Worsening pollution creates health panic,
By Theodore Opara, Godfrey Bivbere, Godwin Oritse and Bose Adelaja
FOLLOWING repeated outcries by residents of Ajegunle over unending siege by trucks and other articulated vehicles, Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, July last year visited to see things for himself and was confronted by a traumatic traffic situation that had effectively crippled all productive activities in the area.
That was not all. Following an on-the-spot inspection of the area, the Governor was shocked at what he saw, especially the prevailing environmental hazards residents and those doing business there were exposed to on a daily basis. It was a situation that prompted an enraged Ambode to wield the big stick by ordering the immediate closure of Climax Bonded Terminal and other bonded terminals located in the area. Justifying his action, he said the operations of the terminals were not only illegal but also causing untold hardship to residents in the area. He also directed that trucks parked around the terminals be evacuated within the next 24 hours.
Ambode’s order for evacuation of the terminals
In the specific case of Climax Bonded Terminal, Ambode stated that there was no record from the state government showing that operators of the terminal were authorised to convert the property for such purpose, adding that the state government would not fold its arms and allow flagrant abuse of its building laws to the detriment and safety of residents.
The governor said: “As far as the Lagos State Government is concerned, Ajegunle remains a residential area. I have crosschecked from all the ministries and officials, there is no approval from the physical planning for you to use this neighbourhood which is residential as a bonded terminal”.
Speaking further, he said the presence of trucks parked on the single lane road in the Ajegunle axis was subjecting residents to long hours in traffic apart from other problems it poses to the environment. “It’s bad enough that the roads here are single lanes and I’ve gone round the Ajegunle axis and have seen trucks parked all over the place. So, I’m taking over all the places called bonded terminals in Ajegunle from this moment. I do not want to ever see this place opened again, including all the other places they have put the terminals or have procured. I would not authorise any place that is residential to be turned to a bonded terminal,” Ambode said.
To match words with action, he directed the Commissioner of Police, the Navy and the Customs to immediately enforce the evacuation of those concerned within 30 minutes, while the bonded terminals should remain “under lock and key until I say otherwise”. He added: “I would only open them when they are willing to take all these trucks away from here”.
However, less than a year after the evacuation order, it is obvious that Governor Ambode merely had his say, while those concerned, including truck operators, have been having their way. Ajegunle, just like other adjoining areas in Apapa, remains in the strangulating traffic grip of articulated, heavy duty vehicles now parked in almost every available space in the area.
Those in a position to know say that the situation is a fallout of the call-up policy introduced by the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, to address the unwholesome activities of truckers and tanker drivers who had over the years taken over the port town of Apapa and its environs. According to them, the failure of the call-up policy is evidenced by the trucks subsequently being forced to occupy streets in Ajegunle, Orile, Surulere, Satellite Town and other surrounding conurbations.
Over 6000 trucks cripple Ajegunle, Satellite Town
A survey by Vanguard showed that Ajegunle and Satellite Town are the most affected because of their proximity to the ports and the presence of tank firms. During the survey, Vanguard counted hundreds of trucks waiting to find their way to the ports. From Otto Wolfe Bus-stop along the Apapa-Oshodi expressway to the end of Mba Street in Ajegunle, there were 54 truckers waiting to find their way to the ports.
From Berger Suya, Wilmer through Boundary area, the situation was not different as 65 trucks were found parked along the road on a single lane. At some points the trucks were parked on both lanes of the road.
The situation is the same in the connecting streets between Wilmer and Coconut Bus-stop by Apapa-Oshodi Expressway. In this area, Vanguard counted more than 100 trucks with residents complaining about their inability to leave or return to their homes or business premises with their vehicles.
In Satellite Town, the area has been completely shut down by tanker drivers trying to access the 10 tank farms in the ‘once upon time’ residential area. From Abule-Ado and Fin-Niger Bus-stops to Waterside at Ijegun, Vanguard counted 86 tankers queuing to access the tank farms. Similar to the situation at Ajegunle, the residents have been to forced to abandon their vehicles, resorting to the use of commercial motorcycles popularly known as Okada.
