By Mike Ebonugwo, Olasunkanmi Akoni & Godfrey Bivbere
INTERMITTENT interventions by the Federal Government, the Lagos State government and some private stakeholders have always provided a ray of hope for an end to the lingering traffic gridlock in Apapa and environs. Unfortunately such interventions only bring short term solutions, thus failing to achieve the much-desired long term objective. But this has not stopped those concerned from continuing to make promises on how to contain the problem.
So, it was not surprising when the Federal Government joined forces with the Lagos State government in a concerted response to the recent traffic shut down in Lagos following the invasion and seizure of the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway by articulated vehicles. Indeed, after a meeting with stakeholders to find a permanent solution to the lingering gridlock in the area, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo had assured that the long-awaited reconstruction of the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway would commence within two weeks, adding that it was part of the Federal Government’s resolve to finding lasting solution to the chaos in Apapa and environs.
“We have been working quite hard now to get approval for road construction. Among the roads are the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway and Mile 2- Liverpool roundabout. They are important roads, but they have been delayed. I am personally working to ensure that we could get that through and we are trying to look at immediate solutions that can be done and how the process could be expedited to achieve results,” he said. To underline the fact that the Federal Government meant business this time around, Prof. Osinbajo had added thus: “As Mr. President had directed, what I intend to do, is that we should meet as frequently as possible. We have already drawn up some roadmap and a check list of the various things that we need to do in the next couple of weeks to ensure that we are able to ease the situation around here and make it more decent for people to live in this community and work in this axis. It is important for us as a country and commercially also and we are definitely committed to making sure that it works”.
In his remarks, Governor Ambode said the meeting was critical as the situation had become a national emergency that required all levels of government to work together to save the economy of the nation and also restore the glory of Apapa axis. “I want to … say that whatever it is that is assigned to me as part of the resolutions that Lagos State should do, we are committed to doing it and we would also cooperate with the Federal Government and every other stakeholder to make sure that we have a permanent solution to this Apapa crisis”.
Indeed, earlier in the year, Governor Ambode had expressed helplessness at the situation in Apapa and appealed for Federal assistance to contain the situation. His words at the time sent the signal to residents, motorists and other road users in Apapa that they may have to endure fthe gridlock for a while as a permanent solution was being sought.
Why we’re helpless —Ambode
Apparently overwhelmed by the situation, Governor Ambode had at the time passionately appealed to military authorities and other security agencies in the state to support the state government’s efforts in ending the perennial traffic gridlock. This is as he explained the reasons why his administration was unable to remove the trucks and tankers from the road.
Ambode who made the appeal during the second quarter 2018 Town Hall Meeting, added, however, that the state government had secured a space for a terminal in the Ijora area of the state to accommodate about 3,000 trucks. He said he was seriously concerned about the hardship residents in the axis were being subjected to as a result of containerized trucks and tankers moving in and out of the ports and tank farms.
The governor said the reason he has not ordered the immediate removal of trucks and trailers from the expressway was because “there is no alternative space provided for parks for now.” He said once the terminal is completed, there would be total enforcement on the removal of tankers and trucks which are parked indiscriminately on the way.
Speaking further, Ambode said: “The traffic situation in Apapa is totally unacceptable, especially having tankers and trailers on our bridges. It is also not acceptable that they would decide to block all lanes that lead to Apapa. I have decided to come to Apapa to have a first hand information of the traffic situation. I can assure you that the real life in Apapa will come back before the end of this year. What we are doing in Oshodi is to renew its status and we will do same to Apapa. The status we mean is urban renewal and regeneration exercise. The exercise will commence immediately we complete work on Oshodi”.
Ambode said that the State Government has taken over the ABAT Truck Terminal at Orile-Iganmu and commenced immediate repairs on the terminal as part of efforts to permanently address the perennial traffic in Apapa axis. “Effective today, our government will take over the ABAT Truck Terminal at Orile-Iganmu and commence immediate repairs to make the park ready for effective use. In the meantime, we will appeal to the Tanker Drivers Association to conduct themselves in an orderly manner and cooperate with our Task Force to ensure smooth flow of traffic and better access to the ports. We thank the people of Apapa for enduring such harsh conditions but I assure you that this situation will be a thing of the past by the end of this year.
“Already, we have cleared the shanties and the way we are trying to run it is such that we will be able to accommodate at least 3,000 trucks in the park. In addition to that, we will work with security agencies and see how we can move the trucks into the park because right now the park can accommodate about 300 trucks but the people are not using it.
“I, therefore, call on security agencies to assist us in putting an end to this traffic situation in Apapa. Let’s bring our resources together to solve the traffic situation in Apapa. We must find a way to check the menace of trailers and tankers. The Tin Can Island road is a Federal Government project. The little we could do to cushion the effect would be done. We don’t want to create any conflict with Federal Government agencies. Everyone could testify to what we experienced before we could get the apex government’s nod on expansion of Murtala Muhammed International Airport, MMIA, road. We have left the roads in Apapa axis for the apex government to see what they could do.
“We don’t want to take too much into our hands as much as we are trying to expand the airport road. But I can assure you that whatever palliative we can do to cushion effect of the gridlock that will not be in conflict with the contract that had been issued on that road will be done. The truth is that once a contract is awarded, whatever the state spends on such project, the Federal Government will not refund the money.
