It took the combined force of stakeholders (including the Nigerian Navy and the Lagos State Government (LASG)––and the invocation of national security––to hand down a 48-hour ultimatum to tanker drivers to dismantle the vexing gridlock created by their presence in the Apapa axis of Lagos.
The March 7 resolution of the stakeholders, which also comprised of the Police, Nigerian Ports Authority and Nigerian Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), was a big respite for Lagos’ road users.
The development particularly drew a big sigh of relief from Apapa residents whose lives in the past few months had been made miserable by the siege on their neighbourhood by trucks, trailers, tankers and articulated vehicles forcing their ways to the Apapa Ports.
At its worst, the traffic gridlock grounded vehicular traffic in a five-kilometre radius that created bottlenecks on the Apapa/Oshodi and Ijora-Costain-Ojuelegba road trunks. But the relief was short-lived.
Tales of Woes
The tribulation of residents of the port town in the last few months is a series of frustrations that stemmed from the loss of livelihood to loss of man-hour to stressful living. Their throes are better imagined than experienced.
For Okegbemi, who lives and work within Apapa Local Government Area, a snapshot of his daily life is an ugly experience. The transporter who lives on Kofo Abayomi Street avows that the traffic imbroglio started when different tankers began to have easy access to the port. “Every angle of Apapa now has a problem with road access. For months now, I have been unable to use my personal car, except when going out for business.”
For him, going out to the Island or the Mainland is a big problem. “From Ijora Olopa, it takes me about four hours to get home, and most times, I am filled with fear, because the way the whole place is clogged up makes it convenient for robberies to take place.”
What is more heartbroken for him is the gradual degradation of the Apapa environment.
“During the raining season, our street is filled with flood to the extent that our houses are submerged, especially those living on ground floors. Due to the fact that tankers have parked everywhere, it is difficult for sanitation workers to come inside Apapa. All gutters are blocked and the whole street smells and when rain falls, the flood brings dirt into our homes. This has been our suffering for the past eight years.”
Okegbemi is especially nostalgic about the yesteryears of Apapa when it used to be one of Lagos’s premium places to live. Ten years ago, according to him, Apapa was decent. He enjoyed himself and his business went on fine. “I would go out and spend just 45 minutes to drive from Apapa to the International airport,” he recalls.
Back in those days, he remembers that there were not many petroleum depots aside the one at the naval base. Today, from Apapa to Kirikiri, oil depots are a dime a dozen and have become the major cause of traffic congestion that is making life difficult for owners of small cars who daily have to contend with the threat of falling containers.
He recalls a fire incident that gutted a depot two years ago.
“The fire broke out because two depots were sited close to each. The inferno damaged properties of innocent people simply because they lived close by.”
He conjures worst-case scenarios for simple citizens like himself. “Imagine a pregnant woman that has to get to the hospital in a case of emergency. She won’t ever get there on time; same applied to a sick person.”
Where the shoe really pinches him is the soaring cost of living in the Apapa neighbourhood. “I am finding it difficult to do something for myself, which is affecting me seriously,” he says. “I buy fuel of N12, 000 weekly. How much do I earn in return? Imagine if I were a salary earner. How will I cope? If this situation continues, how would I be able to feed my family?”
Many occupants have moved out of the neighbourhood “except a few of us,” he said.
His biggest fear: “If this situation continues, I might end up bankrupt and will have to leave Apapa.”
Babatunde Ahmed, who runs a car rental at Kazuma Street, also complains about the rising cost of living in Apapa. “In the good old days, I made about N15, 000 daily. Nowadays, I could spend an average of four hours in the traffic and still not get a single customer. How will I feed my family? And the stress too can cause someone sickness.”
Ahmed had watched with unease his source of livelihood dwindling over the years, his resources drying up due to the gridlock that builds up perennially along the Apapa axis. “But for Okada riders, it is really not easy entering into our place of work,” he reiterates.
While Chinwere Okoh is not a resident, she nonetheless shares in the daily suffering of Apapa where her phone shop is located. “You can’t even see a car or bus except you take a bike,” she says of her daily journey from her house in Festac. What that means is a skyrocketing daily transport expenditure.
That, coupled with of low-level patronage: “Business is not as brisk as it used to be because people cannot come into Apapa, therefore, the number of customers that patronized me has fallen drastically in the past few months.”
With no other means of survival, she is trusting God that things will change. Otherwise, the writing on the wall is clear: her business is living on borrowed time.
In the case of Showemimo Azeez who has been working for 25 years at the port neighbourhood as a clearing and forwarding agent he has reached the brink of endurance. All this while, he has been shuttling between his workplace at No. 47 Calcrick Street and his home in Sango, a far-flung suburb close to Ogun State.
“Apapa is hell,” he begins, “with the situation we have now, no normal human being can live and survive here for five to 10 years except by the grace of God.”
He goes further: “It’s not easy spending N4,000 daily on transportation from Sango to Apapa, and manouvering dangerously among tankers, all in the name of survival.”
As bleak as the situation portends, Azeez can see light at the ends of the tunnel. He is optimistic that the Leventis-Wharf Gate Road currently under construction, once completed, will bring relief to the denizens of the Apapa conurbation.