The perennial gridlock along the Oshodi-Apapa Expressway and other routes leading to the Lagos ports seems to have left all government agencies at all levels at their wits’ end.
The traffic congestion has taken a new dimension, defying all suggestions and recommendations. Merely looking at the long stretch of trucks from Mile 2 and its environs inwards the ports will certainly unsettle a visitor to the area. The chaos has further heightened the already harrowing ordeals of other motorists plying the busy expressway, as they are left at the mercy of hoodlums who attack them in broad daylight and at night.
On different occasions, many motorists and commuters have been dispossessed of their valuables by hoodlums who capitalise on the ugly development. On many occasions, lives have been lost to some traffic robbers. Vehicles and motorcycles going against traffic have knocked down pedestrians, and dispatched them to their graves. Others are left with varied degrees of injuries.
The problem has pushed many business owners out of Apapa to other locations, while many companies were swallowed by the traffic jam. The economic losses are unquantifiable.
Perturbed by the lingering affliction unleashed on the people, on January 23, truck owners and drivers who are discharging and loading goods from Apapa and Tin Can ports, again cried out over the agony they go through on the roads leading to the ports. They lamented that the mayhem has become unbearable.
At the meeting, the stakeholders, including members of the elders’ forum of truckers in the maritime industry, converged on Villa Park Hotel, Lagos, to call on the authorities to look into their plight and find a lasting solution to it.
Both greenhorns and those who have spent decades in the business seized the opportunity to vent their anger. They all wanted to say something about their daily ordeals in the hands of official and unofficial agents that collect all forms of levies from them.
One of the stakeholders, Alhaji Ishola Salami, said truckers sometimes pay as much as N200,000 to unofficial hands between Mile 2 and Tin Can Island Port, while entering or exiting the port. He said that such extortion should not be allowed to continue to the detriment of people who are carrying out legitimate business.
Salami said, despite the importance and sensitive roles that truck operators play in the cargo movement chain, they are yet faced with frustrating and dehumanising experiences daily.
“We are faced with wanton extortion under many guises that sometimes leave us going home empty-handed despite our hard work. There is endless harassment and so much intimidation on the road. This comes with damage to our vehicles and injuries to the drivers and their assistants.
“There have been thefts of cargo being moved by our members, thereby placing indemnity and burden to pay cargo owners on the truckers. Robbers have attacked and injured many of our drivers while in traffic congestion. The drivers eat, sleep, bathe and even defecate on the road.
“Our drivers and assistants live in trucks for about a month while trying to access the ports to pick or return empty containers. There is also difficulty in accessing and exiting designated truck parks in Tin Can and Lilypond.
“All these add to our cost of doing business, almost leaving us with nothing to take home as profit from our services. It has forced some of our members to go out of business while others have reduced the number of their trucks. This has led to loss of jobs for over 2,000 persons in Lagos alone, ranging from drivers, motor boys, technicians, dealers in spare parts and other ancillary service providers.” he said.
Salami regretted that many truck drivers have contracted different terminal diseases, while others lost their lives as a result of the chaos on the road.
Also, a truck owner, Mr. Stephen Omotayo, said the major challenge facing them was the inability of the drivers to easily return empty containers to the appropriate holding bays.
He said that everybody had, until now, been blaming the poor state of the Apapa-Wharf Road to be causing the perennial gridlock, but since the road has been reconstructed and opened for use, it has become obvious that the problem went beyond the bad roads.
He said that several measures, including deployment of naval officers, the use of transport unions, and the presidential task force to arrest the traffic congestion have failed to address the situation.
He, therefore, called on the Federal Government to disband the presidential task force drafted recently to maintain sanity on the road. He accused some members of the team of compounding the drivers’ woes.
One of the speakers at the meeting, Mr. Salam Adewale, said that making use of the waterways to transport goods out of the ports was capable of reducing the bottlenecks and pains that truck drivers have been suffering from for years. He described the challenges truckers go through in the axis as multifaceted, and, unless other means of transportation were utilised to convey cargoes in and out of the ports, the gridlock would continue on all the routes leading to Apapa, Tin Can Ports and the terminals in the axis.
He said that it was painful when other road users erroneously believe that truck and tanker drivers were responsible for the unending gridlock on the route.
“For over 10 years, we have been battling with this crisis. A lot of options have been tried in the past but none seems to have worked. It becomes more painful when you read reports that truck drivers have blocked the roads. The truth is that we suffer more consequence than anyone else.
“We will be happy if this task force is disbanded because the officials are yet to find a lasting solution to the traffic. Our sufferings even increased in their hands. Our various unions can actually come together to form a special team to maintain sanity on the road. But the government is not ready to listen to us for reasons not explained to us.
“It is sad and frustrating. When we came into the business about 15 years ago, we could embark on two or more trips a day. But at the moment, it takes us an average of one month to complete one trip.
“Drivers who give bribes to official and unofficial agents are doing so out of frustration. Some do it in order to beat the stipulated days of return of empty containers to the holding bays. Depending on your bargaining power, at times companies pay as much as N250,000 for their trucks to enter the port to load, while many of us that cannot give such money watch and wait patiently for up to one month before it gets to our turn,” Adewale said.
He tasked the Federal Government to invest in other ports in the South-South and South-East and open them for business so that the high volume of activities at the Lagos ports could be drastically reduced.
The truck drivers also bemoaned the huge demurrage being collected by shipping companies as a result of delay caused by the traffic congestion. It was disclosed that some shipping companies charge between N30,000 and N50,000 daily as demurrage on empty containers.
They also accused the shipping agencies and terminal operators of not adhering to the concession agreement they reached with the Federal Government. The stakeholders argued that the agreement expects the agencies to have holding bays where importers that have finished with their containers and need to deliver them empty should go to and drop them. From there, according to them, the shipping agencies will organise, in an orderly manner, to evacuate those containers to their ships through the port.