From Dantata to Under Bridge Bus-stops along the Mile 2 – Badagry expressway, there were over 139 truckers and tankers queuing along the expressway. The journey from Alakija to Mile2 which normally should not take more than five minutes now sees commuters spending between four and seven hours in the traffic. On a bad day, vehicular movement could be stalled with motorists wasting more than 12 hours on the road. The same situation plays out from Under-bridge to Okokomaiko through Agbara and beyond, made worse by the condition of the roads that are hardly motorable. From Ijesha Bus-stop along the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway to Apapa, Vanguard counted over 6000 truckers parked along the road.
Residents tales of woe
Meantime, residents and business operators in the affected areas have continued to lament the worsening situation as they count their losses. One of them, Mr. Phillip Okafor, who lives off Mba Street in Ajegunle urged Vanguard to appeal to both the Federal and the Lagos State governments to come to their aid as the truckers are almost chasing them way from their homes and business premises. He said that in some cases, the trucks even block them from entering their compounds.
He wondered why the Federal and Lagos State governments seem to have given up on the main road, a situation which, according to him, “is forcing the truck drivers to move over to streets close to the port in a bid to find their way to the port”.
Filthy environments: A visit from Mile 2 to Kirikiri Town, Ojo Road and Ajegunle/Boundary revealed filthy and stinking environments which require urgent attention. But not minding the filthy environment, traders still made brisk businesses, especially those selling alcoholic drinks and local herbs. Food vendors and dealers in fairly used clothes were also everywhere attending to truck drivers who claimed to have been in the same spots for about two months.
During the visit, some truck drivers who claimed they have not visited their families for months, were seen taking their bath in the open, sleeping under their trucks or eating at the various spots along the road. At Boundary, some road side traders said the situation has adversely affected patronage as many of their customers find it difficult accessing their locations.
At Ojo Road, a mother of four, Mrs. Bolanle Idris, said that in 2018 she lost most of her goods when a container fell from a trailer on her shop at midnight. She informed that another source of worry was that “area boys have been extorting the truck drivers and this has been causing unrest in the area”.
Vanguard also observed during the visit, an abandoned truck on Ojo Road which the residents have converted into a refuse dump that was stinking and polluting the environment. Reacting to the development, former chairman of car dealers at Berger, Mr. Metche Nnadiekwe, said: “I have never witnessed this type of situation in my life. We are all suffering here due to bad roads and menace of articulated vehicles. People no longer come to patronise us because of the risk of being trapped in the unending traffic jam and also the danger of being robbed. Many of our customers have shifted to Amuwo-Odofin, Festac and other places.”
A resident at Orile, Mr. Badmus Aderionla, who owns a shop at Ajegunle, informed that the situation was worsened by some NUPENG workers who have been mounting illegal road blocks at various spots to extort the truck drivers. “We have been witnessing a lot of clashes here due to the fact that NUPENG workers try to extort money from the truck drivers,” he said, adding that the situation has drastically affected “patronage for us business people as most of our customers have relocated to Maryland, Idi-Iroko, Ikeja, Western Avenue and Ajah”.
Heavy pollution spells health hazards
Also lamenting the unfavourable situation in the area, the Medical Director of Covenant Clinic, Olodi Apapa, Dr. Anthony Ufere, said: “We are going through hell in this part of Lagos as a result of this indiscriminate parking by truck drivers. We are helpless because we understand the owners of these trucks are very powerful people, which explains why they do what they do with impunity”. He identified the most affected roads in the area to include Wilmer Crescent, Berger Junction, New Road and Coconut Road.
Speaking on the health implications of the pollutions prevalent in Ajegunle and other adjoining areas in Apapa on account of the presence of the trucks, Dr. Ufere said: “It won’t be long before we start seeing the effects of what is going on here. Already many people are suffering from chest pain. One of the major problems we face is pollution of different kinds. It’s the worst thing to happen to us here. It could result to cancer of the lung, bad cough and chest pain in the future.
“Apart from the air pollution, other forms of pollution exist as the drivers and their conductors defecate on the road, gutter, anywhere; they take their bath in the open without minding if anyone is watching”. Indeed most port users and officials of the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, have also raised alarm over the health hazards occasioned by the traffic situation.
