Peering at the endless queue of trucks ahead of him on Old-Ojo Road, Hamzat, a truck driver, said that most drivers were overwhelmed by their ordeal.
For thousands of residents of Kirikiri, a popular Lagos community sandwiched between Ajegunle and Amuwo-Odofin, 2018 would remain an unforgettable year.
It was the year that they became prisoners in their own homes. Accessing and leaving their homes or places of work within the community became war. Whether in the morning, afternoon or night, Kirikiri and its residents became hemmed in by articulated vehicles in a way that had never been seen.
When John and Ifeoma, a newlywed couple moved into their new apartment in Kirikiri Town, they enthusiastically looked forward to a life of bliss in a secure environment. Six years down the line, that euphoria has been replaced with regrets and losses. For the couple and their two children, the heavy presence of articulated vehicles has turned their lives into a living nightmare.
For many, the mere mention of Kirikiri Town in Amuwo-Odofin Local Government Area readily brings to mind one of the most notorious prisons in Nigeria, the Kirikiri Prisons. Though this industrial town actually houses the penitentiaries, residents and business owners alike in the area now feel like real prisoners, confined and condemned to a life of perpetual pain and agony. For them, the town is under siege.
The area synonymous with bonded container terminals presently paints a picture of anger and despondency. Lamentations and pain from the area daily make the headlines.
For quite some time now, life in the streets of Kirikiri and environs, like Alahu Osumba, Old Ojo Road, Comfort Oboh, Ifebanjo and Monkey Village, among others, leaves much to be desired.
The place is presently shuddering under unsavoury experiences dished out by lawless truck drivers who daily unleash woes in generous doses on the people in the form of gridlocks.
Residents have watched haplessly as container trucks of various shapes and sizes descended on the area like a swarm of locusts, occupying all road and open spaces in the axis.
For months now, people in the area have silently borne the suffering imposed on them by the truck drivers who have turned all the access roads into a parking lot. It has become practically impossible to navigate.
What should be a less-than-two-minute drive through the axis has turned to hours of trauma. Many have lost count of the times they have had to sleep in their vehicles or offices because of gridlocks.
At all times, the trucks, all moving to and from the Apapa ports, take over the access roads as they wait on queues to load or offload containers at the various terminals within the axis.
The drivers, who do not have regard for other road users, endanger the lives of people who are trapped in the midst of the container-trucks. Their indiscriminate parking has caused unquantifiable losses in man hours, disabilities and deaths.
Motorists, pedestrians, residents and even commercial motorcyclists that have been caught in the traffic snarls created by these trucks usually have tales of agony to tell.
Criss-crossing the roads, especially aboard commercial motorcycles, is always a dangerous exercise. The gridlock stretches permanently from Second Rainbow Bus Stop, along the Oshodi-Mile 2-Apapa Expressway down to Tin-Can Island and even the Lagos-Badagry Expressway. Business activities in the area have been paralysed. Traders now lament lack of patronage, noting that most customers now dread the area like a plague.
Though the gridlock has been blamed on the ongoing port road construction and unavailability of parking spaces for the trucks at the ports, the traders have maintained that government should do something about the distressing situation.
Anazodo Vitalis, a spare parts dealer on Comfort Oboh Street, said feeding his family has become hard, as the articulated vehicles have made it impossible for people to access the street.
“Everywhere is full of tankers. For over a week now, I have not made any sales. No one has even asked me the price of any of my goods. Please, tell the government that we are suffering in this area. This traffic has brought bad luck to us in Kirikiri. Every area of our lives has become paralysed by the activities of these truck drivers. In fact, prisoners inside Kirikiri Prisons are better than us. Government should either get them off the roads completely or make them park on a lane,” Anazodo appealed.
Baba Funsho, a landlord on Comfort Oboh Street, also lamented: “We don’t know what we have done to the state government. We have been suffering terribly in the hands of these truck drivers. Most of us have not been able to move our vehicles out in months because of them. Ambode should come to our aid.”
