When President Buhari, in April 2019, gave a marching order to concerned authorities to clear traffic gridlock on Oshodi-Apapa Expressway, Lagos, so that residents can enjoy their Easter holiday in peace, they gave the impression that everything is now under control: no more gridlock. Everybody hailed what they assumed to be a big relief. But no sooner had they finished the hailing than it dawned on everyone that they have rejoiced too soon. What they didn’t know was that the trucks, with the active connivance of local vested interests, after some money had exchanged hands, found their way into the streets of adjoining areas like Ajegunle, popularly known as AJ City in Ajeromi Ifelodun Local Government Area and Olodi, Apapa.
Continuous dislocation of lives
Today, residents of these adjoining areas have continued to groan under the menace of trucks and bad roads in the area. It seems that all the oil tankers and articulated trucks in Lagos have relocated to the streets of Olodi and Ajegunle since the government asked them to quit the expressway as a result of the traffic gridlock they cause.
No day passes without the residents having one form of ugly experience or the other as a result of takeover of the streets by these heavy-duty vehicles. The situation is even worse whenever it rains. Like the articulated trucks, life seemed to have ground to a halt in the area and this has brought untold hardship to helpless residents. Businesses within the area are folding up, one after the other. One of the major banks located around Coconut bus stop, Apapa, is no longer operational.
The situation is so dire and hopeless that residents are now relocating to other parts of Lagos or else moving out of the mega city altogether in droves. The ones who decided to stay are now questioning themselves as to whether they took the right decision as their assumption about them eventually getting to have the last laugh is gradually turning into something of a nightmare.
Health-wise, epidemic outbreak looms as the entire community reeks of foul smell coming from the refuse dumps which keep getting bigger and bigger everyday. This is because the Private Sector Participation (PSP) operators can’t even find their way to the area to evacuate the mounting garbage. As a result of the bad roads, at times the trucks would fall on its side or totally capsize and cause serious traffic jam. On such occasion, some schoolchildren are unable to go to school for the same reason of inaccessibility.
A cleric laments about losses, negligence, appeals for help
Some of the residents recently shared their experiences with Saturday Sun with the hope that authorities concerned will get to reading it in print, feel their pulse and do something about their pitiable plight. One of them, Bishop Nath Ofor, General Overseer, Jesus Campaigners Ministry located at Osho Drive, Olodi Apapa, told this reporter that he has not ridden his car in the past two years. And, this is neither a joke nor an exaggeration. “I can’t go in, nor come out. I‘m kind of trapped,” he lamented. “My life is at risk because I always go on bike now.” He witnessed the worse of it when he had visiting guests from London recently. “They could not find a car to hire to bring them to Olodi, Apapa where I live,” he said. “The drivers refused to come because of their fear of getting trapped in the activities of truck drivers and gridlock caused by bad roads.”
But this is nothing compared with an incident that Bishop Ofor witnessed recently happen to one of his female church members, a woman who had been praying hard to God to give her a baby boy after many years of giving birth to baby girls. But when it came, she lost him in tragic circumstances caused by the same inaccessibility of the Ajegunle and Olodi, Apapa streets owing to bumper-to-fender parking of fuel tankers and articulated trucks. Today, the affected woman, the bishop reports, is inconsolable. She wished she didn’t come from Nigeria but from any other country.
“A church member gave birth to a premature baby boy but to drive the baby to a hospital in the Island so that he could be put in an incubator was a problem because there was no road for a car to do so. We spent almost eight hours before we could get to hospital. When we eventually got there, it was too late and the hospital authority rejected the baby and referred us to Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH). It was in the course of these processes that the baby died. The mother has been in trauma till today as I speak. She has been mourning because she needed a baby boy dearly after she already had three girls. She had been praying, believing God for a boy child. But when her prayer was answered and the baby came it could not last because of our bad roads. What a traumatic experience.”
