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Apapa Gridlock: Searching Long For Lasting Respite

Scene of chaos at Apapa road 															                    PHOTO: CHARLES OKOLO
Scene of chaos at Apapa road PHOTO: CHARLES OKOLO

LONG queues of petrol tankers and other heavy-duty trucks have become a perennial part of the Oshodi-Apapa expressway, especially at the Sanya-Apapa section of the road. Tankers and trucks are parked on both fast and service lanes, leaving no room for other road users. Besides the vexatious action, the drivers of these monsters use the subdued section of the road for all manners of activities including bathing and defecating. With nostrils harassed by stench, hapless motorists waste precious time, as a five-minute trip sometimes last a grueling three hours!

Occasionally, however, commuters experience a moment’s relief whenever the government bares its fangs and threatens stiff penalty or holds a roundtable with the drivers’ umbrella body, the Petrol Tanker Drivers Association (PTD). A semblance of order descends on the area for some two or three days, after which the unruly motorists return.

Attempt to get the Lagos State Commissioner for Information, Mr. Steve Ayorinde, to comment on why the state government appears unable to combat the menace permanently, especially after meetings held with the union of tanker drivers and an agreement reached, was unsuccessful. He did not pick his calls or reply to text message sent to him.

The Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Habib Aruna, however, said the governor is determined to ensure free flow of traffic on the route, which was why he had given an ultimatum to that effect.

In recent times, though, the roads to Apapa have been relatively free, aiding easy movement of vehicles, especially at the Ijora end. But the story is not altogether the same at the Mile 2 axis where trucks have taken over a lane. The management of the Nigerian Ports Authority and other stakeholders are said to have agreed that the drivers should park in this way, rather than take over the entire road completely. As a result, two other free lanes are left for the use of other motorists; hence the disappearance of the gridlock.

The Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) says it has taken proactive measure to ensure free flow of traffic at port corridors and access roads. The General Manager, in charge of Western Ports, Chief Michael Ajayi, said synergy between NPA and other stakeholders culminated in free flow of traffic.

He noted that the NPA, Association of Maritime Transport Owners, Lagos State Ministry of Transport and the Lagos State Transport Management Authority (LASTMA) sat and decided that articulated vehicles without prior permission would not be allowed into the port.

“The roads into and around Apapa are in a network; when one is blocked, others will be affected. The trucks loiter around, blocking off the roads. We have cleared them away. Henceforth, any truck without authority to load will not have access to the port environment,” he said, adding that enforcement of the agreement has been effective, and “that is why the roads are free.”

Ajayi blamed corruption by security agents as responsible for traffic gridlock in the area, accusing them of collecting money and turning a blind eye to indiscriminate parking of trucks. “We have set up a committee to investigate all cases of extortion and indiscriminate parking. The committee is doing its work, and this has also contributed to free traffic,” he said.

Again, Ajayi said efficient port operations; speedy discharge and delivery of goods have helped to free the roads.

On whether reduction in imports and cargo at the ports might have been responsible for the traffic relief, Ajayi acknowledged there has indeed been a reduction. He was, however, quick to add: “the drop in import is not too fundamental to free the roads of gridlock”.

But the President, Association of Maritime Transport Owners (AMATO), Mr. Ogungbemi, maintained: “The port access roads are now free because the volume of import and export has reduced drastically.”

According to him, “The reduction is a response to the economic situation of the country. The port is becoming dry with fewer activities each day, due to the economic policies of government. The most essential of the issues is the exchange rate.

“The value of the naira to a dollar is high, making it difficult for people to import and export goods. Businessmen have stayed away from the ports pending the time the naira would attain a value considered reasonable enough to do business. As it is now, it has become a high risk to import items until the economy survives the shocks. Most of the transporters don’t have anything to do because of the drop in volume of import. It is only when goods arrive that there will be something to carry, but there are no goods to carry, because goods are simply not coming in.”

Some residents say the government is at its wit’s end on how to curb the menace. Others believe the drivers have simply become untouchable. Again, while some have expressed disappointment at government’s failure to implement agreement reached with the drivers’ union, others stress that with former Lagos State governor, Babatunde Fashola, now Minister for Works, the Federal Government must find a lasting solution, especially as the latter had blamed the same government while he was at the helms of affairs in the state.

On a typical day, the road is so gridlocked, even Lagos motorbikes with a reputation for being able to meander past the worst traffic logjam get stuck. Impatient and frustrated road users complicate the situation by driving against the traffic in order to break free from the chaos. Amid the ‘one-way’ pandemonium, commercial motorists park indiscriminately and pick or drop passengers. Of course, the bedlam is often not without accidents that sometimes claim lives.

Echoing the words of the General Manager, in charge of Western Ports, Chief Michael Ajayi, one tanker driver from Plateau State, who had come to lift fuel at a tank farm in Coconut, told The Guardian he paid N500 to some police officers in exchange for permission to park illegally, adding that the practice was the norm. Another, Bode, a bus driver on the Oshodi-Coconut axis also told how police officers accosted him for driving against the traffic, but let him off the hook after N100 had greased the cop’s palm.

Regretting the recklessness of motorcyclists on the route, one Theophilus said: “The bikers speed like they are being chased by the devil. Recently, a friend boarded a bike. The rider went carelessly near a moving truck and the friend’s shirt got hooked to the truck. Both men fell to the road and were lucky to have escaped with injuries.

Spilling his frustration on menace by the tanker drivers, Mr. Otunba Oliver said: “Though I work with these people, they are a bunch of nuisance. In fact, we call them hired assassins, because they do not obey traffic rules and have no value for human lives.” He said the unpleasant situation created by the tanker drivers affects his business adversely, as many man-hours are lost and unwanted expenses incurred.

“Working in Apapa is a pain,” said Mr. Joseph Babangida, a banker. “The traffic situation is horrible. Over the years, it has moved from bad to worse. The people, here, are helpless, hoping that someday, somehow, things would change. Many people take to using commercial motorcycles as a less agonising, quite dangerous and more expensive alternative,” he stressed.

An auditor, Mrs. Tochukwu Ibe, said since she was posted to Apapa, she had been forced to abandon the use of her car. “I never knew Apapa road was this bad till I was drafted here,” she lamented. “The first day I drove to the new office, I was four hours late, as a result of the gridlock caused by a combination of the bad road, and tankers parked indiscriminately. Following that nerve-wracking experience, I have since learnt to leave my car at home and hop on a motorcycle. It is more expensive and very risky. But it is the only solution if I desire to get to the office in time. I have only been here two weeks and I can’t wait to be posted out!”