Speaking recently at a meeting with members of the Board of the authority, a union leader, Comrade Akin Bodunde, lamented the fact that some members of the Union are currently suffering various health challenges due to air pollution of the port environment. He said that while affected members are down with air pollution- related ailments, others have lost their lives to the chaotic traffic situation.
Continuous process of pollution
Commenting on the situation, NPA’s Executive Director, Marine and Operation, Mr. Sekonde Davis, explained that pollutants such as dust, soot, fog, steam, ash, smoke, etc, are daily introduced into the air naturally and as a result of human activities. “The atmosphere oxidises the toxic solid, liquid and gaseous substances by melting them. However, due to the production of excessive amounts of such substances and depending on the meteorological and topographic conditions, the atmosphere is in a continuous process of pollution,” he said.
But he also said that both the management of the authority and the Federal Government were working towards finding a lasting solution to traffic and other related problems presently affecting everybody working within and around Apapa.
Apapa, a disaster zone
Speaking on the development, the National Coordinator of the Climate and Sustainable Development Network of Nigeria, CSDevNet, Mr. Babs Atayi, said that the situation in Apapa has, for some time, become worrisome. Atayi also said despite the alarm raised by some civil society groups, the government has not deemed it fit to take measures to fix the problem. He described Apapa at present as a disaster zone.
The climate change activist warned that if efforts are not made to check the menace, what is happening in Port Harcourt may be repeated in Apapa and environs, including Ajegunle. According to him: “The government seems to be paying deaf ears to all the alarms that have been raised. I was in Apapa in 2015 when the air quality there had exceeded the acceptable standard for human beings and I wondered how people living and working in Apapa have been surviving.
“But be that as it may, it is evident now that people working and living within and around Apapa are living sub-standard lives because of the quality of air they are inhaling, and they are already prone to many dangerous illnesses affecting their respiratory systems. So up to 90 percent of people living and working within and around Apapa need to go for thorough medical checkup because they are bound to have one respiratory disease or the other.
“The truth of the matter is that the level of emission in Apapa is high that the quality of air there has been totally affected and there is no country that is serious about the health and safety of its citizens that will allow people to live in such conditions.”
Another unfortunate reality of the situation in Ajegunle, according to Dr. Ufere, is that Okada accidents have been on the increase in recent times. He said: “On a daily basis you see them dangerously trying to manoeuvre in-between the trailers. There was a recent incident where a shop owner was killed instantly by a reversing truck. The man who just returned from Kano met this tragic fate as he tried to cross the road to buy something from a shop nearby. It was the most terrible death I have seen.”
He also complained that “our business as medical doctors is suffering as companies that use hospitals in Olodi-Apapa can’t access the place again”.
Similarly, the Managing Director of Kotzmatz Media Konsukts Ltd, Okey Ibeke, told Vanguard that the chaotic traffic situation has virtually killed business activities in Apapa and that most people are leaving. Ibeke noted that the economic effect of the Apapa traffic cannot be quantified. He explained that residents and those whose offices are located in Apapa now resort to coming to work by commercial buses and bikes.
In his words: “Most times I do not drive my car; I take commercial vehicles. Sometimes I trek or take a bike. We have lost virtually all our clients; nobody comes to our office again. Once you tell them your office is in Apapa that is the end of the transaction.
“Apart from the discomfort of taking commercial buses and bikes, there is also the added risks: accidents and attacks from area boys and so on. Many people have died riding on Okada, and the most unfortunate is that the Federal Government does not care and is not doing anything to address the situation.
“When Babatunde Fashola was the governor of Lagos State, he fought the then Federal Government for neglecting Apapa. As a matter of fact, the Oshodi-Apapa Expressway was a campaign issue for him before the 2015 election, as he accused the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP-led Federal Government of neglecting the road so as to strangulate Lagos. Ironically, the condition of the road has become worse since he became Minister of Works under an APC-controlled Federal Government; that is four years after he told us that the Buhari administration would fix the road in record time.”
In his reaction, the Port Manger, Nigeria Port Authority, Tin Can Island, Emmanuel Akporherhe, said that the port was facing the effect of the bad road and heavy traffic on Apapa expressway. He noted that the traffic gridlock was not only threatening operations at the port, but also having negative impact on members of staff.