By Olasunkanmi Akoni

We are tired of the activities of these military men who have refused to leave despite a presidential order. They collect between N60, 000 and N100, 000 from truck drivers to give them access to the ports. We learned they were sent by a Brigadier General. We want the Federal Government to investigate this”, a truck driver told Sunday Vanguard during an on-the-spot assessment of the traffic situation around Trinity area of Oshodi-Apapa Expressway last week.

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

“We are also appealing to Lagos State Government to collaborate with the federal task force team. We have not seen much action from the state government.”

The traffic gridlock on Oshodi-Apapa Expressway seems to be defying solution despite the presidential order for articulated vehicles to vacate the road leading to the nation’s sea gateway.

The intractable traffic is partly blamed on the activities of some military officers deployed to the area who allegedly collect money from truck drivers for access to the ports.

On May 22, hearkening to the cries of Lagosians and the setback it was causing to the Ease of Doing Business and the nation’s economy, President Muhammadu Buhari directed trucks and trailers to vacate Lagos ports access roads within two weeks and went ahead to constitute a task team comprising of officials from the Presidency, security and traffic management agencies and other stakeholders within the port environment to execute the assignment with specific terms of reference.

The task team, under the leadership of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and Mr Kayode Opeifa as Vice Chairman, swung into action by convening a stakeholders meeting to chart a path for the execution of the mandate.

But the team failed to meet the deadline, causing the Federal Government to extend the assignment by two weeks.

To restore sanity, the team was, first and foremost, confronted with the task of dismantling extortion points allegedly set up by security and traffic management agencies, local government councils, road transport unions, area boys, port workers and terminal operators, among others, on access roads and bridges to the ports and it was very successful at first.

Also read: Apapa gridlock, beyond LASG —MOT

The task team, for instance, has been able to restore sanity to the Ikorodu Road axis from Onipanu/Jibowu/Ojuelegba/Stadium/Alaka/Eko Bridge Ijora 7Up, Sifax, Ijora Olopa, Marine Beach, Apapa at the expiration of its 72 hours ultimatum to articulated vehicle owners to steer clear of access roads.

Unfortunately, however, the team has been having a running battle with articulated vehicle operators within the Apapa/Coconut/Trinity/Berger/Mile 2, all the way to Cele Bus Stop on the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway.

The situation is compounded by the indiscipline of the articulated vehicle operators aided and abetted by a corrupt regime allegedly put in place by the military, security and traffic management agencies previously saddled with the responsibility of managing the traffic chaos but ended up worsening it through extortion masterminded by a syndicate of entrenched interests.

“The manner of the operation of the extortion syndicate is heart-rendering, traumatizing and inhuman as all those involved behaved like soldiers of occupation without conscience, scooping the spoils of war, as they had no feelings and regard for the economic paralysis and environmental nuisance that they were subjecting the country to by their brazen criminality,” a stakeholder told Sunday Vanguard.

Inefficiency

The situation is compounded by the inefficiency of port terminal operators.

For example, only two of the eight machines handling containers are said to be functioning at the Apapa port.

None of the scanners installed by government is working as the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) inspects goods manually.

A stakeholder said the inefficiency and what he described as the lack of patriotism on the part of the agencies at the port is a contributory factor to the congestion of trucks on queue, which has spilled outside of   the port, thus killing businesses, inflicting pains on humans and subjecting importers, freight forwarders, clearing agents, vehicles operators and the general public to harrowing business practice and traffic gridlock on a daily basis, while not forgetting the attendant environmental nuisance that comes along with it.

There is a point on the road called the ‘Red Sea’, according to Sunday Vanguard investigation.

This is the stretch on the Marine Beach Bridge above NPA Lilypond Truck Terminal.

Any truck heading to the ports that has not crossed that point is yet to cross the ‘Red Sea’. Once you have crossed the ‘Red Sea’, you have a 60% chance of reaching the ‘promised land’- the port.

This is where the ‘extortion headquarters’ is situated.

Most of the extortion of N100, 000 and above from trucks occur especially at night.

The syndicate, after collecting the money, will send men to go and escort such trucks from as far as Ojuelegba or Alaka axis, who may have just arrived some few hours ago, to go into the port straight at the expense of other trucks that may have paid N30, 000-N90, 000 and have managed to move at snail pace up to say NPA Lilypond Terminal Bridge, Marine Beach Apapa and have been on the queue on the roads for two weeks or more and even those who are right in front of the Nigeria Police Area B Command, Apapa or Flour mills with just about 300-1000 metres to the entrance of the Apapa Port.

