Stakeholders who gathered last week to find solution to the intractable gridlock in Apapa not only identified deep-rooted corruption and operational deficiencies on the part of terminal operators, but also said allegations of extortion by policemen and members of the presidential task force have helped to fuel the chaos and confusion in the area, write Davidson Iriekpen and Eromosele Abiodun
No doubt the Executive Vice Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Apapa Traffic, Mr. Kayode Opeifa did not bargain for what he got. It is very likely that if he knew he would be so embarrassed, he would not have attended a stakeholders meeting on the Apapa traffic crisis. Or better still, he would have pleaded with those present to bear with his team and explain their effort to resolve the crisis.
But this was not the case at the stakeholders’ meeting called by the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) to find solution to the intractable Apapa gridlock. The hall full to capacity became rowdy when Opeifa in his opening remarks, stated that there was no longer gridlock in Apapa, adding that gridlock was in the imagination of the media.
He said his team had on several occasions cleared the port access roads of trucks, and accused the media of inventing gridlock because they are not on ground to see what has been achieved.
But the stakeholders, including the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA), Apapa residents and the Publisher of Business Day Newspaper, Mr. Frank Aigbogun took their turn to denounce his claim, stressing that entrenched interest has turned the unfortunate crisis into a corrupt enterprise.
They described the Apapa situation as a shame to Nigeria, adding that the ongoing port access roads repairs not withstanding, deep-rooted corruption and operational deficiencies on the part of terminal operators, has to be addressed by the federal government as a long terms solution to the crisis.
Specifically, the stakeholders also accused APM Terminals and other container terminals of deliberately instigating the crisis for their economic gain.
In her speech, Apapa Port Manager, NPA, Mrs. Funmi Olotu said the claim that there was no longer gridlock in Apapa cannot be correct as she has personally found it difficult to drive to her office via the port access road.
“We are talking about why the trucks should not be staying on the road, why are they there? Because there are armed security men on bridges passing, controlling, saying you can go; you cannot go. Can we have the armed men off the bridges so that the trucks can be moving? We know points where we can stop the trucks. What we have said is that transit Truck Park are no garages, we are not inviting trucks to stay at the transit parks.
“One of the things we have noticed is that some of the illegal trucks approaching the port either have uniformed men driving them or escorting. What we have also discovered is that during the day when all eyes are open everybody want to comply with the call up system, then we now say 12 am to 5 am manufacturers trucks can move but their drivers have also turned the opportunity into a business by allowing other trucks and collecting N20, 000 per container, “she said.
Also speaking, Publisher of BusinessDay, Aigbogun who chided Opeifa for his comment, said every Nigerian should be desperate for the shame at Apapa.
“I appeal to the NPA, presidential task force, terminal operators; there should be unity of purpose; there has to be an alignment in terms of what we should do to solve the problem. I don’t think it serves anyone well if there is no unity among all these key people. There should also be unity among all the armed forces. The truth of the matter is there is still gridlock in Apapa. Kayode said it is the media’s imagination; that is not correct. There is gridlock in Apapa and we all know it.
“The NPA just acknowledged it. We have seen pictures of what happened in September last year in Apapa., what happened between then and now? Why is it that it is now taking people one and half hours, two hours, sometimes then call me from office in Apapa, “Oga don’t come today at all,” and you say there is no gridlock in Apapa. My church is in Apapa, on Sunday I was trying to come to church from Ikoyi I couldn’t come. I signed a cheque last week to take three containers of newsprint from Apapa; each of them was N690,000. When we started in Apapa we were paying N25,000 and N40,000 to bring a container; it rose to N100,000 and now it is N690,000. Who is sharing the money here?”
On his part, President of MAN Apapa Branch, Mr. Frank Onyeagwu said he was in support of what other speakers have said and called for urgent action to end the crisis.
He said, “When Opeifa was showing videos of what has happened in the past I kept asking myself, “why can’t they do it now? Why is it not been done now to ensure that this problem gets eradicated once and for all? Please let all stakeholders work together and see what we can do so that there is sanity along this axis because it is actually costing business quite a lot.”
Having seen how embarrassed he was, the representative of the President of NACCIMA, Mrs Magret Orakwusi, came to Opeifa’s rescue. She commended the task force for their effort at resolving the crisis.
However, she insisted, “we know that a lot of people are responsible for the gridlock, we know that our roads are bad, we know that corruption has a major role to play. We also do know that the task force is willing and able to review all these and we encourage all of us, if you know where you are part of the problem, have a rethink and think more of the economy of this country.”
