Last week, this newspaper published a detailed investigation which revealed how security agencies have consistently taken advantage of truckers and owners of cargoes meant for export.
The story, which detailed the involvement of officials the Nigerian Port Authority (NPA), Nigerian Navy, Nigerian Police, Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) and the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), once again gives the impression that the Apapa traffic gridlock is a honey pot, hence difficult to arrest.
The port city of Apapa is very strategic to the economy of Nigeria, it is linked to the rest of Lagos by two major highways; the Apapa – Oshodi expressway and the Western Avenue (Funso Willaims Avenue). Of course, it can also be approached by water from Mile Two (on the mainland) and Marina (on the Island).
May we also add that robbery attacks are a common thing on the two access roads, the Ijora axis being the more notorious.
What is happening in Apapa is not unexpected, given its privileged location as home to Nigeria’s two foremost ports which are currently being managed by nine terminal operators. Between the two ports (Lagos Port Complex and Tin Can Island Port) more than 65 percent of dry cargoes and about 90 per cent of the nation’s liquid (petroleum products) are handled. This is because it hosts about 45 tank farms (and still counting). These are in addition to the many banks, shipping companies/agencies, licensed customs offices, factories and numerous other businesses that are located in this port city.
Before the traffic menace enveloped it, it used to be a thriving, attractive and very busy city, with free flowing vehicular and human traffic; this is in addition to other human endeavours that take place there. It is so sad that Apapa has now turned to a failed city; a bedlam of chaos and no-go-area for many.
The present state of two approaches has terribly impacted negatively on the highbrow residential areas like Apapa GRA, Beachland estate, and of course, the low income residential areas such as Ajegunle and Ijora.
No matter the argument, the presence of petroleum products tank farms has brought untold hardships to residents, owners of businesses, motorists and workers in Apapa.
We recall that, in a bid to stem the tide of debilitating traffic into the port city of Apapa, the Federal Government constituted a task team headed The task team headed (on paper) by Vice President; Yemi Osinbajo, but also had a former Commissioner for transport in Lagos state; Mr Kayode Opeifa as the Vice Chairman, and the man-on-ground.
The mandate given to the ‘Opeifa team’ was to ensure that, all stationary, immovable, accidented, incidented or wrongfully parked trucks are removed on all port access roads to a designated impound yard.
While rendering account of the team’s stewardship, Opeifa said the team was able to achieve about 100 per cent of terms of reference which included short, medium and long term solutions.
“We have been able to eliminate the issue of extortion levelled against the military taskforce earlier set up for management of traffic in the axis. You can take a check round and ask the truckers and port operators they will tell you things have changed for the good. The achievement was however, due to support and cooperation of all stakeholders of which I can’t practically mention, because they are numerous.”
Arguably, the team’s greatest achievement, apart from ensuring that a certain degree of sanity returned to the roads leading into and out of Apapa was the elimination of extortion of truck drivers by security agents.
Truck drivers and owners had, towards the tail end of the assignment of the Opeifa team, attested to the fact that the task team brought respite and that what used to be a thriving extortion business no longer exists.
Sadly, a few days after the deluge of commendation, the traffic and the road rage reappeared. It appeared like the Task Team failed!
It is a shock that all efforts aimed at stemming the tide of the embarrassment called Apapa traffic have failed.
Even though opinions are divided, there is nexus between the closure of the NPA-owned Lillypond truck park and the resurgence of traffic gridlock to Apapa port.
Apparently in response to last year’s mayhem at the facilities, the NPA locked up the facility at Ijora. The terminal was converted for use as Transit Park for trucks waiting to be called into the ports. It was serving that purpose creditably until the fracas between the hoodlums and the Lagos state government officials, snowballed into mass destruction of properties at the Ijora terminal.
Even though no one wants to point a finger, it is a fact that, the present chaotic traffic in and around Apapa is a reaction to NPA’s decision to seal-up the facility.
As it stands now, and going by its own admission, the Opeifa-led Task Team of the Federal Government has completed its assignment. So the question is- who is in charge of Apapa traffic control.
Prior to the 2019 mayhem at Ijora, there have been allegations of extortion, a development that the team leader; Mr Opeifa denied vehemently. He likened the allegation to a case of corruption fighting back.
As much as we tend to believe that the team was infallible, we can not also vouch that every member of the team and by extension their foot soldiers are equally above board.
If anyone was in doubt, last week undercover investigation by Shipping Position Daily should have cleared this.
The story revealed how a truck that wants expedited passage into the port pays as much as N93,000 the officials listed above
The fact is that those who benefit from the gridlock will not want an end to it.
Stakeholders have proffered divergent solutions, top among which is that shipping companies should have holding bays for empty containers, another is that the two truck transit parks owned by NPA (Ijora inclusive) should adopt the use of electronic call-up system.
But, we are not quite sure these will materialize because of the hawks that have found easy prey in the truck owners and drivers.