TRUCK DRIVERS AND APAPA BRIDGES

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As long as the authorities continue to dither, Apapa will remain a nightmare

Despite initial resistance, truck drivers on bridges around Apapa area of Lagos recently made U-turn after the Nigerian Navy commenced enforcement of its recent quit order. But while a measure of temporary sanity may have returned to some of the roads, nobody should be under any illusion that the situation would remain the same.

In the past few years, we have used this platform to draw the attention of the authorities in Nigeria to the imminence of what has now become a reality: access to the nation’s major port is virtually non-existent. Rail and road transit to and from the port has remained paralysed while the current efforts to salvage the access road to the port through private sector initiative has come with avoidable gridlock. The implications are that all businesses in the Apapa area have been crippled; residents have been forced to abandon their homes and relocated to other areas of the state.

For years, Apapa has been tormented by the foolish, rash actions of tankers and haulage truck drivers. They have turned virtually all the roads, bridges and highways in the nation’s busiest port town into parking lots. Nearly every company and organisation located in the troubled area is short-changed by the overindulgences of these truck drivers as well as their owners. For years, motorists using the two main access roads to the town spend unbearable long hours on the traffic before they could get to their various destinations. Besides the daily dreadfulness, the loss of productive man-hours is emphasised by craters and potholes on the roads, particularly during the raining season, and the raining season is here again.

It is more worrisome that the owners of the tank farms and depots do not help matters by not allowing these trucks into their parking lots. This obviously helps to create an atmosphere of chaos, which makes life very difficult for Apapa’s residents and visitors. And hoodlums have often taken advantage of this state of confusion to unleash havoc on road users and businesses.

Several interventions initiated by the Lagos State Government have been fruitless, as the effort to instil discipline and orderliness among these truck owners and drivers through the allocation of parking lots elsewhere have been flagrantly disregarded. On several occasions, the drivers went on strike to blackmail the government and created simulated scarcity of petroleum products. Even an inter-ministerial committee on “Port Approach Roads” with members drawn from the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) 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. For years, they have continued to operate with scant regard for road regulations but the latest intervention by the Navy seems to have brought some relief.

Yet, we believe the cost of this boisterous, disruptive behaviour is high on the economy. Apapa is a prime business district and should ordinarily be the heartbeat for corporate Nigeria as the seaports account for some 65 per cent of the cargo traffic and about the same percentage of total port revenue annually. Some billions of naira are lost daily due to the stubborn parking chaos, the indiscipline among truck drivers and the accompanying traffic gridlocks.

Although the current efforts by Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Dangote Group and others to reconstruct parts of the Apapa Road are laudable, we still believe that until both the federal and Lagos State authorities can come up with an enduring solution that will factor in the challenge of all critical stakeholders, including that of the truck drivers, Apapa will continue to be a nightmare to our collective shame.