Following public outcry over the intractable gridlock in Apapa, President Muhammadu Buhari last May gave an ultimatum to the trailer drivers to vacate Apapa roads and bridges within 72 hours. Before then, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu had reportedly vowed to end the Apapa gridlock within 60 days of his administration, though he later denied the claim.
The presidential directive followed an emergency meeting convened by Buhari and chaired by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo on April 25, 2019. A task force headed by Osinbajo, which was set up following the meeting immediately swung into action. The terms of reference of the task force, which was to report directly to the president, include the development of an efficient and effective management plan for the entire port area traffic, including fuel distribution and business district traffic; enforcing the permanent removal of all stationary trucks on the highway and the development of an effective manual call-up system, pending the introduction of the electronic truck call-up system. It also includes the implementation of a workable Empty Container Truck handling policy, among others.
Consequently, the Nigerian Navy and all other military formations were directed to withdraw from traffic management duties in the Apapa area, while military and paramilitary checkpoints in front of the ports and environs were to be dismantled.
In their place, the police and Lagos State Traffic Management Agency (LASTMA), was authorised to move into Apapa as the lead traffic management agency, while the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), was to commence the immediate use of the Lilipond Terminal and Trailer Park A as truck Transit Park. The taskforce had two weeks to complete its assignment. In June, 2019, the taskforce ended its operation and declared that 95 per cent of the job had been done, with the expectation that sanity had been restored.
But many observers feel that this has turned out to be a mirage. From then till now, the chaos and confusion have to Apapa have never ceased. Instead of leaving at least one lane for cars, truck and tanker drivers with the aid of policemen and others have virtually taken over the link roads, thereby, making life hellish for residents, workers and commuters.
Ongoing road works on Commercial Avenue, Liverpool and parts of Mile 2, coupled with bad portions of the roads and floods have compounded the problem, thereby, forcing motorists to make detours to alternative routes around Ajegunle and Ijora Badia, but those roads, which are also in bad shape, have also been besieged by same tanker drivers.
The heavy presence of trucks in the areas has reportedly impacted negatively on human and vehicular movements in the entire vicinity. While road repairs are ongoing, port activities have become chaotic such that those who reside in Apapa now live in danger. The truck drivers recklessly park on the middle of the roads without respecting the rights of other road users. Amidst the chaos, uniformed personnel on duty reportedly fleece the truck drivers. All that is needed to jump the queue is to bribe the uniformed personnel. From Eko Bridge to Creek Road in Apapa, there are over 18 checkpoints where truck and trailer drivers are cleared after parting with bribes not less than N1,000 in the full glare of people day and night. If they want the policemen to escort them, the bribe increases to as much as between N5,000 to N10,000.
Even members of the presidential task force are not exempted from the corruption going on on Apapa roads following rumours that truck and trailer drivers’ unions constantly give them millions of naira to look the other way while they congest the roads.
Many believe that the chaos on Apapa roads is certainly a national embarrassment. The endemic gridlock has clearly gone out of control. No solution is readily available on hand to address the problem.
Without doubt, the Lagos State government has been helpless even as the federal government abdicated its responsibility on Apapa by leaving the port infrastructure to disintegrate over the years. The badly dilapidated roads and lack of parking bay for the trailers constitute the main problems.
A bonded terminal official in Apapa, Ugochukwu Idibia, said the hardship being experienced in Apapa is fuelled by massive corruption.
He expressed his frustration thus: “a simple task was given to them – make movement into Apapa less cumbersome and they cannot. Even if they want to collect bribe, why not ensure that one lane is free for cars and other commuters? “Every time you continue to see the two or three lanes totally locked down with trucks and trailers and you begin to imagine what kind of policemen are these.
“Any time you go on that road, you see policemen armed but those guns and rifle you see them carrying are to intimidate in order to collect bribe. It is very unfortunate the kind of law enforcers we have in Nigeria.
“Even the presidential taskforce, they don’t know what they are doing. We hear that they themselves have capitalised on their assignment to make brisk business. Truck and trailers drivers’ unions give them millions of naira to look the other way while they cause other motorists pains. They lodge in expensive hotels and guest houses in Apapa, just enjoying themselves.”
Idibia also chided the government for allowing trucks and tankers to park on Apapa-Ijora and sometimes bridge for 24 hours everyday without considering the dangers and implications.