In the past two months, driving through Apapa-Oshodi expressway, the gateway to the nation's ports, has been a nightmare for road users, as it now takes about four hours between Sanya and Berger Cement Bus Stop.
A cross section of road users who spoke to Vanguard narrated their ordeals.
"It is horrible. It is frustrating. It is annoying. I have not seen this kind of thing before. Can you believe I stayed for more than four hours in the traffic? I have been to several countries in the world, I have not seen a place where a road is being constructed and people are made to suffer like this. Why is our own different?" Berechi Okani, who works in a publishing firm in Apapa, said.
Okani told Vanguard that for two months now, he has been going through such harrowing experience daily on his way to work. He said on a particular day, he got to his office about 12.20 pm and since then, he has stopped going to work in his car. Instead, he uses public transport, which affords him the opportunity to alight at will and take a motorcyle, popularly known as Okada.
Yunus Ajayi, a staff of a first generation bank, at Coconut area of Apapa is always unhappy when he remembers he needs to use the Apapa-Oshodi expressway to and from work.
He said: "When I was transferred to our Coconut branch early this year, I did not reckon with the enormity of the heavy traffic on the road. On several occasions, I arrived the office an hour behind schedule, such that the management has warned me orally and just last week issued me a query. It is so demoralizing that I have come to see my transfer to Apapa as a punishment."
According to Ajayi, going through the gridlock daily is breathtaking as it is stressful.
He said: "The most agonizing part of it is that when one gets to Mile 2, you are confronted by street urchins and thieves who would break your car's side glass, steal your belongings and may only leave you unharmed if you are lucky."
Okani and Ajayi experience depicts the worsening traffic situation on the ever-busy Apapa- Oshodi expressway, especially in the last two months.
Rush hours Traffic into and out of Apapa has never been this bad, as it is now a nightmare to work in the once commercially attractive business city.
The situation is at its worst during the rush hours, especially in the morning and in the evening, when many workers and business operators are resuming work or going home at the end of the day's business. In the process, several man hours that would have been used for other productive and meaningful ventures, are lost to the gridlock.
Menace of tanker drivers
Though construction work by Julius Berger has been going on since this year, thereby causing traffic jam in the past, the recent gridlock was said to have been caused more by tanker drivers waiting to load petroleum products at the tank farms located at Kirikiri and Apapa.
Consequently, residents of Kirikiri Town, who have been at the receiving end from the activities of the oil depot operators have called on government at the federal and state levels to either relocate the oil depots or stop them from storing and lifting highly inflammable petroleum products in the area.
The residents also expressed their displeasure over government's insensitivity to the dangers posed by oil depot operations in the area which they claimed is residential.
They argued that Kirikiri town, which also has the nation's number one prison facility, was designed mainly for residential purpose, claiming that the waterfront which originally belongs to the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, was not meant for petroleum storage facility giving the closeness of residential buildings to the waterfront.
Repeated calls, they said, had been made to government agencies saddled with the duties of regulating operations of oil depots in the country to reconsider their decisions of approving the continuous illegal operations of oil depots in Kirikiri town, but all to no avail.
A resident, Israel Ikudembu told Vanguard that the community now lives in fear of a possible fire outbreak.
He said: "Apart from the traffic jam, we've had few signs of what is to come and God is only being merciful to us. Nobody knows when the next big fire will come. We have seen two and one was only averted on Monday, November 26, 2013.
"A tanker carrying 33,000 litres of petrol lost control and fell into a drainage, spilled all it contents. It took just the grace of God that there was no explosion, hence fire would have razed the entire community.
"I am sure this is what government is waiting for before they would take decisive action against the illegal storage of petroleum products in Kirikiri town. "I have gone through the Petroleum Act and it is very clear that the location of oil depot in a residential area like Kirikiri town his purely illegal.
"Their operations clearly contravene all the sections of the Petroleum Act, including water and air pollution. We have made several efforts to contact the authorities and we have not been able to get proper response from them. In most cases, the Lagos government will blame the Federal Government. But this is fraud. Whoever signed the approval of the construction of these oil depots in Kirikiri town ought to be prosecuted.
"This moment, all we need from government is to relocate them from Kirikiri or rather stop them from storing and distributing highly flammable petroleum products in Kirikiri town. Now oil depot operators are bent on buying over property from owners who are scared of living in the town."
Another resident, Mr. Charles Ezugo, said the entire area is completely in a mess as residents now spend hours on traffic if they most go home.
He said: "Living in kirikiri town is now terrible and the truck drivers have made it that bad for us. They now park their trucks on the Kirikiri link bridge and block the road for hours without allowing residents access to their homes. They do this with the backing of the police who usually sit and watch them.
"The only time the roads will be free is when Navy officials from the naval base are on ground to free the roads.
"This is too bad and we can't call on anybody for assistance. When you go to the police they will tell you that they can't control truck drivers, but people who are close to them have informed us that the the police allowed this because NUPENG officials that collect tolls from the truck drivers give back their returns to the police."