Pa Christopher Nwatu, a retired soldier, who claimed to have been residing in the town since 1979, said Kirikiri experienced absolute peace when the only means of accessing the town was through a wooden bridge. He regretted that with the advent of a modern bridge, the trucks became the people’s albatross.
“Going to service at St. Paul’s Anglican Church has become a living nightmare for me and others. Mostly in the past, I have witnessed terrible accidents caused by trucks. The first concrete bridge constructed here collapsed owing to their activities and they are at it again. Now they are everywhere. Even for residents to access their homes has become a big problem. The naval officers are really trying. If not for them, the town would have been overrun by these reckless truck drivers. It now appears these trucks are one fear we have to live with for a very long time,” he said.
Mrs. Doris Oramalu, a trader resident in the town, noted that Kirikiri, being a small town, records the highest influx of trucks, which causes hardship for residents. She lamented that the past few months have been hellish and she has concluded plans to relocate to another part of Lagos.
Lamenting the mass exodus of tenants from his property, Alhaji Suraju Adedini said two flats have been vacated by tenants and he has been unable to get new occupants to move in. He noted that such had become the sad plight of most landlords in Kirikiri Town.
For some of the truck drivers, the development has also been unpalatable as they are forced to stay on a spot for days without an inkling of when they would finally get to offload their containers.
Peering at the endless queue of trucks ahead of him on Old-Ojo Road, Hamzat, a truck driver, said that most drivers were already overwhelmed by their ordeal.
He attributed the endless gridlock often witnessed in the area to impatience on the part of his fellow truck drivers.
According to him, operators of dry dock terminals leave drivers unattended to and subject them to harsh conditions for days or weeks. This, he said, leaves the truck drivers frustrated and angry.
According to another driver, Elonna Oba, the drivers are at a loss on how to solve the problem. He noted that immediately goods are offloaded from a container, the driver is given a permit to drop the empty container at any authorized terminal. However, lately, the terminals are usually filled up, leaving drivers with no choice than to wait for days or weeks for a ship to berth and pick up empty containers so as to create space.
“Apart from that, most of the roads to these terminals are in terrible shape. We risk not only damaging our trucks while trying to access the docks but also our lives. Inside the dock, we have to also be careful while climbing to avoid our containers or trucks from falling and causing accident. The terrible behaviour of terminal officials is not also helping issues,” he said.
One of the naval officers deployed to the area to help ensure free flow of traffic, who chose not to be named, said he could not blame the truck drivers. He blamed operators of the terminals for the problems in Kirikiri.
He said: “When the queue becomes long and you go in to inquire what the problem is, it is either their crane has broken down, or there is no space. And these men are expected to wait for days or weeks, pending when the faults are rectified. By that time they would have become restless and sometimes aggressive. Also, by then, their presence on the road would have started causing untold hardship.”
Describing the whole scenario as a mess, a resident who bemoaned the daily gridlock in the area said living in Kirikiri could only be compared to living in a hell hole. She noted that the truck drivers now park on Kirikiri Link Bridge and block the place for hours without allowing residents access to their homes.
“The police within Kirikiri, Festac Town and Agboju appear to be collaborating with these truck drivers to make life unbearable. Naval officers have been our only saving grace here,” she said.
Mr. Waheed Uthman, a landlord in the town, stressed that only government could bring lasting reprieve, as solutions proffered during numerous meetings in the past by landlords’ associations with various stakeholders were futile.
To many Nigerians, the situation in Kirikiri has further brought to the fore the ineptitude of statutory bodies charged with the responsibility to ensure safety and orderliness on Nigerian roads.
A community leader in Kirikiri Town, Segun Nzewi, said concerted action was required from government to check the excesses of truck drivers, especially in Lagos. He also called for designated holding bays as well as the streamlining of enforcement agencies for effective and result-oriented operations.