Trucks are still on the Apapa and adjoining bridges one week after the 48-hour ultimatum for them to quit. Residents and business owners are wondering when their nightmare will end. ADEYINKA ADERIBIGBE writes.
The gridlock in and around Apapa was still there despite the expiration of the 48-hour ultimatum to truck drivers to quit.
The trucks, which have taken over all available spaces and spilled over to the access bridges into the ports, have refused to move.
According to experts, over 4,000 trucks and trailers head for Apapa daily. Many of them that can’t access the ports stay on the bridges and all available spaces while awaiting their turn.
Investigations revealed that 50% of trucks on their way to Apapa are only going there to return empty containers. Many stay for upwards of two to three weeks before accessing the shipper’s terminal just to drop their empty consignment. Of the huge number of trucks invading Lagos and over-running its bridges, only 40 percent are petroleum tankers.
Many of the truck drivers savagely abuse the environment, turning already clogged and silted gutters and drain channels into toilets.
Their activity has continued to draw flaks and concerns even from experts. Structural experts say the continued dead weight of the trucks is negatively affecting the bridges. They urge government to carry out an integrity audit of the bridges to determine their healthy status.
Beyond their negative impact on the health status of the bridges, concerned stakeholders have also identified security breaches the trucks constituted.
The Flag Officer Commanding Western Naval Command (FOC, WNC) of the Nigerian Navy, Rear Admiral Slyvanus Abbah, was more punchy. For him, they constitute soft target for insurgents or terrorists that might want to test the will of government to fight terrorism and put paid to insecurity. “No one knows where and when terrorists strike. Their actions cannot be predicted and that is why we cannot afford to have these vehicles parked on the roads for two to three weeks,” Abbah told equally apprehensive stakeholders at a meeting held to resolve the crisis at the dockyard in Apapa recently.
Like the Navy, even the state government seemed more determined to drive them off the axis and the bridges.
“We do not want to see tankers and trailers packed on the bridges anymore and the government is determined to put the full weight of all security operatives to enforce it, the Permanent Secretary Ministry of Transportation, Dr Olufemi Taiwo Salaam, had said.
It was not the first time the Ambode-led government would attempt to clean the Apapa traffic. In 2015, it ordered their evacuation. Three years down the line, the situation has grown worse with the traffic on the axis, becoming a national shame.
Even Ambode’s predecessor, Babatunde Fashola, tried to find a sustainable solution to the Apapa gridlock and save the nation the embarrassment the road had become. It failed.
Apapa, according to transport and logistics experts, is a classic example of government’s failure to develop a masterplan to redistribute traffic on its flagship gateway.
Two economic activity – international/export trade, and petroleum product lifting from the Atlas Cove impact on Apapa road everyday. The Apapa Ports and a cluster of 35 tank farms linked to the Atlas Cove have made a mess of Apapa.
Salaam, said these activities have overstretched the road facility that has remained same since the 60s, leading to the spill-over choking transportation in the city.
Apapa Ports, Salaam said, was only built to handle 30 million metric tons of containerised imports. Currently, it is handling 80 million. and unlike what obtains in the past, most of the shipping companies have no holding bay in accordance with the law.
The absence of holding bays, where trucks can park and wait to pick up or discharge their containers, Salaam said, constitutes the greatest hindrance to the free flow of traffic on the axis as the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) and the Nigeria Shippers Council (NSC), seem helpless in tackling the scourge.
The other leg of the crisis is the petrol tankers’ activities at the tank farms in Apapa. The farms were licensed to operate by the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), despite that most of them had no holding bay.
“While the law provides that, at least, each tank farm should have a bay that can hold 50 trailers, you find that apart from the major oil marketers, virtually none are fulfilling this aspect of the law,” Salaam further stated.
Salaam agreed, that Apapa’s crisis came after the ports were concessioned about 16 years ago.
“The new owners of the two Ports simply converted the holding bays within the ports to other uses throwing the trucks to the roads,” he said.
There is also a cartel/exploitative theory that has gone viral around the ports. Shippers demanded that an importer pay a cautionary deposit of N250,000 with a proviso that the empty containers be returned within seven days, or the deposit forfeited.
“The blockage of the roads would make accessing the ports impossible thereby leading to the loss of the deposit and likely payment of demurrage by the importer on the extra days used outside the bay such should be deposited,” Sylvanus Okocha, a clearing agent, said.
His position was corroborated by the Association of Maritime Truck Owners (AMATO) National Chairman, Chief Remi Ogungbemi.
Ogungbemi said his members’ problem is chiefly an accessible holding bay.
He said his association had seen a space, but had been unable to acquire it because the owner was then requiring about N2 billion. He urged the govrnment to help by providing a bay for the vehicles with adequate conveniences for drivers.
Ogungbemi said there would be sanity at the ports if the Hadiza Bala Usman led NPA directed shipping lines to utilise holding bays, and for Shippers Council to direct its men to return to the call up system to call drivers into the ports.
Some importers believe that only the Federal Government can sanitise the ports and break the backbone of the cartel and forced the trucks to stay on the road.
The dilapidated state of Apapa access roads, the inaccessibility of Liverpool Road and the virtual closure of Lillypond have left trailers heading to Apapa to lift fuel from the tank farms stranded on the roads.
The effect is that trailers and trucks have taken over all road networks in the area, spilling into adjoining roads, such as Funso Williams Avenue, formerly Western Avenue, and stretching to Ojuelegba and beyond.
“The reality is that these bridges were built to carry light loads and not heavy weights as they are being currently subjected to,” Salaam said, expressing the government’s frustration. He disclosed that should integrity test be conducted on all the bridges, they may fail the test because for over a decade they have been exposed to carrying weights far above their construction capacity.
To address this anomaly, the Permanent Secretary said the state had completed a holding bay that could accommodate 3,500 tankers and trucks at Sari-Iganmu in Orile. He added that another one that could take about 2,700 containerised trucks was being stabilised and would soon be made available for use.
“This is further exacerbated by the fact that shipping companies do not only have loading bays to load, but have no bays to return to after discharging their goods. They all go to the ports. Come and see empty containers at the ports that’s when you’ll realise that the ports are being used as loading bay contrary to the standard global practice,” Salaam said.
He said the government was determined to ensure that sanity returned to Apapa.
But in doing this, Salaam said the NPA should assert its regulatory role and justify its existence as the recognised agency capable of sanitising ports’ operation.
He praised the armed forces’ commitment to joining hands with the government to drive some sense into truck drivers.
According to Salaam, some naval officers, in some instances, lead truck drivers out of the gridlock on the payment of an agreed fee. This practice, he said, goes on daily and has put in abeyance traffic plans and strategies the government had used to tame the hydra- headed gridlock.
“We are committed to sanitising traffic everywhere in Lagos, Apapa inclusive. Our men are well trained and the Police have also continued to be well equipped to perform optimally, but they would not be able to confront deliberate breach by sister security operatives,” Salaam added.
An Apapa resident, Bidemi Okunola, said many residents would heave a sigh of relief if the relocation could be actualised.
“You would not understand what we go through here. Apapa has simply been cut off from the rest of Lagos by the activities of these truck drivers, who park at random on our streets blocking entries and exits and making commuting in and out a hell for residents,”she said.
She said many residents, especially corporate bodies, had relocated to other parts of the state, and living had practically be come impossible.
Okunola, who moved into Apapa when it was the toast of upwardly-mobile and business-savvy minds, lamented the sad turn of events.
But Salaam assured that Apapa’s lost glory would soon return, only that it would require all agencies in the area to cooperate with the state.
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