Today, Ofor’s lamentation has moved from the two incidents he mentioned, the ugly experience of the overseas visitors and his member’s loss of her dear baby boy to the health, security and moral implications of the traffic lockdown. His words: “Our area is messed up with refuse dumps. Trailer drivers commit all sorts of crimes. They bath and defecate in the open because they simply have no alternative, thereby increasing the likelihood of epidemic outbreak of disease. Today, ailments like typhoid, malaria and cholera are rampant in this area. As I am talking to you, I am on medication. I went to hospital and I was diagnosed with typhoid and malaria. This is as a result of dirty environment. Go to hospitals around here and you will find sick patients. Some of these hospitals are filled up; there are no longer spaces to keep patients. I saw a patient receiving ‘drip’ while sitting on a chair because there was no bed space for him. Immorality, too, has become the order of the day. Prostitutes come around here and what more do you expect? The truck drivers use any available space to have carnal knowledge of them, right in the open.”
Church attendance drops
It has also affected church attendance, he admitted. Most of his church members living in surrounding city outlays like FESTAC, Okokomaiko and Navy Town, can no longer attend church services because of the condition of the roads, he lamented. Even those who live within the church vicinity won’t come because they can’t walk their children to the church. Neither can they drive because of the roads. “Spiritually, it is affecting the church members,” he said. “People are packing out of the area. Most unfortunately, little schoolchildren have no road on which to walk, sometimes they fall into gutters and soil their uniforms, while trying to find a way on the bad roads. Their parents can’t drive them to school, for those that have cars, because of the ugly situation. It is worse during the weekdays, and worse still, whenever it rains. The only means of transportation is bike, which has also affected cost of transportation. Some distance where we used to pay N50, it is now N100. Where the bike owners used to take N100, they now collect N200. This has also increased the level of risk. In recent times, many people have been involved in bike accidents and most of them are fatal as most times it involves bike and trailer.”
He blames the ever-deteriorating situation on local authorities and some security agencies whom he alleged collect money from truck drivers and allow them to park anywhere they saw space on the streets. “While others are in pains, some are enjoying it,” he said. Unfortunately, he added, it is not a problem or challenge that suffering Nigerians who are used to fending for themselves, can do something about. He wished they could take care of the bad roads like they have been taking care of other amenities of life. Unfortunately, in this case, they are decidedly helpless. “I have never seen such a pitiable condition since I came to Lagos,” Ofor sighed as he said so. “We really need divine intervention, physically and spiritually. There is a limit to what the citizens can do. They provide water for themselves by digging borehole, provide electricity too by using generating set but unfortunately they can’t repair roads.”
Traders, businessmen complain about business lull
Talking about business lull caused by the traffic situation, Ifeanyi Onuora, spare parts dealer at Alhaji Kareem, Olodi, Apapa is a living witness as he complained about drastic fall in his business earnings and the ever-spiraling costs of running the business, for more than three years, owing to the situation.
Speaking to Saturday Sun, on behalf of others, he said: “It has affected our business totally. After clearing the goods from the wharf, it used to take us about two to three days to get the containers to the warehouse, but now it takes us about five days or a week to do that. Even to return the empty containers to the seaport is a war. Before now, it took 2 to 3 days to return them to the ports, but now it takes up to 7 to 8 days. Another problem with this is that the clearing agents refundable deposits of about N200, 000 to N300,000 after returning the empty container, but when it overstays as a result of bad roads and the congestion, the importer loses the deposit. At times, they pay more depending on the extra number of days it took them to return the container. This has caused an increase in the prices of goods. Not only that, they pay money at each junction to local authorities and security agents. Initially, to bring in container of goods to Trinity, Olodi, Apapa was about N80, 000 to N100, 000 for a 40ft container, but now it costs between N350,000 and N400, 000. It has increased the prices of goods. Motor engine that we used to sell at N120, 000 now goes for N150, 000 because those extra expenses would be added. Yet the economy is bad. The container has prevented the customers to even come and buy.”
Given the dire situation, he sued for urgent government intervention. “We are begging the government to come to our rescue. The government should talk to shipping companies that bring in the containers to take them back to Europe so that Nigeria will be free from empty containers.”
Cosmas Anosike, a spare parts dealer also located on the same street lamented the fall in his daily business earnings which he claimed has been reduced as a result of the present condition. “I used to make about N10, 000 to N20, 000 profit a day as income, but now it has been reduced to about N5, 000.”
Anthony Chidi who owns a beer parlour on the same Alhaji Kareem Street, Olodi, Apapa, complained that those who supply drinks to him, can’t get to bring them in any longer. So, he decided to devise another means to solve the problem. But that has caused a price hike on the drinks and he is worried about the situation. “Instead of selling a bottle of beer at N200, we sell at N250 and our customers are complaining,” he said. “Soft drinks that we are supposed to sell for N50, we now sell at N100. It has also brought down the volume of sales.”