“The rehabilitation we are doing on Federal roads is majorly for residents of Lagos State. The residents of Lagos feel the pain on the road and not those living in Abuja. That is what governance is all about.We cannot afford to leave Apapa now because this is where Lagos started commercial means of revenue generation in the state. I like to regenerate different areas but I cannot do everything because of paucity of funds.”
But Federal Government officials are of the opinion that the Presidency has not abandoned Apapa in spite of the recurring challenges there. According to the Federal Controller of Works, Lagos, Mr. Adedamola Kuti, the Federal Government has been engaged in a series of initiatives in tackling the traffic quagmire. While admitting that the activities of truck drivers in the area have grave implications on the road infrastructure, Kuti posited thus: “The stakeholders are meeting and ours is just to protect our own infrastructure.
“All the security personnel are working with us. And we are also aware that trailer parks are being constructed. So we hope it would be enough to get some of these truck drivers to properly park their articulated vehicles. But it’s an abuse of the road when the drivers park the trucks on the bridges. But I can assure you that work is on-going to have them (trucks) off the road without further delay.”
Shipping companies responsible for 70% of problem —Apapa LG Chairman
Speaking on the prevailing problem, Apapa Local Government Chairman, Elijah Adele, categorically lampooned shipping companies operating in Apapa. According to him, they are responsible for 70 per cent of the traffic congestion experienced at the port. Adele while recently fielding questions from journalists in his office, alleged that many of the shipping companies do not have holding bays. According to him, the shipping companies are driven by greed. He noted that most of them deliberately keep trucks bearing empty containers lined up on the road in order to deplete container deposits paid by importers.
Most business owners have closed shop
The chairman said many residents of Apapa have been adversely affected by the traffic situation, even as he lamented that the revenue collection of the local government has dwindled because most business owners have closed shop. Adele said this was the main reason why he decided to erect barricades, thereby restricting trucks from accessing the inner roads and residential areas in Apapa.
The chairman also said that it is regrettable that the NPA which is saddled with the responsibility of inspection of shipping companies and their holding bays before renewing their licences, has failed to do its job. “The major challenge of the trucks on our roads are the shipping companies; 70 per cent of the traffic situation in Apapa is caused by the shipping companies. They are supposed to have holding bays or bonded terminals; it is just as if you are bringing in a car from abroad, but instead of you to have a car park, you decided to park on the main road.
“We have government officials that renew their (shipping companies) licences and one of the conditions needed to be fulfilled is that you need to inspect their bonded terminals to be sure that they have a place for empty containers, but here, the reverse is the case. The shipping companies are doing this because they usually collect N250,000 as demurrage (container deposit); because of exploitation, they allow truckers to be on the main road and because of this, a journey of five days would now take you two weeks. On each day, for one empty container, they charge about N9,500 as demurrage, some containers can stay on queue for a month, it then means that the N250,000 is gone.
“When I resumed here newly, I talked with the truckers, NPA, APMT and other concessionaires; and I also talked with some of the shipping companies. But they have this confidence that no matter how you try, you would not break through; so I was challenged,” Adele stated.
He noted that the barricades on the Apapa inner roads are movable, but any company that needs to receive a container must inform the government 12 hours ahead in order to have access. On weekends, he said they need to inform government 48 hours ahead so that officials can be on ground.
He assured that the local government area wants business owners within the inner roads in Apapa to be able to do their businesses without stress. “Revenue generation in Apapa has declined and it is only those who are determined that are still in Apapa. But you cannot help but pity them when they tell you their own side of the story: that customers now find it difficult to access their place.
“As for the trucks on the Apapa bridges; some of them are more than 40 years. It is only the grace of God that has been sustaining those bridges. They are supposed to be for transit and not for cargo-carrying trucks to park on”. But in defence of shippers, the Executive Secretary/Chief Executive Officer, Nigerian Shippers’ Council, Hassan Bello, said Lagos had unregulated and dysfunctional public transport system with infrastructure and services barely sufficient to support a population of no more than six million.
Our defence —Nigerian Shippers Council
According to him: “There is a high concentration of Maritime and Logistics activities in Lagos Logistics Ring, LLR and home to Nigeria’s major sea ports – Apapa and Tin Can Island. In 2015, the Nigerian Shippers’ Council commissioned the National Freight Information and Transportation Hub, NAFITH, to study the traffic congestion in Apapa area. NAFITH, is a freight transportation logistics service that facilitates cargo transport through transport corridors.
“In a study carried out by NAFITH, the following were identified as immediate causes of the gridlock: multiple agencies operating at the port gates, trucks on the road without legitimate business, manual procedures, lack of manoeuvrability and coordination with terminal operators.
“On a daily basis, an average of 7000 trucks and tankers hover around the LLR, while the combined capacity utilization of the two seaports and 27 tank farms is less than 2,500 trucks and tankers. In effect, more than 4,500 trucks and tankers traverse the LLR either parked or canvassing for business. Thus, there is need to establish an Intelligence Traffic management System to remove the excess trucks and tankers from LLR.
“The excess trucks and tankers to be consigned to truck park with scheduled electronic calls to seaports. Impose violations fines on trucks and holding bays, ports and tank farms and creation of U-turns within the road network.”