new position.

“We use almost four days to get to Coconut from Mile 2, sometimes it takes five days, if the road was good, I usually do two trips daily. This has led to officers of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) extorting us. From Berger under bridge to the MTN signpost, the police allegedly collect N5, 000,” he noted.

He noted that when there is a leeway for them to move forward, they usually cannot make headway, because there is no space for container carriers and other heavy duty trucks to move, “ in the bid to hustle our way through our truck develops one fault or the other.”

Beyond the issue of the gridlock, the hygiene condition of the environment is another teething challenge. With the rainy season gradually creeping in, some parts of the road are usually flooded, smelly and filled with potholes and become death traps. Refuse heaped on both sides of the road and spreads to the middle. Some of the drivers who spend days on the road, have formed the habit of eating, defecating and bathing on one spot, thus messing up the road and leaving it with unpleasant smells and odours. In some parts of the road are splotches of faeces.

For Bolakale, the messing up of the road is a situation which can be addressed within a short time, if the federal government takes necessary measures to repair the road which would curb the traffic situation. Like his conspirators who engage in messing up the road, he is not happy about the development. His angst about the situation is that eating in such environment is not healthy and it may place the health of the driver in grave danger, “there is a lot of refuse in this area. Therefore, feeding here is a big challenge for us. Everywhere is smelly and dirty because of the bad road and continuous deposit of rubbish.”

The alleged police extortion is a major challenge which the truck drivers face in their quest to move into the port. He noted that at night, the Police allegedly collect N10, 000 from drivers who comply, then the Police take them out from the queue in either Mile 2 or Berger Under-bridge to pass one-way traffic and they stop at Coconut, a suburb close to Apapa. It was also alleged that the journey from Coconut would also require another amount of money from them to get to the port. The alleged extortion is worrisome and frustrating. Those that refuse to pay remain at the same spot where they will spend up to five days.

Bolakale is not eager to end the conversation without an appeal to government to find a solution to these challenges especially the repair and maintenance of the road. Another challenge which he stated was the issue of small scale thievery which goes on daily especially at nightfall.

“We face the issue of stealing at night. This stealing is carried out by young men staying around. They engage in stealing our vehicle batteries, spare tyres, phones, and other useful belongings and abscond. It is not safe here,  our lives and property are at the mercy of these thieves.

“We are extorted by the Lagos State Maintenance Agency (LASTMA), area boys and the Police. These levies are too high for us to continue. These police officers stand at strategic locations to extort us and allow trucks not on the queue to pass because the drivers have paid heavily to them. They allow them pass one-way which is against the law.

“We spend too much money and nothing meaningful has been done in addressing the situation. There are trucks coming from Ajegunle axis, Kirikiri and Apapa eager to join the queue, these truck drivers have allegedly paid heavily to the police who will take them through without queuing. There are various forms of extortion in this place, people create fake tickets just to extort us, they are inside Ajegunle and they alleged that they are from Apapa Local Government Area,” Bolakale lamented.

From THISDAY’s observation, it was learnt that the condition of the Mile 2 to Apapa Road was outrightly deplorable. Some parts of the road had potholes filled with water, while other areas were flooded. Commuters and pedestrians face hard times using the road. Despite media reports, advocacy, calls and warnings to federal government to repair the road, everything has fallen on deaf ears. According to reports, the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) contributes over one trillion naira yearly to the economy.

THISDAY carried out an investigation to know from those who experience the pains and losses from the bad state of the road. THISDAY visited the Joint Council of Seaport Truckers (JCOST). The body was formed six years ago as a confederation of all the trucking unions operating in the nation’s maritime sector of the economy. The union had gradually become a voice for truckers in the maritime sector.

The President of the union could not be reached for comment, but a member of the union, Ikechukwu Ogbeuibi who spoke to THISDAY was buoyed by the glimmer of hope, that the road may not receive a new lease of life.

He began sharing his thoughts by trying to place a lid on the emotions bubbling inside him. He noted that to load any container with goods from the port, it would take weeks, adding that some can be on the road for a month even with an empty container.

He explained that the road has been in a bad condition for a while now, when former President Goodluck Jonathan was in power and it was unattended to adding that President Muhammadu Buhari has not made the much needed efforts to repair the road.

He said the little maintenance on going on the road has been through the efforts of stakeholders and some companies, stressing that they have been working on the road based on palliative measures.

According to him, “There is an unwelcome situation happening at the moment, the new task force, which we don’t know the power behind it, has been frustrating our efforts, they don’t allow trucks to move in as at when due, for example, Apapa and Tin Can Ports are not the same. We have a different road that links them; this team of task force will create unacceptable queues for trucks until you pay them a token amount of money.

“They divert drivers against their preferred destination; even the military and most naval officers that were posted here always treat our drivers badly. They treat us like terrorist in war, giving us series of inhuman maltreatment, beating most drivers like animals and other form of punishments.

“While on the road for days, weeks or months, some of these officers will come and question the reason behind any stagnant queues, while allegedly requesting for money to clear your container through one way. If you fail to abide, it leads to series of beating with their superior showing unconcerned attitude towards our plight.

“The windscreen of our trucks sometime gets smashed with heavy woods by officers of the Task Force. Though one of the cases has been reported to the Office of the Area Commander of Area B Police Station, but nothing has been done.

“If you look at how our trucks are parked, you will notice that the trucks to Apapa Port will be on different lane while the ones for Tin Can Port will be on a different lane. We have complained tirelessly and I don’t know if they will answer our pleading soon and if nothing is done about it, we have no option than taking off our trucks from the road.

“We sent our President, Alhaji Kayode to have a meeting with the Area Commander on our behalf concerning our plight, and he said he has met him twice, yet nothing has been done about it, most especially the major area of our problem which is Ijora. We are open to dialogue either with the federal or state governments; let them see to our problem, the continuous maltreatment from the task force officers is unbearable.”