The ongoing restoration of sanity in Apapa area is undoubtedly bringing life into the metropolis with businesses resurfacing and absconded landlords returning to their houses. But as commuters want the Mile-2 TinCan axis to be cleared, stakeholders want the tempo of orderliness sustained even as those who are benefitting from the gridlock are lamenting. MURITALA AYINLA reports
When the Presidency inaugurated a task force headed by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo to clear up the gridlock in Apapa and its environs within two weeks, many residents and stakeholders in the area were not too excited. That was following previous series of such pronouncements which were never fulfilled.
The task force popularly called task team was set up as a result of a presidential directive, which ordered the removal of trucks on bridges and roads in Apapa as well as the restoration of law and order in that part of Lagos.
The directive mandated immediate removal of all trucks from the bridges and roads within Apapa and all adjoining streets leading into the Apapa axis.
The Presidential taskforce was headed by the Osinbajo
While the Vice President chairs the task force, its daily operations are supervised by an Executive Vice Chairman, Comrade Kayode Opeifa. The former Commander of the Rapid Respond Squad, RRS, Hakeem Odumosu, CP and ACP, Bayo Sulaiman , a former Chairman, Lagos Taskforce on Enforcement and Special Offence Unit led the enforcement team.
Other membership of the team is drawn from the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC), Nigerian Ports Authority and the Nigerian Shippers Council, representatives of the Truck Transport Union and the Lagos State Government through the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA).
The taskforce was among other things expected to facilitate evacuation of trucks and tankers indiscriminately parked on the roads and bridges to vacate the Port Access Roads within the next 72 hours. But sacrosanct in the implementation of the order was continuous stakeholders’ engagement. The taskforce was also given mandate to restore law and order to guide Port Area traffic via the deployment of an efficient and effective traffic management plan for the entire port area traffic, including the cargo, fuel distribution and business district traffic and effective traffic management integrated manual Call-up system pending the introduction of an electronic call-up system among other plans.
Prior to the latest intervention, Apapa and its environs had become “no go areas” for many Lagosians. Nuisances resulting from indiscriminate and senseless parking of containerized trucks and tankers had discouraged many from having anything to do on the axis. Transportation was literarily halted as no one could move from one place to the other. Going out and returning home for residents was a Herculean task. Businesses gradually shut down with increasing transportation frustration. Moving in and out of Apapa became a mission impossible with plethora of stationary trucks on the road which made the roads impassable.
For years that the problem was allowed to linger, the state’s economy was badly affected as business activities in the area were crippled. The conundrum has also claimed so many lives while values of properties became depreciated with so many businesses closed down with residents fleeing the areas in droves.
The irrational indiscriminate parking of trucks on Lagos roads, bridges and other suburbs was certainly Lagos ‘most daunting challenges that successive government have made efforts to address. Rather than the problem to subside due to efforts put in to address it, it’s growing at a very alarming rate such that its negative impact is creeping into other parts of the state it has never affected.
However, today, through the involvement of the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo led Task team; the hitherto ugly narratives are changing. Residents and motorists on the popular Ikorodu Road no longer lament over the heavy presence of stationary containerized trucks, tankers and other Apapa-bound heavy duty trucks in front of their homes and on their roads. Those indiscriminately parked on the roads and bridges of Orile-Iganmu have also disappeared. For the inhabitants of Ijora, Gasikya, Mosafejo Amukoko and other suburbs, nothing else make them happier than having their roads free of trucks that have been parked for months.
Orderliness, sanity and decorum finally returned to their doorsteps. Going in and out of the communities no longer create anxiety and apprehension for the people on the axis.
Why Apapa gridlock lingered
Speaking on why previous interventions failed, the Chairman of Amalgamation of Container Trucks Owners, Chief Olalaye Thompson, said they paid as much as N150,000 or more to access the port but they believe that has gone for good. He alleged that under the previous joint taskforce led by the Nigerian Navy, a lot of corrupt practices were responsible for the gridlock.
“The way the previous joint taskforce operated was alien to the whole system. Whenever it is 9 to 10 in the morning, they stopped trucks from crossing until 8.pm, and by that time, terrible gridlock would have built up. People were forced to bribe their way to the port. Then, it became the highest bidder’s show. The drivers were forced to bid for the amount they can afford before they could be allowed to pass. Somebody could offer to pay N100,000 while another one could offer to pay N120,000 or more.”
