…As mayhem on Oshodi-Apapa worsens
By Olasunkanmi Akoni and Godwin Oritse
DESPITE introduction of the electronic-Call Up system into port operations, there seems to be no end in sight to the Apapa gridlock, as container-laden vehicles and tankers continue to park indiscriminately along Oshodi-Apapa Expressway.
The situation has made motorists and commuters undergo anguish daily as they expressed doubt over Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu’s inability to restore sanity in the axis after relieving the Federal Government’s task team of their duties on the road.
Stakeholders meeting on e-Call-up system
The Lagos State Government, Nigeria Ports Authority, NPA, and other stakeholders had agreed to adopt a new e-Call-up system for trucks at a crucial meeting which commenced on February 27, 2021, which is based on a first-come-first-serve basis.
Aside the Lagos State government and the NPA, other stakeholders privy to the arrangement are the Nigeria Police Force, unions, and Truck Transit Park operators
The operation was agreed upon by stakeholders after thorough consideration to effectively eliminate the traffic congestion experienced in the axis.
Sanwo-Olu’s promises on Apapa
Governor Sanwo-Olu, during an unplanned fact-finding visit to Apapa to ascertain the causes of incessant gridlock on roads leading to the seaports, assured that the new operational template for the presidential task team would be enforced by a combined team of the Lagos State Special Traffic and Enforcement Team and the police.
Sanwo-Olu said his administration was determined to restore sanity on the Apapa axis.
The governor, with members of his cabinet, physically assessed the complexity of the situation that allowed heavy-duty trucks clog up the access roads, as a blame game ensued between stakeholders operating within and around the Apapa seaports.
While the Committee of Freight Forwarders and Maritime Truckers, COFFAMAT, blamed NPA officials, the Presidential Taskforce on Port Decongestion and the police for the corruption that allowed truck drivers to park indiscriminately on the road, the Council of Maritime Transport Union and Association, COMTUA, absolved the police and Task Force, accusing COFFAMAT, truck drivers and other stakeholders of not abiding by the rules.
A customs licensed clearing and forwarding agent, Mr. Boniface Okoye, blamed the NCS for giving undue access to the shippers’ council to leave empty containers in the port areas.
He also accused the police for looking away after allegedly collecting kickbacks.
Following the accusations and counter-accusations by stakeholders, Sanwo-Olu vowed to checkmate activities of all operators responsible for the gridlock in the area.
The governor wondered why container-laden trucks, not yet called upon for loading in the ports, were indiscriminately parked on the newly rehabilitated Tincan Island Road, instead of moving into the approved terminal provided by the government.
Sanwo-Olu had said: “This is about the fourth time that my government has been trying to address Apapa gridlock and bring sanity back to the area. On each occasion we had come here, we knew that there were road constructions. This time around, there has been a lot of improvement and we have seen that a lot of the roads within Apapa have been completed. But, there has been no respite for commuters in terms of free traffic flow.
“Our plan is to bring about a cohesive system where all stakeholders will understand their roles and resolve challenges being encountered. Since last year, the Presidential Taskforce has been working on this issue. We will have a team of policemen and LASTMA dedicated to Apapa Ports for enforcement of task force’s mandates.”
The governor, however, noted that the sharp practices and inadequacies observed in the handling of container operations at the ports would be escalated to the Minister of Transport, adding that the misconducts of the policemen stationed close to the ports would be reported to the Inspector-General of Police.
After a month and 13 days of the e-call-up system operation, gridlock has persisted in Apapa and environs, particularly, along Oshodi-Apapa Expressway.
This has also led to the return of traffic robbers who have seized the chaotic situation to unleash terror on motorists and commuters.
Also, a week and half after into the system, a scandal involving counterfeiting of e-call-up tickets by truck drivers and owners was discovered.
It was also gathered that the gridlock is being hampered due to the on-going dual port access road construction awarded by Federal Government.
The road construction is in collaboration with Dangote Group and Messrs HITECH Construction Company, which had been truncated at Sunrise area.
In addition to this, the ongoing road rehabilitation on the Lagos-Badagry Expressway, expected to be completed within two months, has prevented the free flow of traffic with the effect spilling over to Oshodi-Apapa Expressway.
FG speaks on road construction
On why the section 2 had been neglected till the moment, the Federal Controller of Works in Lagos state, Mr. Olukayode Popoola, said work was yet to begin on the section because the section was under procurement and had not been awarded.
Popoola, however, disclosed that papers for award of the section were being worked on.
Miscreants, touts cash in
Miscreants and touts have also hijacked the situation by extorting huge sums of money from truckers before allowing access to the depots and seaport.
The situation got progressively worse as law enforcement agents abandoned traffic control to miscreants and officials of port unions.
It was also gathered that no official of the newly-created Lagos State traffic enforcement team could be seen at the gridlock points as they were accused of extorting truckers to grant access to the port.
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A stakeholders’ meeting held last week between representatives of Lagos State Government and union leaders in ports operation ended in a deadlock.
AMATO accuses Police, NPA of extortion
Aggrieved members of the Association of Maritime Truck Owners, AMATO, accused the police and NPA of frustrating the smooth operation of the e-call-up system.
In his reaction, President of AMATO, Remi Ogungbemi, said: “The Apapa traffic has become a commercial entity for some that are benefitting from the situation.”
He suggested that “everyone that is involved in the management of traffic in that axis should be removed and new people brought in.
“The corruption has taken a higher dimension and it will take a collective effort to deal with it once and for all.”
However, the Lagos State Police Command exonerated itself from the continued gridlock in the axis.
A senior Police officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said: “I am surprised they are accusing the Police. There is a committee mandated to ensure free flow of traffic at Apapa. Gone are the days when the Police were involved.
“Policemen are just there to give cover to officials of LASTMA. If you must know, LASTMA is even more prominent in Apapa than the Police. They are more relevant in the affairs of that place than the Police. Our men are only there to give cover to LASTMA and members of the task force, we do not have direct link or contract with any affairs in Apapa or the ports.”
Why gridlock persists —Fayinka
When contacted, the Chairman of Lagos traffic team and Special Adviser to the Governor on Transportation, Mr. Toyin Fayinka, had attributed part of the gridlock on the Apapa axis to the ongoing construction work in the axis.
Fayinka said: “Though, there has been a significant progress in this area particularly on the road construction site. A lot of road has been fixed.
“There has not been movement on these axes due to road construction by Hitech, particularly from Sunrise to Tincan Port.
“So, I will start a conversation with the Federal Controller of Works to talk to Hitech. We equally suspect a foul play on the part of the unions.”
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