Environmental disaster looms on Apapa-Oshodi expressway
•Health expert warns residents, workers may develop cancer, hypoxia
•Lagos govt. rises to the occasion
By Chioma Obinna
For Nigerians who work or live in Mile 2, along Oshodi/Apapa Expressway, Ajegunle, Okokomaiko and Orile area of Lagos State, among others, stories about the activities of trailer and truck drivers may not be strange? But how many of them know the implications of the activities of the drivers who eat, defecate and sleep on the expressway, on the environment and their health?
Before now, it was common in the area to find trucks permanently parked by the roadside, thus narrowing the expressway and causing heavy traffic. There has been accusation that some of the drivers deliberately leave their terminals to park by the roadside. Almost every minute of the day, the road is locked down in traffic and motorists spend hours for trips that ordinarily should take less than 20 minutes. Harassment of innocent Nigerians going about their businesses is commonplace as the area is completely taken over by hoodlums and the destitute who smoke dangerous herbs and take all manners of alcohol without caution, and, in the process, littering everywhere with bottles, plastics and product packages.
Recently, the situation, particularly around Mile 2 and Apapa, took a different dimension. The situation, which has forced many companies and house owners in the area to relocate, left those remaining frustrated.
A drive from the Mile 2 end of the Apapa/Oshodi Expressway down to Coconut area, back to Mazamaza axis, one could vividly see the myriad of health and environmental challenges. Many of these challenges could be immediate or long term. Sadly, not only the people who work and live in the area, including the drivers of the trucks, will suffer the effect but also the environment and the economy.
From the Orile end of the rail line to the Mile 2 side of the Lagos – Badagry Expressway, the story is not different.
Apart from the logjam, the heap of refuse is beginning to take over the expressway at different spots. The indiscriminate dumping of faeces is also a challenge. Most of the refuse is pushed into the beautifully built gutters without minding the implications since the rainy season is around the corner.
While the terminals serve as home for street beggars, other activities such as illegal drug trading and all forms of abuses take place along the rail. Experts warned of short and long term effects of the situation on the health of Lagosians.
Amid the unsightly environment, food and bread sellers make brisk business.
When Sunday Vanguard visited the area, it took courage on the part of the reporter to chat with the truck drivers who sleep and wake up inside the traffic. The stench from the heaps of refuse and faeces almost derailed the report.
Some of the drivers and their assistants, who spoke to Sunday Vanguard, described the situation as a nightmare that had refused to go away.
One of them, Akintola Olalekan, could not hide his frustration when he said it had taken him seven days to move on the queue from Mile 2 to Berger Yard, a journey that ordinarily should not have taken more than three minutes.
Meanwhile, he is going to AP Molar Computer Terminals at Apapa Wharf to carry a container of goods just imported into the country.
According to him, the woes his colleagues and he going to Apapa Wharf to carry containers grew from bad to worse in the last three months. “In February, from my park at Amuwo Odofin to the TITC, Tin Can Island, it took me five days but, this time, it has taken me seven days to move from Mile 2 to Berger Yard and I am still far away from my destination. It is sad that no one seems to understand our frustrations”, he said.
Meanwhile, the unhygienic environment, Olalekan said, has not made things easy for them.
“We eat, defecate and sleep here. The mosquitoes in this place make this place a hell. In this smelly environment, we must eat whatever we see; we don’t bathe because we cannot go back to our homes. If we say we want to go to toilet, where do we go? How many public toilets have you seen around here? I am going through all these because of my family. My children must feed and go to school,” he said.
While stating that the situation should be paid more attention by government, he said many of them may go back home with infections.
The truck driver blamed the problem on the inability of AP Molar Computer Terminals at Apapa Wharf to facilitate the process of releasing containers so that the long queues of trucks on the expressway waiting to carry containers bearing imported goods can drive in and go.
“We are drivers and not trailer owners or agents. We cannot do anything about it. It is the transporters and the Container Union that should do something about it,” he stated.
Continuing, Olalekan, who praised Governor Akinwumi Ambode for his efforts at getting a site that can take about 300 trucks, said the initiative would reduce the congestion on Apapa – Oshodi Road.
