opinionBy Chijioke Nelson
The continued siege by the drivers of articulated vehicles to one of the most important road networks in the country’s economic nerve center- Lagos State, is nothing short of dearth of ideas and tacit admittance by the country’s leadership at all levels.
I am talking about the Oshodi-Apapa Expressway.
This road, not only serves as the country’s gateway, but also the connecting corridor to Nigeria’s boundary with the popular Cotonou Town of Benin Republic and routes for commercial vehicles heading to Togo, Ghana, among others.
But more important is the fact that the road leads off to the homes of millions of residents in nearby suburbs, who work in the Island and other Mainland areas.
These pay taxes as responsible citizens.
But they cannot get home each day without spending about six or more hours on the road for a journey of one or two hours.
They are subjected to avoidable challenges like extra transport costs and robbery.
This is because government has shown lack of will and a clear sign of incompetence, made worse by repeating ineffective approach to the same issue.
Of course, the drivers of these vehicles, popularly called “tanker drivers,” may present an argument about not having where to park, but whether tenable or not, it behooves the government to explain what is obtainable within the available infrastructure, evolve and enforce a model fit to the occasion.
There was mooted “call up system” for the articulated vehicles headed in the direction of Apapa.
This, as usual, is now enmeshed in controversy.
Besides, the Apapa road network has remained impassible and the traffic personnel at the ports have been alleged of corruption and connivance, while the Nigeria Ports Authority appears to be overwhelmed with issues.
It all points to leadership inefficiency.
It is a show of not only shame, but an affirmation of amalgam of acclaimed “experts” that are bereft of ideas needed to transcend seeming impossibilities.
It is a show of shame that billions of naira, including the possible over invoicing, expended on the construction of the highway few years ago, are now surrendered to “illiterate” tanker drivers, even at their whims and dictates.
Assuming that parking of vehicles on both highway and the service lane is justifiable, is it out of place for government to ensure that the exercise of such right does not result to violation of other rights and grinding of economic activities to a halt? But there is no such law.
Instead, the extant traffic law is against what the tanker drivers are doing right now. So, where is government?
Granted, the situation is not new. For the past 13 years, I have personally witnessed this ugly trend right inside Apapa, with a rare spillover to Mile 2 area.
But in each year of the 13-year period, it becomes worse, as it keeps stretching.
Currently, the effect is about taking the entire Lagos’ economic activities to a standstill.
In the past seven days, nearly all the streets in Surulere, Oshodi-Isolo, Mushin and Amuwo-Odofin councils have been crisscrossed, not minding their conditions.
It is all about finding an “escape route.”
The stretch of the gridlock has moved from Apapa to Cele and shut several bypasses, leaving motorists scampering for available space in the streets.
The vehicles have been trapped in holes, thus truncating the journey.
Others have been dented seriously and some with damages that will cost fortunes.
But in all, man-hour losses have been rising geometrically.
There are many questions than the answers that are available.
Do we have leaders who think of the implications of the gridlock in terms of naira and kobo, as well as the man-hour losses?
From the quietness, I will hurriedly say a big NO. And indeed, many others will chorus it too.
It is “no”, because it is now more of a national disaster that these trucks will turn a major highway into a holding bay.
And predictably, they will remain there for weeks and nothing will happen.
Sometimes, it is too difficult to actually decipher what would influence an average Nigerian leader to act on behalf of citizens.
It is doubtful whether they are actually interested in the citizens or aware of issues.
Do they really think of what other nation’s make of them and the country for letting situation like this to exist?
Does this situation encourage the decade-long diversification “political propaganda”?
Where is the place of Ease of Doing Business in all of this?
What health hazards are posed by the gridlock? In fact, it is unspeakable what the bizarre occupation by the tankers drivers has done to the environments they are now.
But again, even if government cannot evolve a lasting strategy to tackle the issue, what about palliatives?
It is unheard of that a major road that connects millions of commuters and several businesses that pay billions in taxes is suddenly cut off and everything goes on as usual.
This situation is worth reemphasising that it lasted without radical approach. But isn’t it shameful.
Lagos State government has several times issued a “quit-the-road order”, but less of enforcement.
The Federal Government seems not to be bothered at all despite having the coercive instrument to combat the menace.
It is shameful that with all the police and military might in Lagos, both the federal and state governments cannot make an order, stand by it and actually make these errant tanker drivers act orderly.
For a start, I suggest, the government make them queue up in one line both at the highway and service lane, notwithstanding the stretch.
In that way, the immediate opening for motorists to pass will be created.
They may also be ordered to leave the service lane for motorists.
This could also be the easiest of the directives to comply with than the order to quit immediately.
They should stop at the foot of the bridge and not be stationary on the bridges, as that will weaken the bridges and create another brand of disaster.
They should stop at least 10 meters away from every round about and not block the by-pass.
At this point, government’s task force can ensure compliance.
The companies that own these vehicles should immediately begin a plan for holding bays and those with such facility inside Apapa should be planning to relocate, while the “call-up system” should be fully reactivated to control the movement of the trucks.
Nelson is on the Staff of The Guardian.