For most of last week, the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway was in a state of permanent gridlock as several tankers and trailers virtually seized the major economic artery of the country, leaving trapped motorists at the mercy of criminals who invaded the road. While lamenting the situation, the Lagos State Government has put the blame squarely at the doorstep of the federal government. "We were made to understand that Apapa ports were the only ports discharging Premium Motor Spirit (petrol) in the country, hence the high influx to the area. And not until the situation improves, we will continue to have the same problem recurring," said the state Transportation Commissioner, Mr. Kayode Opeifa.
What seems to have compounded the situation on the road is the slow pace of repair work by Julius Berger. On a normal working day, it takes an average of five hours meandering through the maze of tankers and trailers that have turned most of the roads in Apapa into parking lots. This is further worsened by potholes during the raining season. What this implies is that the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway through the Tin Can ports is most often literally shut down.
Hoodlums often take advantage of this state of confusion to unleash mayhem on road users who severally have had to abandon their cars and run for safety. Many have lost their lives and to these men of the underworld. Yet, as the days unfold, the Apapa Business District gets worse for what it offers both residents and businesses. It is even more saddening to note that some of these problems are within human control.
Virtually every company located in Apapa is now being short-changed by the excesses and sharp practices of these tanker and trailer drivers. In an attempt to beat the long queues, most of the drivers only end up compounding what is already a bad situation. It is either that one tanker is struggling to avoid the queue and therefore drives from one end of the road down to the gate, or that another trailer has successfully beaten the others and is being given an executive clearance to load or offload. Of course at the other end are the owners of the tank farms and depots who do not allow these trucks into their parking lots. All these help to create an atmosphere of chaos which makes life very difficult for Apapa residents and visitors.
In more civilised climes, what is happening in Apapa will be unpardonable, while the armada of trailers and petroleum tankers will be considered primitive. Years of toeing the path of impropriety and poor infrastructure development and maintenance in the energy and other sectors are having their crushing toll on other forms of business. It is sad, if not tragic that Apapa, which ordinarily should be the heartbeat for corporate Nigeria, is a neglected business district whose infrastructure especially roads are not only decayed but ignored by the relevant authorities.
Until the federal government finds it appropriate to build refineries close to the points of consumption, revive our rail systems and create a more orderly and cost effective means of lifting bulk cargo and petroleum products, Apapa will continue to be a nightmare for the residents and businesses operating within the town. But a measure of sanity can still be restored today.
We therefore call on the Lagos State government not to relent in fighting the blackmail by tanker drivers as well as petroleum and gas owners, who have scant regard for other businesses in Apapa. We also call on the Federal Ministry of Works and other relevan agencies to act promptly and arrest this state of lawlessness that has crippled the business district of Apapa.