On the heaps of refuse, the driver expressed worry that the situation may linger for a long time, saying the environment will only return to normal when all the trucks leave the road.
Others who spoke to Sunday Vanguard complained of high-handedness of security agents in the area who, they alleged, extort them consistently.
Another driver, Mr. Okwuchi, 40, said he was tired of ‘motor work’.
“You have been here for over 30 minutes, did the line move? That is our challenge, “he said angrily with a bottle of a bitters drink in his hand.
“My wife gave birth in January. I have not seen my baby since then because I have had to be on this road consistently.
“I am not happy with government. I sleep in the open, eat whatever I can lay my hands on. My money has been stolen from my pockets several times here. You sleep with one eye open because you do not want to lose your belongings. Several phones have been stolen here. Every night, security men come to extort us. Just last night, one of us here was beaten because he refused to give them N5, 000”.
To yet another of the truck drivers, Okafor, the situation around the area was getting tougher.
“Things are tough and there is no respite. You can see why everywhere there is faeces because people have to eat and, if they eat, they must defecate. When you are permanently on the road thinking of when it will get to your turn to load and there are no toilets, where else do you defecate except on the road or nearby bush?”
Further findings by Sunday Vanguard showed that stealing around the area has gone from bad to worse.
Another driver, who simply identified himself as Mallam Danladi, told our reporter that, oftentimes, people wake up to find that parts of their trucks have been removed. “We lose vehicle parts and even batteries to these thieves. If you are sleeping with your two eyes closed, somebody will come and remove your money. But the worst part of it all is that we sleep and wake up in a very pathetic environment. “
Long hours in traffic can cause cancer – Expert
According to a medical expert, spending long hours in traffic and unhygienic environments can lead to health hazards including hypoxia, hypertension, cancer and heat stroke.
The President of the Nigerian Medical Association, NMA, Prof Mike Ogirima, said the situation can also lead to the outbreak of epidemics.
“Because these drivers have been away from their families for so long, they are also exposed to infections, particularly sexually transmitted diseases”, Ogirima said.
He cited the emission of carbon monoxide as a major health hazard aggravated by traffic jams.
“Within the vicinity, emissions from cars can become toxic. There is what we call carbon monoxide which can blend with the blood and become toxic as the oxygen we are supposed to breathe in will be displaced by carbon monoxide causing the organs of the body to suffer what we call anoxia or hypoxia; that is lack of oxygen.”
The NMA leader explained that apart from the fumes coming from the vehicles’ exhaust pipes, inside the vehicles, there are toxin radicals that can be generated by heat from the materials used in the making of the interior, saying this can instigate cancer in the future.
Ogirima decried the environmental health sector of the country, saying Nigeria lacked proper solid waste management while the sector is badly managed.
According to him, the poor solid waste disposal system attracts rodents and rats.
“This problem is the cause of frequent outbreaks of Lassa fever, etc. Filthy environment is a big hazard to our health.”
On the implication to the economy and infrastructure, the NMA chief said allowing trucks to park on bridges can cause the bridges to become weak and collapse on the long run.
He said the only way out of perennial traffic and attendant problems is that government should provide good roads and complement it with good traffic management.
Lagos government reacts
Reacting to the situation, Special Adviser to the Governor on Environment, Mr. Babatunde Hunpe, said his principal had done so much to expand environmental monitoring in Lagos, saying he (Ambode) has appointed a Senior Special Assistant on environmental monitoring and another on waste policing to complement his efforts.
“These officials will complement the efforts in the area of monitoring and prevention of pollution in the state. We also have the Lagos State Environmental Sanitation Corps, LAGESC, formerly Kick Against Indiscipline, KAI. And their primary responsibility is to police environmental pollution. They are empowered by law. Anyone found culpable of violating the environmental law of the state would be prosecuted”, Hunpe said.
On public toilets, he said: “Aside the public toilets government is building, we are also partnering with the private sector to do same. We want to appeal to corporate organizations and individuals to also construct public toilets as their own Corporate Social Responsibility, CSR, in the state. The door of our ministry is open for such partnership”.