Same thing is replicated on the Tincan Island Apapa/Mile 2 Oshodi Expressway corridor where syndicate members also escort such compliant trucks to even drive against traffic: one way.

“This is how it operates: Trucks with legitimate papers for export or evacuation of goods out of the port or returning empty containers to the port, due to the lack of defined rules of operation and or enforcement by the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA), instead of moving into the NPA terminal park, which is supposed to be the holding bay but unfortunately, this not fully functional, even till now when they are supposed to be in operation 24 hours service daily, queue and wait for their call up by parking on the road and thus converted it to a park or garage for onward movement into the port, “ a source said.

Meanwhile, as the Presidential Task Force team continued to battle with the indiscipline and lawlessness, especially on the Mile 2-Apapa-Oshodi axis, Mr. Nelson Ekujimi, a public analyst, stated, “It is important to identify some measures, which are very pertinent, if the traffic gridlock must be solved: There should be an urgent and complete reconstruction of the roads within Apapa and the roads leading to the ports on both the Ijora/Marine Beach and the Apapa/Mile 2/Oshodi Expressway, which has contributed significantly to the problem. “The Federal Government needs to issue a timeline for shipping companies to have a container bay, where importers can deposit empty containers outside of the ports and not be forced to return them to the ports directly.

“There is need to appoint a supervisory agency to oversee the operations in the ports to ensure compliance and efficiency meant to improve on Ease of Doing Business.

“The operations of NPA need to be investigated and monitored on a regular basis to ensure that it doesn’t undermine the economy and well-being of Nigerians by staying away from its mandate which is very apparent now.

“The Presidential Task team must remain on ground to restore sanity and report back on a regular basis until law and order returns.

“There must be regular engagements with the ports stakeholders to measure the impact of the reforms being put in place to improve on the Ease of Doing Business. “The diversification of the transportation system of the port through the use of railway wagons to convey goods must be upscaled.

“The call-up system for trucks into the ports must be configured in such a manner that all the stakeholders are on the platform to avoid shady deals, identify and promptly address problems that may arise.

“The operations of the terminal operators need to be strictly monitored, as they seem to be working at cross purposes with the goal of Ease of Doing Business and economic prosperity of Nigeria.

“Military officers must never be drafted to manage traffic operations on the Apapa port roads and elsewhere in the country because of how they have now ended up denting the image of the institution and the Nigeria state by their condemnable alleged extortionist conduct at the expense of the national economy and security.

“The military personnel alleged misconduct on the Apapa port road has been very traumatic and humiliating for all the other stakeholders except their partners in crime with whom they have been operating for monetary gain.

“Furthermore, Lagos State Government has a responsibility to install CCTV and other security monitoring equipments to scientifically tackle and respond to the myriads of man-made problems created on the Apapa Ports corridor to harm the state and nation’s economy and people”.

Harrowing experience

Residents and motorists, since Monday, June 10, have been subjected to a harrowing experience as trucks and articulated vehicles completely shut down traffic on Oshodi-Apapa Expressway.

The situation forced residents and workers in the area to abandon their vehicles and resort to patronising commercial motorcycles, popularly called Okada, as the entire area remained blocked for vehicular movement.

Sunday Vanguard witnessed men of the Presidential Task team around Trinity, Apapa- Oshodi bound road by Trinity Bus Stop trying to manage the chaotic traffic at the weekend.

During the visit, our correspondent saw a military officer being asked to leave the area immediately by Lagos State Commissioner of Police, CP, Hakeem Odumosu.

Commenting on the situation, Opeifa appealed to residents and motorists to exercise patience, saying the team has practically moved operations to Oshodi- Apapa Expressway to ensure smooth traffic within days.

“We have commenced palliative work on some parts of the road so that we can have access road to push some trucks away from the road and have access to various designated truck terminals”, the Vice Chairman of the Presidential Task Force said.

“Within days, we should have a good situation along Oshodi-Apapa Expressway. Our efforts are being undermined by some unscrupulous military officers and their cohorts. Therefore, we are appealing to residents and motorists to be a little bit patient with us; we are committed to ensuring total sanity in Apapa and environs.”

Opeifa blamed the slow pace of the team to driving against traffic by truck operators thereby creating heavy gridlock on the road with the attendant difficult task of clearing the mess.

However, as at press time, the task team was able to clear the trucks off the road from Coconut up to somewhere around Beach land area, onwards to Mile-2.

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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.