The Frontlines By Joseph Ushigiale
Recently when Lagos state Governor Babajide Sanwaolu declared triumphantly that he and his team have put in place new measures to end the perennial Apapa traffic jam that is costing the economy millions of dollars daily, I was quite skeptical at the cheery news.
It was not because I doubted his sincerity of purpose, no that was out of the question because he has no reason to play to the gallery with such an issue that would bring him huge applause from near and far. It will equally usher in huge relief to business owners, transporters and workers and home owners in Apapa and who have been at the receiving end of the grueling traffic snarls for over two decades now.
My skepticism was borne out of pity for the governor who apparently was not quite aware of the deep rooted corruption inherent in the Apapa traffic gridlock and the resolve by those fueling it never to let go or at best not go down without a fight.
The governor acknowledged this much when he said
“We have taken some troublesome people that are benefiting from the gridlock out of the way. Whatever they were earning illegally has been taken away from them. We know they will want to make an attempt to fight back. We will not stop at anything to ensure that anybody that tries to retract the progress or wants to take us back to gridlock in Apapa will be fought against. We will bring out their names and shame them”.
Sanwaolu’s latest efforts is not the first in this direction. This can be seen from the countless number of task forces inaugurated right from the past administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo up to the present administration where it appears things have moved from bad to worst. Apapa has never had it so bad.
My doubts were confirmed especially last Thursday when while commuting into Apapa the journey suddenly came a complete halt. I left home at 9 am driving through Funso Williams Avenue and turning right through the ramp as I was descending to Ijora Badia, I sighted a pile of trucks right ahead of me.
Then the ordeal began. The struggle for right of way commenced on just one lane because the other lane had already been taken over by trucks that were permanently parked there. At that time, you could see some drivers and motor boys or conductors either having their bathes under the trucks, some chewing stick, others drinking tea and all sorts of activities going on all at the same time all indicating that they spent the night there.
Meanwhile, as you crawl through the ramp to join the main road leading to Apapa ports, the ramp keeps rocking periodically with shivers running down your spine as you keep imagining what could happen if the ramp collapses. These roads in Apapa with the loads they bear are a disaster waiting to happen if something urgent is not done to stop the cabal that is creating this traffic snarls to line their pockets.
In my precious report, I had indicated that this is a well organised racket undertaken by all the security agencies with men and women in the task force. Today, they have devised ways of making their collections using some fronts in mufti who immediately approach and oncoming truck from the driver’s side, collect the money and gives a sign for them to allow the truck that has paid to move on.
There are primarily five checkpoints used for bribery collections. The first one is mounted by Ijora Badia close to some bonded warehouses. The next one is immediately you join the main route from Lagos heading to the point immediately after there the main one by Lily Pond Warehouse. This is the most notorious checkpoint that causes the mother of all traffic snarls.
After this checkpoint, all the trucks are unleashed to the next intersection at the ramp leading to Malu road. From this point, the road is block completely right up to Airways where there is yet another checkpoint for extortion, after that there one again by UBA branch and yet another at Eleganza roundabout before the port itself.
Is it a loss battle, not at all. Indeed something can be done to beat these official criminals at their game. Recall that following the withdrawal of the Presidential Task Force on port congestion, the Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, set up a Special Traffic Management Team to resolve the traffic gridlock in and around the Apapa corridor.
Among other things, the Electronic Truck call-up system, Eto, which was designed and launched by NPA for the management of truck movement and access to and from the Lagos ports and to end the gridlock in and around the ports, formally took off recently.
During the implementation of the new system, all trucks doing business at the ports will be required to park at the approved truck parks until they are called up into the port through the Eto app. So how come the whole road was at a standstill? If some bad eggs have been removed as the governor had indicated, where are these new bad eggs coming from?
It appears the government failed to factor in a key element which has led to the abuse by all the previous task forces and given room for racketeering. That missing key element is surveillance and monitoring the task force. How do you know the trucks are in designated parking lots, how do you monitor a vehicle that has been called up and how do you know the system is not being abused for their selfish gains by the same people appointed to drive the system?
Are all the trucks that block the entry to Apapa daily on call up? If they are not, who then is calling them up and what measure is in place to punish such offenders both the drivers and task force officials?
The government and NPA and other stakeholders must return to the drawing board and fashion new ways of closing that gap. The sure way out is to acquire and deploy drones with the capacity of monitoring the movement of trucks from the parking lots to the port of entries; monitor every single daily activities of the task force and also the traffic situation in real time.
For instance, with a drone, you can know at the control centre where there is traffic build up at any particular point and query whoever is many that area. You can intercept prowling trucks that are not called up and are looking to breach the system including providing surveillance on unscrupulous task force officials who create bottlenecks and block the road to create gridlock for them to extort money from trucks.
So far it is not a bad effort after all, in the first few days when the system was inaugurated, commuting was seamless. It shows that they system is working and all stakeholders and people should support to make it work.
In words of Sanwaolu, “Let us have a system that our citizens will be proud of. We will stop at nothing to sustain the progress achieved. Our team will be working round the clock to keep the system working. This is one of our modest efforts to deliver what we promised in solving traffic and transportation challenges. We will not relent in doing anything required to ensure traffic improvement in Apapa.”