Twenty-seven days after President Muhammadu Buhari issued an order directing truck drivers to, within 72 hours, remove their articulated vehicles from roads leading to the Apapa ports in Lagos, the trucks have remained on the highways and adjoining roads.
Along the Cele-Mile 2-Apapa Expressway, the trucks have continued to cause considerable gridlock. Motorists and commuters are still groaning in agony.
Last week, President Yemi Osinbajo gave the presidential task force on the Apapa gridlock two more weeks to complete its assignment. The task force is now expected to present a formal report on June 24.
Senior special assistant to the Vice President on media and publicity, Laolu Akande, said members of the task force and other stakeholders had requested the extension.
“We will extend the tenure of the task force by two weeks and we must all work together to resolve all the issues. It will take both medium and long-term solutions to ultimately enable us present to the users an efficient port environment for the economy and businesses to thrive. We will not allow any interests to undermine our nation’s economy,” Osinbajo said.
The Vice President directed the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and other stakeholders to expedite action on the opening of additional truck parks and parking bays around Lagos, as well as commencement of the electronic call-up system at the port.
Buhari had, on Wednesday, May 22, issued an order that trucks must be removed from access roads to Apapa within 72 hours.
The presidential order read: “A presidential directive has been issued for the immediate clearing up of the Apapa gridlock and the restoration of law and order to Apapa and its environs within two weeks.
“The directive mandates the immediate removal of all trucks from the bridges and roads within Apapa and all adjoining streets leading into the Apapa axis.
“To facilitate this important assignment, operators of trucks and tankers have also been directed to vacate the port access roads within the next 72 hours.”
When Daily Sun visited Mile 2-Apapa Expressway on June 6, the situation was hellish. From Ijesha, trucks and tankers still covered large portions of the Oshodi-Apapa Expressway. Even the service lane was not spared. Most motorists and commuters in the Mile 2/Berger axis of the expressway are still in agony over the siege that has crippled the flow of traffic in the area.
In fact, chaos is the exact word to describe what is witnessed in the area. A choked stretch of the busy Apapa-Oshodi highway stares everyone in the face. It has been an unending tale of woe for motorists, commuters, business owners and residents.
Many of the regular users of the road and adjoining streets seem to have given up hope that any solution to their daily ordeal might soon be found. The residents have also accused the authorities of turning a deaf ear to their plight, adding that the nuisance and inconvenience constituted by trucks on the roads was no longer bearable.
Lagos residents have long complained about how the indiscriminate parking of articulated vehicles on roads and bridges to the Apapa ports have contributed a lot to the perennial gridlocks in the state. Most of the heavy-duty articulated vehicles that were originally heading either to the ports in Apapa or the tank farms in Kirikiri to load petroleum products and containers are often parked on the roads around the axis.
Residents and business owners, many have lamented, have suffered hardship and incalculable losses since the situation got worse in the last few years. The traffic congestion has been a source of headache for stakeholders as well as government.
The presidential directive, it was gathered, was the result of an emergency meeting convened by Buhari and chaired by Osinbajo on April 25. The meeting sought to proffer lasting solutions to the gridlock around the Lagos ports, as the traffic congestion has continued to strangulate all operations and means of livelihood in the area.
Following the president’s ultimatum to restore law and order to the area, there was a sigh of relief among the people. But when the reporter recently visited the Berger Yard Bus Stop, inwards Tincan Terminal, it appeared that the crisis had taken a turn for the worst. There was virtually no space for movement. And many people expressed the fear that the ordeal might continue, except the President personally ensures compliance.
Venting his frustration, a truck driver, Mr. Musibau Kolawole, said he could not understand why the Federal Government and the Lagos State government have so far failed to solve the constant traffic nightmare in the area, especially given the economic importance of the Oshodi-Apapa Expressway. The road serves the heavy traffic moving in and out of the nation’s seaports at Apapa and Tin Can Island to other parts of Lagos and the entire country. The expressway also leads to the Murtala Muhammed International Airport.
“I have been in this driving business for 11 years. When I started the work, I used to load from the ports twice a day, but now it takes me two or three weeks to complete one trip.
