May 2, 2018

Interventions to unlock Apapa traffic jam: Too little, too late?

Osinabajo in an aerial assessment of the Apapa traffic for situation

By Mike Ebonugwo & Udeme Akpan
MOTORISTS plying the Mile Two to Tin Can Island end of the Oshodi-Apapa Expressway have since last week enjoyed some relative respite from the traffic jam that has locked down the area for several weeks, thanks to the intervention of the Nigerian Navy and other security agencies.

The Navy had in a bid to bring sanity to the traffic-congested area, reintroduced the “Call up Card System” which was earlier introduced on March 22 to control the movement of trucks in the area. While announcing this intervention, the Commanding Officer, Nigerian Navy Ship, NNS, BEECROFT, Commodore Okon Eyo, had explained thus: “What we did  was to design a call up card. Every morning, we asked them (truck drivers) to bring the particulars of their trucks and we endorsed the cards and returned to them.

Temporary respite

TRAFFIC GRIDLOCK: Heavy trafic gridlock at Berger Yard along Oshodi -Apapa Expressway yesterday. Photo: Shola oyelese

“This distinguished them from those who were not supposed to move, who should wait for normal clearance to proceed. This card would be given back to them and this meant that we had processed trucks to continue. This card has worked perfectly well with the tankers and with this, they have been able to conduct their businesses well”.

Unfortunately, the noticeable improvement in traffic flow following the navy’s intervention was to be short-lived. Indeed, there is increasing evidence that the respite is only temporary as the trucks which surprisingly disappeared over the weekend are already returning in their numbers, blocking every available space. In the event, their mass return is once again gradually impeding the flow of traffic, thus paving the way for the return of the familiar nightmare that has haunted motorists in the area for a long time.

The situation is also being compounded by the absence or inadequate presence of traffic control officials, whether of the Nigeria Police Force or the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority, LASTMA. Their absence has, in effect, created room for some individuals of questionable character to undertake the job of directing motorists on how to negotiate through the uncertain traffic while expecting to get paid for doing so.

“Those guys are always there directing traffic while the police and LASTMA officials are nowhere to be found. My problem with them is that they usually look rough and when they direct you to follow a particular lane and you obey them, they immediately rush over asking for money. In that kind of situation you don’t know whether they are begging you for money or trying  to rob you,” informed a motorist, Julius Oke, while narrating his experience driving on the road everyday.

While it is not clear if the card system introduced by the Navy has failed due to inherent flaws or the non-compliance of truck drivers, the problem for now appears to have successfully defied another attempt to cage it. With this, the jury is out again in challenging all relevant stakeholders to rise up to their responsibilities in containing the situation.

When approached by Vanguard most of the stakeholders said they were still monitoring the situation and promised to tackle it head on. For instance, the Department of Petroleum Resources, DPR, informed thus: “We have started partnering with the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, the Lagos State government, the Federal Road Safety Corps, FRSC, depot operators, Trade Unions and other stakeholders to come up with a holistic solution to the Apapa gridlock. With commitments from all stakeholders, anything is possible.”

Experts’ opinions

Mindful of the fact that tanker drivers have been on the receiving end of criticisms for the chaotic traffic situation in the area, Tokunbo Korodo, chairman, Lagos zone of Petroleum Tanker Drivers, PTD (NUPENG) was quick to absolve his members of blame. As he puts it: “Nobody should blame us for the gridlock or the chaotic traffic situation on Apapa-Oshodi Expressway. We are just doing our normal job, which is to lift petroleum products and supply to Nigerians. We did not locate the tank farms in Apapa. In fact, we were never consulted before the siting of tank farms. You will see tanker drivers anywhere you have petroleum products.

“If you like, locate the tank farms in the forest; once we are aware that there are products there, we will go there, get the products and distribute to Nigerians. We are tired of this blame game. Why are Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, depots across the country not functioning? We are not out to inflict pains on Nigerians. Right now our task force on traffic management is working very hard to ensure free flow of traffic.

“This thing is not easy. We are dealing with a situation where tanker drivers come from all parts of the country to Lagos to lift fuel. Tankers are not what you park in your car garage and there are no parks for these tankers. If you know the number of trucks that come to Lagos on daily basis, you will be amazed. If we start parking on one lane, it will stretch  beyond Ibadan in Oyo State. Sincerely, it is the responsibility of government to provide parking space for these trucks. It is also the responsibility of government to manage the traffic situation. If the government has no solution or alternative, they should relocate the tank farms.”

Tank farms  unsafe

A former Lagos State Sector Commander of the Federal Road Safety Corps, FRSC, Chidi Nkwonta, said the relocation of tank farms from the Apapa port roads remains the permanent solution to the persistent gridlock and danger posed in the area. “We expect the tank farms to be moved from Apapa; they cannot be on the port roads in Apapa; the siting of the tank farms is inappropriate. It is in the heart of the town and it is unsafe, it is causing congestion. As such, it is endangering the entire environment. So, the tank farms must move on the long run, while the roads must be fixed.

“You cannot control the traffic on those roads when the roads are so bad. The number of vehicles on the roads is large and there is no parking space for the trucks. Most of those trucks enter the potholes and they get stuck; some of the trucks lack maintenance; and coupled with the existence of the potholes it is difficult to move them.”

According to him, lack of functional loading bays, dishonesty among stakeholders in coordinating the movement of the tankers in and out of the farms made drivers to resort to queuing on the access roads to avoid being pushed to the back by other loaders of products.

A safety campaigner, Patrick Adenusi said: “The tank farms composition and concentration in Apapa is one of the most unsafe conditions we have created in this country. If any of those tank farms ruptures and it goes up in flames, Lagos will cease to exist. The tank farms need to be decentralised; the concentration of those tank farms has made Lagos to be the most unsafe place people have ever been in the world.”

Managing Director of a prominent firm located within Apapa axis, who spoke in anonymity also blamed the existence of tank farms in the area for the gridlock nightmare. “The only way forward is to relocate the tank farms. Apart from the traffic challenges, what do you think will happen if there is an explosion within the vicinity of the tank farms? Over 10,000 innocent people may be consumed.

“The government should not wait for disaster to happen before doing the right thing. The tank farms attract thousands of trucks to Apapa on a regular basis. The only viable solution to the problem is to relocate the tank farms to another location,” he said.

The Chairman, Seaport Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria, STOAN, Vicky Haastrup, who described the gridlock as a direct consequence of alleged system failure in the oil and gas industry logistics chain added that: “There is an over-concentration of oil tank farms in Apapa, an area predominantly designed for port operations. There is now a situation where we have proliferation of oil tank farms without regards for the safety logistics implication. I issued a warning over five years ago, advising government to discontinue tank farm operations in Apapa, but nothing was done. The problem is now staring all of us in the face.”

No more licence for new tank farms— Lagos State government

Reacting to the traffic jam caused by the location of tank farms in Apapa area as well as the activities of tanker drivers, the Lagos State government said it has already resolved not to grant construction permits for tank farms pending the inventory of existing ones. According to the state Commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development, Wasiu Anifowoshe, the decision was imperative as it will enable them “to take proper inventory of the existing facilities and determine those that should be removed in a bid to ensure public safety”.

He also said that the state government has been working with the Federal Government on the challenges the location of oil tank farms posed to the residents of Apapa, adding that both the Federal and state governments would make a definite pronouncement on the plan to relocate oil tank farms from the residential areas of the Apapa Central Business District soon.