Sustaining free traffic flow along Apapa-Oshodi Expressway entails removing the root cause of the traffic, writes John Iwori
Residents of Apapa and its environs, especially motorists are now heaving a sign of relief, following the clearing of trucks and other encumbrances by the authorities.
A journey that used to take at least four hours or more now takes minutes. Gone is the bumper-to-bumper traffic jam that characterised movements on the road before the clampdown by the authorities.
Clampdown with Results
This was not the case before the Federal Government (FG) in conjunction with the Lagos State Government (LSG) removed the trucks, most of which were abandoned on the road by their owners for months.
Other encumbrances including shanties used by traders and as abode by miscreants were also demolished by officials of the FG and LSG. This not the first time truck owners will be asked to remove their vehicles. However, these directives were either ignored totally or implemented haphazardly.
The present clampdown which took place in early this year was however different. This is because FG officials and LSG did everything possible to implement the order which took the form of an early morning raid with many truck owners and drivers taken unaware.
Since the clampdown, users of the nation's seaports situated in Lagos Port Complex (LPC) and Tin Can Island Port (TCIP) have expressed delight over the exercise.
The decongestion of the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway, which is notorious for its traffic nightmares especially in the morning and evening hours was effected following months of strategising on how to free it of any gridlock especially between Mile 2, TCIP and Apapa ports.
The exercise ridded the notorious expressway of abandoned and disused vehicles. Tankers and trailers parked on the wrong side of the expressway were also removed to the delight of motorists, especially port users who throng into LPC daily for their business.
It was gathered that on that fateful day, at exactly 12.00 midnight, enforcement team of LSG in collaboration with the police and military men led by the Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Umar Manko, and the State Task Force Chairman, Mr. Bayo Sulaimon, together with officials of the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) and the Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI) moved in to dislodge the trucks.
No fewer than 60 recalcitrant trailer and tanker drivers who defied the order had their vehicles promptly impounded by the enforcement team.
The squad, armed with floodlights and sophisticated demolition equipment, also demolished illegal structures, shops, some buildings within the Apapa area, including those under the Liverpool Bridge, Marine Beach as well as along the headquarters of the Western Naval Command.
Taskforce Chairman, Sulaiman told journalists that the exercise was a follow-up on the directive of Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN to clear up the from the nuisance caused by miscreants and street urchins who had found refuge under the bridge and hitherto served as hideouts for criminals.
He said there was no resistance whatsoever from the truckers, as their trucks were being towed by the enforcement team. Stressing that the exercise would be an ongoing process, Sulaiman said the main objective was to restore Apapa to its former glory.
General Manager of LASTMA, Mr. Babatunde Edu, confirmed the development said not less than 60 trucks were towed, even as headed that the exercise would be on a continuous basis to wade off recalcitrant drivers.
Port users, especially those doing business at Apapa, told THISDAY that they did not believe one could drive from Mile to Apapa in ten minutes as against the four or more hours they used to spend. They noted that if this action could be sustained, then it is a sign of good things to come as it would reposition the economy by increasing revenue generated through the ports.
General Manager of 5-Star Logistics, TCIP, Apapa, Lagos, Mr. Jon Jon Peters, expressed happiness, saying the new development will greatly boost cargo operations in the port. "I have spent 15 years in this country and this is the first time I am seeing this. I am highly impressed," he said.
Also speaking, Mr. Karim Aweda, expressed satisfaction at the free flow of traffic that has returned to Apapa-Oshodi Expressway, saying he used to spend three hours from his house in Maza Maza to Berger Cement where he operates his business centre. He was amazed to make the same trip on Monday in just 10 minutes.
A cement dealer at Berger Cement, Mr. Okikiola Kamaru, said his business had virtually collapsed because of difficulty accessing the place due to traffic snarls. "I hope they will sustain this thing," he said.
The port users noted that "although the port is the gateway to the nation's economy, this is the only port in the world that is difficult to access", adding that successive governments in the past have made light of the situation, ignoring the traffic gridlock to continue with loss of man hours and revenue that would have been used to develop the country.
They noted that with the present action championed by the Presidential Committee on Ports Monitoring as directed by President Goodluck Jonathan, doing business at LPC, Apapa now would be a lot easier.
The decongestion of the expressway was preceded by a four-day ultimatum by Lagos State to tanker and trailer drivers as well as owners of vehicles parked illegally along the axis to remove them from the road side or face the wrath of the law.
Governor Fashola's order had the backing of the Federal Government when a delegation from the Presidency led by the Special Adviser to the President on Performance Monitoring and Evaluation and Chairman of Committee on Ports Monitoring, Professor Sylvester Monye, met with the governor, with the former declaring in an interview that all trucks parked along Apapa-Oshodi Expressway would be moved.