“The problem is that this only major road before Second Gate (Tin Can Terminal) is very bad. Sometimes, when you struggle to get close to the gate, a truck must have tumbled into the potholes. Such incidents would make other vehicles to wait for hours until the ill-fated truck is evacuated,” he said.
The obviously embittered man said another thing that must be urgently looked into was the need to make other ports in the country functional. He said he could not grasp why the Calabar Port, Onne Port and Warri Port in Cross River, Rivers and Delta states, respectively, were yet to be given the needed attention so that goods could be imported and exported through them.
His words: “We are wasting money and energy taking goods from Lagos to Aba in Abia for days, whereas Port Harcourt to Aba is less than one hour’s drive. Many people have already said that the only solution to the traffic problem in the Apapa area is to decongest the Lagos ports, but nobody is ready to do it.
“Some people will be accusing us the drivers as the cause of the gridlock. But, unknown to many of them, we have suffered more since the crisis started. Sometimes, our feeding money finishes while we are on the queue. Now we leave home, but can’t tell our family members when we will return. I have been here for five days just between Fatgbems Filling Station and Mile 2, which is not more than 10 minutes’ walk. There was a particular trip during which I spent about six weeks on the queue.
“Most tanker drivers come to Lagos to lift petroleum products. This is a big challenge because it is the same roads that other vehicles ply that we also ply. But people easily sympathise with small vehicles and see us as the culprits.”
His truck driver colleague, Mr. Monday Abednego, said since the presidential order was given, trucks and tankers on the Oshodi-Apapa Road from Cele axis have been restrained to one lane. But he lamented that from Otto Wharf area the queue extends to three lanes even as orderliness disappears.
“Although it is still very slow, we prefer a single queue. When we are moving in a single queue, there will be regulation to an extent. From Second Rainbow Bus Stop to this Mile 2, I have spent two weeks. For more than 24 hours now, no vehicle has moved in the queue.
“I have been in this business for 18 years. When I started, everywhere was peaceful; the pressure was not much on the port. At the moment, the pace of discharging and loading at the terminals is very slow. The processing units at the ports should be increased.
“There was a time up till last month that we used to pay as much as N60,000 to some task force before we could join the fast lane. There are others who paid more than N100,000 to take a shorter route. We thank God that all that has stopped now. But some drivers are still paying to some security personnel to take ‘one way’ by facing oncoming traffic. Within two or three days, they could get to their destinations while we remain here for weeks. Once they get to Coconut Bus Stop, they will pay more money to some people there, who will help them to manoeuvre to the normal lane. There are policemen stationed at almost all the bus stops leading to the ports, yet some drivers still have their way.
“Those of us who will not pay the amount and remain on the normal lane will have to bear the pain of waiting for weeks. My conductor ran away because he couldn’t bear the suffering on the road. The trauma alone is enough to scare anyone from concentrating on the job.”
Sharing how he survived on the road for weeks, he said, “It is not easy, my brother. I have sponge, soap, bucket and extra clothes in my vehicle. But I usually go home to defecate. My house is not far from Apapa. Before leaving for home, I would arrange with my colleagues to help me move my vehicle in case the queue is moved. Most times, we finish the money we made in our previous trips before making another one.
“Even if the road leading to the port is very good, there will still be problems here. Some individuals have up to 50 trucks each. Cement, sugar, petroleum products and all manner of goods from across the country for import and export must land in Lagos.”
Food vendors and dry gin hawkers were seen meandering in-between the parked vehicles, making brisk business. Some drivers were also sighted openly smoking marijuana.
The expressway is where the motorists and their conductors take their bath every day. Most of them also defecate there whenever the need arises. The stench oozing from some portions of the road, especially between Otto Wharf and Trinity is capable of sending a visitor to the hospital.
“We are the ones that are really suffering. How can one be on the road for almost one month? Not many people will be ready to ply this kind of trade whereby you leave your house but you can’t tell when you will be returning,” Abednego lamented.
The heavy presence of policemen, officials of Lagos State Traffic Management Authority as well as those of the Federal Road Safety Commission at various checkpoints leading to the port seems to have no significant impact on the traffic congestion in the area.