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Lagos govt, trucks battle for control of bridges, roads

The Lagos State government and the Nigerian Navy have again ordered truck drivers to vacate bridges and major roads as government battles the intractable traffic gridlock as trucks wait to access the Apapa port in Lagos.  

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The long, snaky lines of all sorts of trucks on the Jibowu bridge, through the Funsho Williams Avenue, to Costain bridge and the Ijora Causeway, and the access road leading to the Apapa port illustrate the complexity of what the traffic in that axis of the Lagos metropolis has become.

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The congestion stretches many metres with some trucks heading to the Apapa ports to freight consignments stuck on the queue for as many as four days before they can access the facility.

That is the picture from the Western Avenue-Ijora-Apapa end. The situation from the Mile 2-Tin-Can port-Apapa ports axis is not different with scores of trucks stuck in the traffic snarl from the Berger area, to the dilapidated expressway in front of the Tin-Can port and to the Apapa ports. From both ends, it can take commercial buses and private cars virtually half the day to beat the traffic jam to get to Apapa ports as they manoeuvre through the lone lane left for them to use.

It is a nightmare really for port users and residents to get to Apapa, the host community of the country’s largest seaport, from whichever end since AG-Dangote Construction Company agreed to rebuild the broken Ijora-Apapa port access road. For many months, motorists, residents, and even pedestrians have had to cope with the harrowing traffic gridlock on all the major roads and highways leading to the port.

Apapa, located west of Lagos Island, lies close to the lagoon. The Lagos port complex, popularly called Apapa Wharf, occupies some 120 hectares land area and is operated by many private firms on behalf of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA). There are a number of ports and terminals for containers and cargoes, with facilities such as berthing areas, cargo handling equipment, stacking areas and stores.

After years of dilly-dallying by the federal government on tackling the worsening condition of the Apapa ports access road from the Ijora end respite finally came last year through a tripartite arrangement involving the federal government represented by the NPA, the Dangote Group and the Flour Mills of Nigeria (FMN).

With the commencement of construction work and closure of a section of the access road at the Barracks to Flour Mills axis, the traffic gridlock has worsened, permanently extending to the Costain bridge, Barracks in Surulere and the Jibowu bridge.

Piqued by the traffic horror the trucks have become and concerned about the security implications, stakeholders that included the Lagos State government and the Nigerian Navy met on Wednesday March 7, 2018 at the Naval Base, Apapa, to deliberate on the matter. At the end of the meeting, they issued a 48-hour deadline to all truck drivers to vacate the bridges that had become their “home” as they waited to access the port.

The Flag Officer Commanding, Western Naval Command of the Nigerian Navy, Rear Admiral Sylvanus Abbah, who convened the meeting, appealed to the drivers to vacate the bridges as terrorists, he argued, might take advantage of the traffic situation to strike.

Our correspondent observed that after the expiration of the deadline the tanker drivers were yet to vacate the bridges. Daily Trust saw that heavy duty trailers were also still parked along major roads that led to Apapa. Many trucks were observed at the Barracks, Costain, Eko Idumota, Ijora and Mile 2 areas still occupying the bridges and roads.

Many drivers were seen taking a nap in their trucks while some use the under of their vehicles as “restrooms.”

This wasn’t the first time truck drivers would be ordered to vacate bridges and major roads leading to Apapa. The state government had in June last year ordered the tanker drivers to stay away from Lagos after the long queues extended to Ikorodu road.

The drivers, in separate interviews told Daily Trust that while they are equally not happy with the current situation, ordering them to vacate bridges and roads was not an option. One of them, Christopher Alonge, blamed the present situation on congestion at the port and government’s failure to develop other ports across the country.

He said, “We ought to develop other ports like Port Harcourt and Calabar. For instance, some of us only go to the port with containers that are meant for export, but we can be here for two weeks without getting to the wharf to offload our goods. But the government should have designated, maybe, the Port Harcourt or Calabar port for export of cocoa, cashew and charcoal, and those exporting melon and other items can go to Tin-Can or Apapa Wharf. This way, we can reduce the congestion here and the traffic gridlock will go.”

Reminded of the deadline, the driver replied, “I have been here for almost a week. You don’t expect me to go back. We are having problems with the area boys and because of that some of us were forced to arm ourselves with cutlasses and even charms to scare away hoodlums.”

Also, Ogbonnaya James, who said he had been on the queue for four days, said drivers can only leave the bridge when the authorities decide to close the port. James even accused some security officials implementing the quit order of extortion.  Another driver, Mashood Rafiu said “I left Ibafo six days ago and we were told that government want us to leave, but I doubt if this is possible. We are also looking for a means of livelihood. 

“We pay all these security agencies before we could gain access to the port; all the trucks on the bridge bribe their way to that place. We spend close to N20, 000 to settle the security people before we get to the Area B side. Also, while on queue we pay ‘parking fees’ to area boys.  We only appeal to the government to take it easy with us until all the roads leading to Apapa are fixed.”

Giving another perspective to the current challenge, another driver, Muhammed Jamiu, said the traffic gridlock exacerbated and trailers piled up on the road because one of the terminal operators in the port which was expected to clear over 1000 trucks daily was doing only 100.

“But instead of managing the traffic, the security agencies take advantage of the problem to extort us. With N30, 000, you can find your way to Apapa from here [Costain]”, he said, adding, “We are also not happy with this development, we are all family men but we are stuck here.”

The Navy had, however, commenced enforcement of the order, in batches. Admiral Abbah, responding to our inquiry on the truck drivers’ allegation of extortion by security operatives, dismissed the claim.

 

To Abbah, the allegation was fabricated by truck drivers to ensure they remain on the bridges. “I have had cause to withdraw my men from the roads, but when the traffic became unbearable, Apapa residents pleaded that we should return. Now, we are working on how to find a lasting solution to the traffic situation. We have held meetings with the different stakeholders, as well as with tanker drivers,” he said.


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