Clearing agent relocates, suggests solution
Eugene Mmeka, a clearing agent said he used to live in Olodi, Apapa, but the deteriorating traffic situation there has caused him to move to another part of Lagos. Mmeka who told Saturday Sun that he lived in that area throughout his youthful age, spanning more than twenty years, and in fact, rose to become the Chairman of Adeniyi Jones Street, Olodi, Apapa, and held the post for eight years.
Asked about his experience, he said it is something of a mixed grill, a mixture of the good and the bad. His words: “I will take the good first; Olodi is an area for young and energetic people who want to survive. If you take the statistics of people living and working in Ikoyi, Victoria Island, Ajah and its environs, 60% of them left Olodi, what is called Ajegunle. They are doing well in their chosen professions. They include musicians, footballers, among others. It is rather unfortunate that today most of them don’t like associating or being associated with the place. But those of us who are proud of that area would continue to be proud of the place for making us what we are.”.
Next he talked about the bad: the ever-worsening traffic situation that has made every street in the area inaccessible. He expressed his disappointment that all his efforts, as chairman, to ensure that the truck menace in the area is tackled proved abortive. He explained why. “We, as street chairmen, could not do much because we were restricted by the fact that what we were doing was not protected under any law. You can only run to the Police for protection and depending on who is there and the person’s perception of security. We tried to secure our people first before any other thing”.
He regrets also that their efforts to ensure that trucks did not ply the streets did also not yield much fruit. “We were aware that they could run down any child that was playing along the street,” he said. “We also ensured that we carried our people along to the point that even when you were not there as the Chairman, people could come out and prevent the recalcitrant drivers from using the street. We also wrote series of letters to the local and state governments cataloguing our problems and updating them on the menace. We ensured that streets were protected with gates and security men were always on guard. We brainstormed on monthly basis, discussed security issues, analyzed and proffered solutions. It goes without saying that one of the major issues that emanated from the issue in discourse was increase in robbery. We did our best to curtail it. We bought whistles and distributed to all compounds. If you notice any unusual movement at midnight, you were expected to blow the whistle. All these were done in concert with the Police who most of the time were on alert and answered when we called.”
Mmeka who served as the Acting Chairman of Community Development Association in the area talked about efforts by others to tackle the seeming intractable problem. “I will tell you that tackling the menace is not a one-man show. Several associations during the period under review tried to stop it. There is an association of retired military personnel living in the area. They came together and wrote a letter to the state government. I can tell you that nothing was heard of the letter. At the community level, we also wrote to the state government, but the interest groups I mentioned earlier are enjoying it because it has become instant ATM machine for some people, while it is causing economic, social as well as environmental degradation of the area. In fact, these groups are so powerful that they ensure that whatever letter you write will not see the light of the day.”
According to him, it was when he discovered it to be a battle he cannot win that he decided to relocate to another part of Lagos. Asked why he did that, he replied: “Fighting the battle to an end is different from fighting a battle to its logical conclusion. If I have to fight to the end, it means I may not have to move to another area of Lagos as long as the ‘battle’ rages, but fighting to its logical conclusion could take months, years and I am done with it. So, it got to a point where I discovered that it was not worth fighting for. It placed me on a collision course with established interests in the area and I do not have the power to confront them. As they say: ‘He who fights and run away lives to fight another day”. Thank God I was able to move at the time I did; it took the man in me to be able to do that.”
All the same, he is all too eager to provide solution to the situation, when asked. “The governments at all levels knows what to do,” he insists. “I am sure there has been various presentations to them on the issue. Be that as it may, they should quickly conclude work on the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway. I am equally aware that Porto Novo garage is now functional as well as the Abuja Park in Lagos. These are not enough.
They should give further directives to all truck owners and drivers to keep off the road except when they are called to come and load their trucks. To this end, they should establish another garage that could take between a thousand five hundred and two thousand trucks. They should equally have a communication equipment to call drivers to come and load their trucks. Again, they should re-introduce timing for trucks, and where they are expected to move at a particular time of the day. This law should apply to all articulated vehicles.”