Taking maritime journalists along the expressway to see effect of the action, Prof. Monye said: "We have discussed extensively with the Lagos State Government, and what has come out as you can see, is that for the first time we have to clear the roads without necessarily using any force."
Several security personnel, including 70 mobile policemen (MOPOL) were deployed to Apapa to show that it shall no longer be business as usual.
In a bid to sustain the momentum, he said that members of the task force that cleared Oshodi are also members of the committee.
"We are working together as a team and LASTMA is going to take over patrol and monitoring of this road. If you want to get your truck impounded, you can leave it on this road. Once any truck is impounded, it will be crushed, which means that the owner will not get it back again", he said.
On the tank farms as a precursor to the traffic gridlock, the Presidential Adviser said: "It has nothing to do with the tank farms. It has to do with indiscipline of the tanker drivers. They park on the road. We are not saying you should not lift oil but why should you block the road? What stops you from driving in like you drive into a filling station and buy and go? We cannot condone indiscipline of any nature. You cannot justify indiscipline."
Reading the minds of journalists on where the trucks will go, he said: "That is what we have addressed. Unlike before, they believe it is the responsibility of government to provide parking garage. Any tanker driver doing business on this road should get parking space from the company.
"It is not the responsibility of government. It is not done anywhere else in the world. Unlike before, we have got a site for crushing vehicles. It was provided by Lagos State government. Any truck that is impounded on this road will be taken to the crushing site. It is not the case of having abandoned trucks on the road that nobody comes to claim. We will crush them", he vowed.
He dared the tanker drivers to declare strike action, pointing out that they cannot continue to punish Nigerians.
"They cannot continue to punish Lagosians. I think Lagosians deserve something better. If you are a property owner in Apapa, your property has lost value 100 per cent. Is that fair because you are doing tanker business? Is that fair because of your business other businesses should die? It is really not about us the government, it is about everybody. It is your right and mine and we deserve the right to pass on this road freely and not for the tankers only," he declared.
In order to ensure that the present tempo is sustained, many stakeholders in the maritime sector of the economy have called on FG build Loading Bay for the truck owners.
They also stated that there was need for the FG to put pressure on the terminal operators, shipping firms, tank farm owners to have a Loading Bay for truck owners who come to do business in their premises.
A Lagos-based licensed customs agents, Mr. Silvanus Okpara, told THISDAY that the main reason why trucks park on the road, was because terminal operators, shipping firms, tank farm owners either do not have parking space for the trucks drivers coming to do business in their premises, or the ones they have do not have enough space to accommodate all of them.
His words: "My brother, let me ask you, do you want the truck drivers to carry the trucks on their heads? The Federal Government must compel the terminal operators, shipping firms, tank farm owners to provide enough space for all the trucks coming to do business in their premises. It must not only ask them to provide the Loading Bay, but it must give them deadline to provide it and punish those who fail to comply.
"Why will somebody be allowed to start a business without consideration for the customers that will come to buy the products or use the services they are rendering? It's like a landlord erecting a house without considering that those who will rent it will have cars and use toilets or bathroom. It is absurdity of the highest order.
"That is the only way to sustain the decongestion of Apapa-Oshodi Expressway. As a licensed customs agent, I am aware the terminal operators and the shipping do not have space for their empty containers. Many of the containers you see on top of trucks moving on the road are empty.
"They are just roving around on the road contributing to the traffic snarls in Apapa and its environs because the terminal operators and the shipping firms do not have any space to keep the empty containers. The Federal Government must therefore compel the terminal operators, shipping firms, tank farm owners to provide parking space for the truck drivers doing business with them.
"They must be given deadline otherwise it cannot sustain the present free flow of traffic on Apapa-Oshodi Expressway", he added.
Some stakeholders also emphasised the need to periodically change officials of the task-force saddle with the responsibility of monitoring the traffic in Apapa and its environs.
According to them, "if this is not done, many of them will end up being part of the problem instead of the solution. They will eventually get used to the system, collecting bribes and looking the other way when truck drivers flout traffic rules on the road."
They also enjoined the FG to stop granting permission for the building of more tank farms in Apapa and its environs. They wondered why the FG would continue to give grant permission for the building of more tank farms when existing ones are still grappling with the challenges of inadequate space for the truck drivers coming to do business in their premises.
They also called for an enlightenment campaign and awareness for motorists as many of them are ignorant of traffic rules and regulations, and urged the authorities to step up efforts to rehabilitate the roads, since "the present deplorable state of the road is nothing to write home about."
Some players in the maritime sector of the economy said it was shameful that an expressway that leads to the nation's premier port which generates billions of naira into the central till daily is in this sorry state.
Only time will tell whether the FG will heed these suggestions and put concrete measures in place to sustain the free flow of traffic along Apapa-Oshodi Expressway in the months ahead.