•Cargoes, containers trapped inside ports
More than one month after Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo visited the ports in Lagos and ordered a 72-hour joint operation by security operatives to clear the gridlock in and around the Apapa, very little progress appears to have been achieved in this regard.
Osinbajo had paid an unscheduled visit to Apapa at the peak of the gridlock on July 20, and had directed relevant government agencies to immediately embark on the decongestion of the Wharf Roads and the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway to allow for free flow of traffic.
Less than a week after issuing the directive, the vice-president accompanied by the Governor of Lagos State, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, and the Minister of Transportation, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, on July 26, 2018 held a meeting with relevant stakeholders on the traffic management mechanisms at the Western Naval Command, Apapa.
However, when THISDAY visited the Lagos Port Complex (LPC) Apapa, several cargoes and containers remained trapped inside the port despite the deployment of over 1,000 security personnel by the Lagos State Police Command and other relevant agencies in an operation tagged ‘Operation Restore Sanity’.
The President, Nigerian Importers Integrity Association (NIIA), Mr. Godwin Onyekachi, described the vice-president’s order as “cosmetic,” arguing that a lasting solution lies in addressing the core problems that led to the gridlock.
According to him, “Deploying security operatives in their large numbers was an interim measure guaranteed to fail because the major problem has not been addressed by government yet. A major problem is the collapse of the Apapa–Oshodi Expressway, which has been neglected for several years by the federal government. This road is the major entry and exit points for the ports and other businesses in the Apapa area.
“The situation on the Apapa-Oshodi expressway forces truckers to use the Apapa-Ijora-Wharf road, which is a very narrow road and which has been under construction for more than a year. Traffic on the Apapa-Ijora-Wharf road has been further compounded due to the closure of the outbound lane of the Apapa-Ijora bridge by the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing.
“As we speak, the top layers of the bridge have been removed and the job abandoned for more than two months. Consequently, truckers are restricted to the Leventis exit lane to exit Apapa. The Leventis lane is very narrow and is filled with potholes and locked down by high traffic because of several truck garages and heavy oil tanker traffic on it.”
Some truck drivers, who expressed frustration at the perennial gridlock, said if the situation must improve, a lot more effort is required by officials of the Nigerian Navy, who now lead the traffic management effort in Apapa.
The truck drivers said they still spend several days on the road to enter or exit Apapa.
One of the truck drivers, who identified himself as Saheed Ahmed, said he spent four days to move from Costain to Marine Bridge, Apapa, a journey that is typically less than 10 minutes under normal circumstances.
Speaking with a tinge of frustration, he said: “I have been on this queue for the past four days from Costain to get to the tail end of the Marine Bridge (in Apapa). There are other truck drivers who are still stuck in traffic and they have spent close to two weeks. I also had to part with some money to be able to get here.”
Several other truck drivers expressed frustration at the modus operandi of the Nigerian Navy and other traffic control officials, accusing them of seeing their task force as opportunity to make quick money.
Another truck driver, Abubakar Sanni, told THISDAY: “Since yesterday that I came (into Lagos), I have spent nothing less than N30,000. I was told to turn back from Costain. Then I had to spend another money to reach here (Ijora).
“All the security operatives asked me to part with some money else they will turn me back. The traffic is only moving for truck drivers who part with money but if you don’t have money you will remain there like it is your parking space.”
The truck drivers also complained of sleep and food deprivation as well as lack of sanitary facilities while being stuck in the notorious gridlock.
“I have spent two days already and I am yet to get to wharf. Before I get to Wharf and load my cargo, it might take me till tomorrow,” another truck driver, Ahmed Musibau, lamented.
One of the Naval officials controlling traffic at Leventis, Apapa, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to journalists, said the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and truck owners/drivers cannot exonerate themselves from blame over the gridlock.
He said: “There are a lot of trucks parked and idling away on the port access roads without any business in the port and contributing to the traffic gridlock. The Nigerian Ports Authority is yet to live up to its responsibility as managers of the defined port areas, which includes the ports and its access roads.
“NPA needs to support and redirect the Navy in managing the traffic by regulating what trucks should have access to the ports and deploying their tow trucks to remove idle or broken down trucks contributing to the gridlock.”