But commenting on the restoration of sanity in the area, Thompson said most Nigerians can testify to the fact that the new presidential task team has done perfectly well since the inception of its operation.
According to the haulage operator, the era of bribing security personnel and other touts who take as much as N150,000 or N100,000 to access the port has gone for good, saying only those who have genuine documents now have access to the port.
He said: “I am saying this with all sense of responsibility. Nobody can say that he is paying N20,000 to access the port now. As the leader of the truck owners, if anyone is paying such, there is no way I will not know. Our members must have come to tell me that there is no difference between the presidential task team and other previous taskforce in the area.”
Also speaking, a member of the Presidential Task team, who refused to give out his name, said so many touts who disguised or attempted to swindle truckers had been arrested and detained, saying that some of their men are being criticised by those who benefitted from the old system.
Who benefits from the rot?
Investigations by New Telegraph revealed that needless blockage of roads by the previous military-led taskforce team gave room for extortion, which forced many truckers to always want to bribe their way into the port by paying large sum of money.
According to Thompson, previous taskforce operate through faceless people known as “Kelebe”. They help the law enforcement agents to collect bribe ranging from N100,000 to N200,000 from the drivers and truckers before they could allow them access the port.
“The military was using them (kelebe) to collect money from our members. Among those who benefitted from the old system were street urchins also known as “Area boys” who disguise as council’s revenue officers to swindle truckers.
The implication of this, Thompson said, led to exodus of people from the axis, saying, “there was no single week that a business outlet will not close down due to transportation bottleneck that almost grounded the metropolis completely. In those days, you can’t go out of Apapa and return same day; it is impossible. Before now, so many houses were empty. So many people were contemplating moving out of Apapa. Already, so many have relocated. The residents’ complaints were dominant in the media. People went in the morning but can’t return home in the evening; access roads were also blocked. Many of them will be robbed in the traffic. However, life is returning owing to the current approach by the task team.”
Return of life in Apapa
As life seems to be returning to Apapa, some of the residents, hoteliers, traders, truckers, agents, shippers and other stakeholders in the area expressed happiness, calling on the Federal Government to sustain the tempo of sanity to forestall return of the indiscipline which crippled the economy. Speaking with New Telegraph, Mrs Augustine Chukwuemeka, who runs a shopping mall, said since enforcement of the Osinbajo-led presidential taskforce, has been recording remarkable improvement on her sales. Also speaking on relative restoration of orderliness in the area, Gbade Amodu, a truck owner, said the manual call up being worked on by the task team would bring about an electronic call up that would finally put an end to the human interference which breeds corruption.
“For me, old glory of Apapa is being restored. Many of our colleagues who left the business now want to come back. So far, so good. We are impressed with the progress made so far. The current task team met a system that was not transparent and they adopted better strategies after listening to our plights,” he said.
Restoration: Different strokes for different folks
As truckers and other businesses are rejoicing over efforts of the presidential task team, those who benefitted from the old and corrupt system are lamenting over the evacuation of the trucks on the road.
For instance, those who collect tolls and other levies from truck drivers and traffic are dissatisfied with the current development.
Among those who benefited from stagnant of movement of trucks on Apapa roads were Okada riders also known as motorcyclists. They are also worried that they can no longer demand spurious charges as transport fares from residents due to free flow of traffic. Traffic traders no longer have their business as usual.
Mile 2-Tin Can: The Snag
Despite successes recorded on Apapa tanker and truck gridlock, Mile 2 to TinCan port axis remains the major challenge. New Telegraph gathered that despite palliative measures put in place, bad portions of the road are rendering the efforts futile. While some residents and commuters are apprehensive over the delay or inability of the presidential taskforce to clear the axis like other areas in Apapa, others blamed the continued presence of trucks on bad portion of the roads.
“The road is really bad. Contractors are not helping matters. They start work in the morning and close by 5pm. They are causing the problem. There is no efficiency. We have tried to complain to the Vice Chairman of the presidential taskforce, but no serious changes have been made,” a trucker said.