By Evelyn Usman
The perennial gridlock along the Oshodi-Apapa Expressway, Lagos, seems to have put all relevant government agencies and government at all levels at their wit’s end, as it has taken a new dimension, owing to the stretch of trucks from Mile 2 to Isolo.
This has further heightened the already harrowing ordeals of other motorists plying the ever busy express-way, as they are left at the mercy of hoodlums who attack them in broad daylight and at night.
Vanguard’s investigation revealed that the total take over of the route is a subtle protest by truck drivers over the huge demurrage being collected by shipping companies.
For instance, one of the drivers, who simply gave his name as Gboyega, disclosed during an interview that shipping companies charged between N24,000 and N45,000 daily as demurrage on empty containers.
In order to beat the stipulated days of return of empty containers, trucks drivers according to him, now deploy every available device, including paying officials of the Joint Task Force and area boys to get to the port.
He said, “ Before leaving the port, a huge amount of money is paid as deposit, with a stipulated day given to return the empty container, failure of which deduction will be made from source”
But at the moment, he lamented that members of the task force and area boys were extorting them beyond their limit.
He revealed that “ People put the blame at our doorstep as if we are not Nigerians too. But they fail to realise what we go through. Every truck you see moving in the day time has paid between N15,000 and N25,000 to these Task Force people, while those of us you see on the queue stagnant, have not paid.
Initially, they (task force) said we should park on the expressway, leaving the service lane for other motorists. But at the moment, that has changed. You only see trucks on the major expressway at night. But you can only park there after paying between N3,000 and N5000, depending on your bargaining power.
At times companies pay as much as N150,000 and N250,000 for their trucks to enter into the port to load, while those of us who rent trucks watch and wait patiently for one week or more before it gets to our turn.
“ When the Task Force was launched, it gave an ultimatum to all trucks to vacate bridges. But come here at night, from this Berger Yard (pointing to the bus stop) to Beger Suya, you will find trucks parked even at the foot of the bridge at night, all because the drivers have paid for space.
“ It is better for government to scrap the Task Force, instead of it to be adding to our problem”.
Meanwhile, yesterday, some motorists trapped in traffic described their experience as worse than the previous. As if the gridlock was not enough, some of them said they were robbed in broad daylight by hoodlums who hijacked the situation.
One of them, Mr Chukwudi Ndibe, said, “ I was attacked by four hoodlums this afternoon at Alaba bus-stop, inward Apapa. I wind down a bit to receive fresh air because I had limited fuel. To my shock, they paired themselves in twos, on both sides. While one of them snatched the phone from my dashboard, the other landed his fist on my face and took my laptop. They ran under the trucks and escaped”
Our effort at tackling gridlock — Ex-Task Force chairman
On his part, the immediate past Chairman of the Joint Task Force set up by the Federal Government to proffer an immediate solution to the traffic situation in the state, Rear Admiral Okon Eyo, said that the Task Force had put in significant effort to address the situation.
He said that success was achieved in some areas, even as he blamed the Oshodi/Apapa gridlock on some bad portions, among other issues.
Briefing journalists at a farewell ceremony to mark his exit as the Commander, Nigerian Navy Ship Beecroft Rear Admiral Eyo said, “The worst critic will not say that the traffic situation is worse than the way we get it. To some extent, we have recorded some progress”
Highlighting the causes of the gridlock on Oshodi/Apapa expressway, Eyo said, “ First and foremost, the port is over the bond. It is being committed to the volume of activities it was not designed for. Beyond that, we have infrastructure issues. The roads are bad, the rails are epileptic among several other issues.
“We also have problems with processes. That is the sequence of doing things within the ports. As you all know, a lot of facilities there have been concessioned. But these businesses are supposed to be conducted within the framework and terms of the condition of the list. But more often than not, these terms are observed in the bridge. The terminal operators, the shipping agencies have seriously abdicated their responsibilities, they were expected to have holding bays where importers that have finished with their containers and need to deliver them empty, should go to the holding bays and drop them there, from where the shipping agencies will organize in an orderly manner to evacuate those containers to their ships through the port. But this is not done.
”Then, as if that was not enough, they slam huge demurrage and I tell you, the single most challenging factor in managing the gridlock is the demurrage.
”The demurrage is operated in a way that when you take your goods out and you are stuck, they give you a few days of grace, once that grace period is over, you start paying some money and they don’t come looking for you to pay this money. They collect a huge deposit before you exit the port. What they do is to just keep deducting this money until most times, they just exhaust the money, while the person has not even approached the port.
“Those truck drivers you see here are chasing the port in order to go and terminate the demurrage. When they get to the port after this problem they have gone through, the persons who admit them into the port are the ones collecting the money. In the first place, they don’t even have any incentive to open the gate for you and then in keeping you outside, they make more money. I feel those kinds of charges is not justified. We need to remove that scourge of demurrage .“
Blame govt — President, Association of Maritime Truck Owners
Also in an interview with Vanguard at the occasion, the President, Association of Maritime Truck Owners, Chief Emmanuel Aderemi, said the government should be blamed for the failure to provide a parking bay for trucks.
He said, “Presently, there is no place that serves as a truck terminal. If the government can create a place that will serve as a truck terminal, I tell you this problem will become a thing of the past.”
“There must also be what we call automation. By that I mean inform each truck, when it is its turn to come. But the present situation where trucks are coming from all places of the country without a parking bay is serious.”
We discovered a place to use at a time, as parking terminal, with government’s approval but when we started clearing and sand filling there, the government said it wanted to build low-cost houses there”
He, however, said respite was on the way, as the Federal government through one of its agencies, PEBEG, held a meeting with stakeholders to find a lasting solution to the gridlock on Apapa/Oshodi expressway.