Ola Ayinde Street, Ikeja, Lagos, is gradually turning into an unofficial trucks/trailer terminal, no thanks to Nigeria Customs Service. The supposed two-lane street is now filled with different shapes and sizes of abandoned trucks so much that passing through the place is akin to the proverbial camel passing through the eye of a needle. Once it is rush hour, commuters are at the mercy of the abandoned trailers as they occupy all sides. At the place, trucks are truly the ‘king of the road.’ It is a clear picture of how the menace Apapa expressway is today started years ago.
And they are kings, thanks to the carefree attitude of the Nigeria Custom Service who don’t seem to give a damn. They are making it difficult for commuters who are coming from Mobolaji Bank-Anthony to bypass Ikeja Under-Bridge and connect to Toyin Street in their onward journey to Opebi Road. It also contributes to the hectic, nay hellish traffic jam being experienced on Toyin Street and Mobolaji Bank-Anthony Way.
Standing menacingly on the road are double-parked trailers. In fact, it is such that with their rears parked, back-to-back, they also block the signboard/banner of the Nigeria Customs Service Training College. One encroaches on the entrance of the college such that a car or vehicle coming from the college compound would have to drive halfway to the road before seeing an oncoming vehicle. It is that risky.
Turning a road into a lane of suffering and anguish
On the opposite side, they have turned the lane to private cars car park, despite the ‘no-parking’ signboards placed here and there by business owners. The most appalling of the sight is towards the exit of the street from Toyin Street, after Adelabu Close. Ola Ayinde has a sharp corner with large drainage. Yet both sides are blocked with trailers, leaving the motorists one narrow passageway to share.
Beneath the parked trailers are dirt of all shades; used plates, nylons and used bottles. Some of the trailer drivers have turned the underneath into their sleeping quarters. As pathetic as their case is, many of the affected motorists and residents are afraid to talk about the menace. Only few of them are bold enough.
One of them who spoke with Saturday Sun, a man who introduced himself as Ayodele said he does not pass the road once it is rush hour and on Mondays. “As peaceful as the area is, one of the most annoying things about it is the traffic,” he said. “One can be stuck here for hours on end, especially on Friday evenings and Mondays. The abandoned trucks and trailers cause big-time hold-up. Some of the trailers have been parked here for more than one year.” This reporter truly found trailers parked there with their tyres deflated and buried in some sand, signifying the fact that they have spent days or years at one spot. The immediate effect of this is the damage to the road, with portions already caving in under the heavy weight of the trucks and the drainages collapsing due to the pressure.
Residents, business owners complain
A resident of Toyin Street, Stanley (surname withheld) said that the customs officers believe that they own the area and thus can do anything they like without anybody questioning or querying them about it.
“Aside from the trailers blocking major part of the road, they also have this mindset that they determine what goes on in the area,” he said. “As such, they don’t care about the menace they cause on the road. These people block every road when you are passing. And, upon that, if you are passing, they will still make you stop for them. It is insane. There are days I would be rushing home for an emergency but when I get to Customs junction, I feel pained because of the traffic. You would have driven 30 minutes to the junction and then spend two hours from there to your destination. And, this is a journey that should not last more than one minute. It is crazy.”
A shop owner staying in the vicinity and who asked that her name be not mentioned in print said that at times they use the trailers to block her shop and others, for days. “I feed my family from the sales I make here,” she narrated. “This means that if I don’t make any sale, I don’t eat. The street ordinarily is lonely enough. But when the trailers block us the chances of having a passer-by peep in to ask for an item to buy is nil. Sales are low. There was a time it caused serious quarrels here but you can only talk. We are at their mercy. This area is also getting dirty by the day. It is not having its classiness again. It has lost that.”
In all, this reporter found that the pervading mood in the area is that of fear. Fear from being manhandled by the customs officers and men if you talk or complain. Fear of arriving one’s destination very late if, by any stroke of ill-luck, you took this route. Fear by some defaulters of having their impounded trailers held for eons. The fear of being knocked down by a passing car or vehicle trying to avoid crashing into stationary trailers. Just name it.
Motorists share painful experiences
The same fear may have been responsible for the length of time it took this reporter to convince motorists to express their feelings on the state of things on the road. Even though from St. Leo Catholic Church junction to Police College and Opebi roundabout, he ran into motorists who were full of praises for him for choosing to focus on their travails, yet not once were they willing to have their opinions quoted in print.
With the exception of only few! One of them, a commercial motorist who wants to be addressed simply as Ade, told the reporter that even though the menace is caused by the customs, “yet when they come to clear the road, especially when it is at standstill, they still punish us commercial motorists for trying to meander our way through the logjam. They wield their power recklessly. I see it as punishing the innocent for their own crime.”
Another motorist who like others, does not want his name in print, whether first or surname, agrees with Ade’s observation about the innocent being punished for the sin of the guilty. He remembers how one Saturday evening two years ago, he was returning from a trip and his car broke down towards the canal. “It was one of my worse days as a commercial motorist,” he insists. “I was shouted upon, insulted and slapped. Actually, but for the trailers taking every available space, the road was big enough. I had to push the car to Toyin Street with the help of another motorist. The Customs that blocked the road didn’t help me. Rather they became the emperor or magistrate of the road by making people pay for their sense of disorderliness.”
A motorist that goes by the name Jelili, and who works at the Computer Village and drives an RX Lexus jeep, said he makes sure he finds a way to avoid using the route on Mondays and Fridays even though it appears to be the shortest cut to his house. “That road has taught me to understand that not all short cuts are indeed short,” he said. “It is a hell to pass through any day, especially on Mondays and Fridays. It might not look so right now because we are still in lockdown period. But try passing through it on Fridays when the lockdown is over and you will cry to high heavens. The Lagos State government needs to caution these people. They have turned the road to their personal parking lot. I have spent a lot of wasted time on this road. I have used hours for a journey that should not be more than 15 minutes. We need help!”
Nigeria Customs reacts
When at a point this reporter made his way into the Customs compound, through the help of a friend, he found the situation there even more chaotic than the one on the road. The compound is filled with seized trucks of all sizes, shapes and weight. Trucks were parked on all sides so much that they occupied or blocked office spaces.
Contacted over the menace, John Attah, the image-maker of the agency, said that the authorities are aware and are making efforts to ease the traffic congestion on the road.”We are aware of the situation and we are making frantic efforts to deal with the situation,” he said. “These trucks are seizures from some Nigerians who think they can jeopardize the security, economy and health of Nigerians in this period of lockdown. We promise to act accordingly soon. We plead with the residents to bear with us on the situation. We also feel they should know that it is also in their own interest that we are doing this. Any relent on our side is capable of compromising the well-being of Nigerians.”