*It’s hell living here

BY IFEANYI OKOLIE
IN 2007, when Chinedu Uzoma, moved into his new apartment in a remote part of Kirikiri Town Lagos, he had no reasons to regret, given the existing security and the cozy nature of the area.

But this prevailing comfort and joy was soon to be cut short by some oil firms which invaded the town with giant tank farms for storage of liquid petroleum products. This development was to turn their lives into a nightmare, as residents could no longer sleep with their eyes closed, owing to the fear of explosion that could reduce the community into ashes.

Meanwhile the tank farms, situated some few metres away from residential homes, are currently causing panic following the massive influx of trailer tankers which come to lift petroleum products. Residents are more worried by the fact that petrol carrying tankers also park very close to the open fire of women vending fries at the road  sides. Apart from that, there is also the added problem that the tankers over-stay their welcome, thus  grounding the flow of traffic in the area. Residents now daily live in fear of an imminent fire explosion, either from the tank farms, constructed without adequate fire fighting equipment or from the trailer tankers hauling the products.

Residents are equally  disturbed by the way and manner the tanker drivers carry out their activities which they regard as a serious threat to their peace and safety and so would want the authorities to call them to order by putting a stop to their illegalities.

Uzoma and other residents of his area told Vanguard Metro that life is no longer fun since the tank farms began operation. “We can no longer go about our lawful businesses peacefully since these tank farms began operation.  They block access to our streets such that we can no longer move about with our cars as in the past.  I now park my car at Mile 2 and in the morning when I am going to work I rush to Mile 2 to pick it. If  I don’t do that, it’s impossible of taking it out from my street”.

So far, Kirikiri Town, which houses some of the nation’s largest prisons and provides link to a high grade military facility where  military equipment are stored,  has been taken over by the tankers as they now park on both sides of the street as they wait for their turns. As a result, residents  now gain access into their homes in pain, as small vehicles  and motorbikes can no longer access their streets in the area.

According to Uzoma, who was obviously frustrated about the situation. “It is a terrible situation and we don’t know when it will end. When I moved into this town in 2007, there was nothing like this. Then the roads were free, except for some small vehicles parked along the street; but now it has been taken over by tankers. Since the other tank farms began their operation, this town has been turned into a truck park. Formerly, they parked on one side of the street but now they are everywhere, without even allowing little space for motorcycles or pedestrians. This is a residential community not an industrial one. I wonder why government is allowing this,” he lamented.

But Johnson Effiong who resides somewhere in Ilaje Street, Kirikiri prefers to appeal to government to come to  their aid before the situation gets out of hand. “It is so alarming and no one is talking about it. These trucks block every access to our street and there is no away we can move around with our cars, even at night. These drivers block these streets without bothering about the inconvenience and danger they constitute.

Just last week a pregnant woman was in labour and she needed to be taken to the hospital immediate. Her husband and some other neighbours, who rushed her into a awaiting car got to the entrance of our street, but it was completely blocked with horrible looking tanker trailers laden with petroleum products.  Drivers of these trucks, parked tight in a queue that stretched down to the Kirikiri Bridge, refused to move their vehicles off the road. They watched helplessly while the pregnant woman groaned in pain. But for a nurse in the neighbourhood who came to her aid, the worst could have happened,”he recounted.

Johnson Effiong’s experience is one out of many other cases confronting the residents of  Kirikiri Town. The influx of these trucks has also affected commerce, apart from the  insecurity it engenders. Local traders are lamenting over low sales as their shops and stalls are now blocked by trailers, preventing customers from coming in.

A local grocery retailer who simply identified himself as Mama Preye, said she no longer makes as much sales as she does when traffic used to flow freely. “Since this ‘thing’ began we have experience low patronage. Some of our customers who come from other areas no longer stop by to patronise us due to the heavy traffic they would encounter if they come this way. Now that our sales have dropped, I wonder how I would make enough money to pay my tax and other levies,” she complained.

Traders at the popular PROWA Shopping Complex  in Kirikri, also recounted their own experiences in anguish. The Chairman of the Complex, one Mr. Dozie told VM that traders at the Complex are presently the worst hit. He explained that the Complex which is dominated by restaurants and bars, now suffers terribly as a result of these tankers.