Apapa is home to Nigeria's two foremost ports which are currently being managed by nine terminal operators. Between the two ports called Lagos Port Complex and Tin Can Island Port, more than 65 per cent of dry cargoes and about 90 per cent of the nation's petroleum products are handled.
This is because it hosts about 25 tank farms. These are in addition to the many shipping companies, numerous banks and other businesses that are located in this port city.
The building of these tank farms and their subsequent attraction of scores of fuel tankers was not taken into consideration when the roads were initially constructed.
These obvious facts, more than ever, justify calls for lasting solutions to the issue of gridlocks on Apapa roads that ordinarily should be without any hindrance because they connect the ports, which are merely cargo transit areas.
Why trucks are parked on the road
Is there enough justification for trucks to park on the road? Mr. Sylvanus Opara, a licensed customs agent said the main reason why trucks park on the road, was because terminal operators, shipping firms, tank farm owners either do not have parking spaces for truck drivers coming to do business in their premises, or the ones that have, do not have enough space to accommodate all of them.
According to him, "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."
Also speaking, Mr. Tokunbo Korodo, Lagos Zonal Chairman of the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, NUPENG, which has the Petroleum Tanker Drivers, PTD, is an affiliate, said the situation should not be blamed on tanker drivers.
Lack of parking spaces for trucks
He said: "We have observed the chaotic situation on that axis since over two weeks now. I have been there physically to inspect the situation. What I saw was very disturbing that I have to call the Lagos State governor and drew his attention to the issue and told him that there is need for us to meet with him urgently.
"He promised that he would soon meet with us. We are trying to avoid a situation where we have a confrontation with Lagos State Transport Management Authority, LASTMA.
"However, what we have observed was that we noticed no free passage in that area. We went round and observed that it is not tankers per say that park on the road. We saw some containers, heavy duty articulated vehicles that park indiscriminately on that road."
He also attributed the gridlock to lack of parking spaces for trucks.
He said: "Most of our petroleum depots are working as we speak. When the tanker drivers are given clearance to come in for loading and there is no free passage, there will be logjam on the road. That is what is happening. One of the major reasons for this chaos is lack of parking space."
The labour leader explained that the space given to NUPENG at Orile has been reduced due to road expansion.
He noted: "We have where we were given at Orile known as Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu Truck Terminal. As we speak, because of the expansion on the Badagry express road, it has reduced space to almost zero,that is why you find some of the tankers parked on the high way.
"That was what made us to draw the attention of Lagos State to the situation and for him not to see us as a little lawless. It is because there is no space for us to park again. If there is space, we will not be on high way. Lagosians can bear us witness that since we were given that place (Orile), we maintained high level discipline in the way we parked our trucks."
Also, the National Chairman Association of Maritime Truck Owners (AMATO), Mr. Remi Ogungbemi, said the traffic situation along the access roads to the port would remain the way it is unless government provides a parking space within the ports for its members.
According to him, "before the port concession, there were designated places where trucks were allowed to park. But the port concession arrangement has taken over those places. That is why you are now seeing trucks littering the whole place within the ports, that is, the Tin Can and the Apapa ports.
"All those trucks parking on the road, it is not in the interest of the owner or the driver, but the truck has to come from somewhere. Look at an aircraft that flies. We have airport. We have a tarmac. We have a hanger for planes. We also need a terminal for trucks designated within the ports.
Ports' structure tampered with
"For me, this is what I know to be the permanent solution to the traffic situation within the two ports."
"To a layman, you will say that the truck operators are the cause, but the major cause of the traffic is that the foundation or structure of the ports has been tampered with. So in the absence of a truck terminal at the port, you automatically find trucks parking anywhere they see a space.
"We cannot exonerate ourselves. We can only be managing the situation on ground pending the time we have the infrastructure in place."
However, the continuous parking of trucks on the road by petroleum tanker drivers violates the Petroleum Act 1974, 1988,( as amended).
According to the Act, which Vanguard obtained, section 80 (1), states:"No tank vehicle shall be parked on the highway.
Sub-section (2) further explaines: "Where a mechanical breakdown or other cause prevents a vehicle from leaving a highway, the driver shall remain with the vehicle and take all reasonable precautions to prevent a fire or other accident; and in particular, he shall see to it that:
(a) Two collapsible metal notice boards each bearing the word "DANGER" in red reflector glass are placed in the centre of the road, fifty yards ahead of, and fifty yards behind, the standing vehicle;
(b) One red lamp is placed beside each of the boards mentioned in sub-paragraph during the hours of darkness;
(c) The fire extinguishers in the vehicle are removed, if necessary, and placed where they may be readily available if the vehicle catches fire.
Recall that recently, the Senior Special Adviser to President Goodluck Jonathan on maritime services, Mr. Leke Oyewole, said that government was working on long term measures to address the issue.
According to him, apart from directing the contractors handling the road rehabilitation project to expedite action on the projects, efforts were also being intensified to complete the truck part project as quick as possible.