Major Marketers, Tanker Drivers and Transport Owners have extolled the efforts of the Western Navy Command through the joint Security Task Force led by the FOC Western Naval Command of the Nigerian Navy, Rear Admiral SAG Abbah and the Commander of NNS Beecroft Commodore Okon Eyo for their timely intervention in clearing the Apapa gridlock menace.
The gridlock had hitherto proved impossible to clear and was becoming a festering sore in the operations of the Apapa Ports and businesses in Apapa as well as daily commuting on the Apapa corridor.
From the Petroleum Drivers Tankers Association (PTDA), Nigerian Association of Road Truck Owners (NARTO), Nigerian Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), to the major Oil marketers, the clearance of the gridlock has opened up the Apapa area for more business operations to go on and for them to further deliver their services to Nigerians in a timely manner.
They all agreed that the efforts of the government through the security agencies deserve applause and should be encouraged, noting that the intervention not only helps the larger society but also helps improve the turn-around time of the downstream sector by reducing the turning around time for loading products from the depots and delivery of the products to retail outlets.
A visit to the area shows that the gridlock has been completely cleared on the highways leading into Apapa, leaving Western Avenue on the Surulere and Orile Iganmu axis as the problem spot.
Aside this, the Navy has maintained an effective cover over the Apapa area and has forged a fluid partnership with major marketers and associated unions in the downstream in ensuring a smooth passage of traffic with positive impact on businesses and commuters along the Apapa corridor.
At a stakeholder workshop organised by the Major Marketers with the Navy, a tanker driver called Mallam Ibrahimat, said the success was due to the efforts of the Navy working with major marketers and that what was done was to harness the resources at their disposal together with the support of Lagos state government.
To him, â€œif there was no cooperation among the agencies, they wonâ€™t be able to achieve it. But what they saw was that the Navy was the front-liner, coordinating other agencies efforts.â€
He said since the Navy took over the clearing operations, there has been the deployment of an effective logistic strategy which involves the use of call card signed by the Navy commander for authentication of Trucks due for loading and passage into the Apapa area.
Ibrahim said although there were teething problems associated to the call card system, due largely to the newness of its use by tanker drivers, he concluded that the system was working and that it has reduced the turnaround time for loading and delivery of products.
Another tanker driver, Ahmed Issa, who was at a park in the Marine beach side of Apapa said the absence of traffic was due to the concerted efforts of all the marketers and tanker drivers as they all obeyed the command of the Naval officers who were strict with what they wanted to achieve.
He however urged the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) officials to liaise with the concessionaire of Lillipond, a parking space that can contain thousands of trucks at once, to open the park for trailers that want to load from the ports instead of allowing them to pay demurrages and also park on the roads.
On how the marketers were able to comply, a top official of a major marketer in the area said they all made conscious efforts to ensure that their trucks were housed within the marshaling yard, their holding bay.
He said: â€œThat was simply what we did and with the cooperation of the union, the Petroleum Tankers Drivers Union, who also cooperated with us to ensure that their drivers also listened to us, with the trucks in the marshaling yardsâ€.
He attributed the success to series of weekly meetings held amongst the stakeholders where the gridlock clearance was the major point of discussion.
On the spillover to Western Avenue, he said: â€œIt is also important to mention that most of those trucks we have on the road do not have a holding bay, so those ones are outside the coverage of the operations of the Navy. And I am sure and aware that the Navy is also engaging with the NPA to free up spaces within Apapa Port where those trucks can park before they go into the port to do whatever operations they want to do. That is what I know that is going to work out, but like I said for us, our trucks shouldnâ€™t be on the road because we have the holding bay to house them.â€
The major marketers are seeking permission from the Navy commander to let their trucks move to the operators holding bay because as observed, the trucks being on the queue is not too good since their holding bay in the area can contain more than 400 trucks.
Another official of a Major Marketer with tankers in the area said: â€œOur trucks should not be on the queue but at our various holding bays to increase turnaround as we all have parking space outside the area which makes it hard to understand the reason why trucks have to be on the queue and cause the gridlockâ€.
He said they have resolved to embrace the call card system introduced by the Naval authorities as they see themselves as partners in progress with the Navy but want little adjustment to take care of some unforeseen occurrences especially as regards loading and delivering products around Apapa.
On whether payment was done before the gridlock was cleared, he asserted that it was a voluntary effort from the combined security team, saying: â€œThe operation you see, we did not contribute money to make it happen and the Navy did not ask for money.
â€œWhat you see is the gracious effort of the Navy by not keeping their men in the barracks but rather choosing to deploy them to help arrest an hitherto hopeless situation, thus clearing roads with great economic importance to Nigeria. Again, it is important to mention that the state government has a security arm called â€˜Operation Messaâ€™ which is a combination of the Navy, Army, Air force and the Police and they all combined to make the gridlock disappear within a monthâ€.
Responding, Commodore Okon Eyo, Commander, NNS Beecroft said the need to provide generic and humanitarian services to the citizenry as enshrined in the constitution was the motivation behind the interest of the Navy in clearing the gridlock that had become a logistic nightmare, a security risk and an environmental hazard to the area – crippling businesses and devaluing properties.
Eyo said the Chief of Naval Staff was aware of the efforts and he attributed the success achieved in little time to a formula which was the cooperation of Unions, Drivers and Major Marketers in the area, who wanted the change after series of meetings held on the issue.
On the sustainability of the efforts, he said it would be shameful if the area was to revert to the gridlock era and would be a sad affair for himself and others that worked so hard to clear the gridlock.
He enthused that there was no way they would allow things to go back to its old state. Furthermore, he expressed gratitude for the efforts of the Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, who, at the town hall meeting held in Apapa said the stateâ€™s traffic body would take over the duty from the Navy in the not too distant future.
Eyo further said the next mission is to move to Tin Can part of the area but noted that the resources available are thin due to personnel constraints as his men cannot cope with covering the Apapa Port area and the Tin-Can Port area.
Aside from personnel issues, he also cited logistics issues as another challenge and therefore called other stakeholders to come and render assistance so that the whole of Apapa area can be rid of persistent gridlocks that hinder the smooth flow of people goods and services in the area as it has an adverse impact, not only on the economy of Lagos but more importantly, on the economy of Nigeria.