Said he: “As you can see they’ve blocked all entrances to our shops  and our customers cannot even gain access to the bridge, not to talk of coming to our shops. You know the nature of our trade; customers come in mostly in the evening but since this started, the story has been different. If you come around here in the evenings, you   will understand what I mean. Government needs to come to our aid because it is becoming unbearable. These people are making their own money at the expense of other people’s comfort and time. I can’t tell them not go about their business, but they have to do it with a human face because this place is a home for millions”.

Tin-Can Island : A no-go area

THE impunity displayed by truck drivers and their trailer counterparts has shown how helpless government seem to be, as their excesses have continued to hinder traffic flow along the Mile 2-Apapa expressway, resulting in loss of valuable man-hours and huge resources that would have gone into government coffers.

The nightmarish stress which road and port users undergo daily is better imagined than experienced. They spend between four to six hours daily to and from work. From Mile 2 to Apapa, the traffic sometimes stretches from Coconut Bus- stop up to Mile2; a trip of about 30 minutes now takes about two and a half  to three hours. After passing through that, every road user would have to face the second phase between Coconut Bus-stop and Tin-Can second gate and spend some more time than the first phase. The return trip from Apapa to Mile 2 is also not free from bad traffic caused by trailer drivers, although it is not as bad as the trip from Mile 2.

The worse offenders are the petroleum truck drivers who park their trucks along the highway, in some cases occupying two lanes and leaving other road users with just a lane. The trailer drivers  also constitute their own obstruction in their bid to gain access into the port.

The concessioning of the port which resulted in the partitioning of the various terminals in the port has  made it difficult for trailers to gain access to the port.

Bolaji Akinola, spokesman for private terminal operators (Concessionaires) in the country, told Vanguard Metro  that the effect of the traffic congestion cannot be quantified but explained that it would definitely run into hundreds of millions of naira daily.

Akinola warned that would the current situation be left unchecked, it may lead to congestion at the ports. He pointed out that traffic jam makes it difficult for consignments already cleared from the ports to be moved out.

Continuing, he said that such cargoes are left much longer at the port to occupy space that new ones would have occupied. Akinola said that all efforts being made by the private terminal operators presently seem to be meaningless as long as there is difficulty in the clearance of goods.

According to him: “It is like winking in the dark”.

General Manager in charge of Public Affairs of the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA), Michael Ajayi, said the traffic jam experienced daily in and around Apapa is costing the nation unquantifiable loss of revenue.

Ajayi explained that when the revenue lost daily by the Concessionaires, importers, Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), clearing agents and all the other businesses in Apapa are put together, we should be looking at several millions of naira daily.

The NPA spokesman pointed out that the port access road is supposed to be free but noted that the “recalcitrant” tanker drivers who are becoming more powerful by the day, have become a law unto themselves.

He noted that they have continually frustrated every effort made in the past to bring sanity to the access road. The Lagos State government had tried several times to control these tanker drivers. One such attempts is the provision of a parking space for them around Orile. But they have refused to use the park. Ajayi said each time the Lagos state government responds to complaints of Lagosians, the tanker drivers embark on a strike action and withdraw their tankers from the supply of petroleum products to fuel stations across the country.

He also explained that apart from the experience of those who have business in Apapa, they are those who use the port town as a connecting route to get to other parts of the state but end up spending un-necessary mann hours on that road.

He warned that unless urgent steps are taken to curb this problem, the consequences that would result from it would not only affect the state but the entire country.

In his opinion, Chairman of Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN), Alhaji Hakeem Olarinwaju, said the presence of these facilities in Apapa does not only affect infrastructure in the area but the environment and the lives of the people living and working in the port town.

He explained that the level of pollution from these trucks is unprecedented and there is need for government to take action aimed at addressing the issue of pollution. He further noted that the expansion so far witnessed in the area is not matched by similar development of infrastructure and needed facilities.

Olarinwaju pointed out that the danger for those working and living around the area is so great that he prays daily on his way to and from work that there is no repeat of the incident that occurred around the old toll gate along the Lagos-Ibadan expressway.

He noted that the problem is not caused by tank farms and the port alone but also the activities of Bonded Terminal.

The CRFFN Chairman noted that since most of the Bonded Terminals and Tank Farms are concentrated around Cocoa-nut and Mile2 end of the Apapa, it is right for government to consider the construction of a rail line from the port to that axis to ease traffic along that area and ease the pressure on the infrastructure.

Disclaimer

Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.