The lingering chaotic traffic situation on the Mile Two/Berger/Coconut axis of the Oshodi/Apapa Expressway has taken an alarming turn for the worse, no thanks to security operatives deployed to ensure free traffic flow on the dual expressway but who are now taking advantage of the situation to extorting money from tanker and truck drivers.
Rather than strictly enforce compliance with traffic regulations to ensure that sanity prevails in the area, the security men allow the drivers of these articulated vehicles to make U-turn at Berger Yard at night in order to drive against the traffic to the tank farms on Tin Can Island and Kirikiri, and in the event, end up parking indiscriminately on the highway and other available spaces in the area.
In fact, Vanguard can confirm that once money has changed hands, permission to make the U-turn is expressly granted by uniformed security operatives of the Nigeria Police Force and the Nigeria Customs Service officials, some of whom take turns in assisting the truck drivers by clearing the way for them, while others wait by their respective patrol vehicles.
This unfortunate scenario continues to add to the unfolding confusion as the resulting daily surge of trucks and tankers often lead to a complete lock-down of the expressway and all the adjoining roads in the area, thus creating nightmarish experiences for other motorists and road users.
The situation is also not helped by the fact that some naval officers have joined in the extortion jamboree. They are seen every night at the Kirikiri end of the overhead bridge collecting money from truck and tanker drivers who are compelled to drive on a designated lane on the bridge ostensibly to ensure orderliness on the road.
Vanguard investigation revealed that the security agents collect between N6000 and N5000 from the drivers depending on the size of the truck. For a 40-foot truck or tanker, the driver parts with N6000, while smaller sizes of trucks attract less amount.
We pay security agents --Truck drivers
Confirming the development, one of the drivers who spoke to our reporter on the condition of anonymity, said he and his colleagues have no choice but to pay the security operatives as that is their assured ticket to get to the tank farms promptly to lift petroleum products. Refusal to pay, he added, could only put them out of business as some of them spend between two and three weeks from Berger Yard to the tank farms.
Some other tanker drivers, who spoke to Vanguard, also made same claim, alleging that policemen deployed to the area to control traffic have abandoned their duty for filthy lucre. A tanker driver, simply identified as Alhaji Abdullahi, who said he came from Maiduguri to lift petroleum product, lamented that he had spent almost a week without getting close to the tank farm.
Asked why they park indiscriminately along the highway without consideration for the plight of other road users, Abdullahi alleged that the police should be blamed for the situation. According to him: "I'm confused about the whole issue. Most of our colleagues who have not been booked to lift petroleum products are allowed to behave anyhow by policemen."
The driver also blamed the situation on the failed portions of the expressway, adding, however, that the only way out of the recurring problem is to relocate the tank farms out of Apapa.
Other tanker and container truck drivers who spoke with Vanguard equally urged government to urgently fix all the bad portions of the road leading to the port, saying that they spend close to 48 hours accessing the seaports whenever they arrive Lagos to load or offload dry and wet cargo from the seaport.
Some of them disclosed that the long hours they spend on traffic and the prohibitive amount they spend settling security operatives have made their various haulage companies increase the price of transporting goods from the seaport to various parts of the country.
On his part, Jubril Mohammed , a tanker trucker who spoke with Vanguard, informed that apart from bad potions of the roads which create access problem to the oil depots in Apapa, their operations are also hampered by the money security operatives and officials of NUPENG collect from them.
Mohammed said: "While trying to access the depots, I pay security men controlling the traffic N1,000, apart from about N20,000 I pay to NUPENG officials. But I think the main cause of the traffic in Apapa is the bad potions of the road, mainly by the Area B Police Station, Floor Mill and the Wharf Ports. These roads need urgent attention if government wants to end the traffic situation in Apapa."
Another driver, Godwin Tokunbo, who transports empty containers from private bonded terminals to the seaports, said the dilapidated road has seriously undermined their business operations as they find it difficult making complete trips.
While the chaotic traffic situation continues, men of the underworld have been taking advantage of the situation to rob innocent motorists and other individuals both at night and during the day.
For instance, some staff of Vanguard Media Limited recently fell victim to miscreants who accosted them while they were trapped in traffic and under the guise of soliciting for alms, attacked and tried to rob them of money and mobile phone sets.
A motorist, Mr. Kehinde Adeoye, narrated how two miscreants accosted him while in traffic at the Mile 2 area. According to him: "I left the office at about 9 pm and there was this terrible traffic along the Apapa Expressway. It took about two hours before I could get out of it. While in the traffic, two rough-looking, hefty men approached me for alms, but I knew it was the bag of the lady passenger beside me they were after. I quickly gave them N200, and they left. If I had not given them the money they probably would have snatched her bag because the place was lonely and there was no security operative in sight."
However, Police sources told Vanguard that the Commissioner of Police, Mr Imohimi Edgal, had already ordered the police at Trinity, Kirikiri and adjoining divisions to ensure that they patrol the affected areas effectively with a view to ensuring smooth flow of traffic and safeguard lives and property. It was also learnt that the CP has also warned his men not to get involved in any illegal activity.
In his reaction to the worsening traffic situation in Apapa, the security challenges it has engendered along the access roads in the area and the nuisance posed by police men allegedly exorting money from motorists, Spokesperson of the Lagos State Police Command, Olarinde-Famous Cole, informed that the Command was aware of the situation and assured that the police authorities were responding to the situation.
"We have put in place visible police presence and also invoked the Command X- Squad to go after all officers committing one form of corrupt practice or the other in that area. Whenever we find officers doing illegal stop-and-search or illegal searching of vehicles, adding to the frustration of motorists, we arrest them. The Commissioner of Police has directed X-Squad operation to be carried out daily and weekly on that route. We arrested some(offending policemen) last week and we will continue to make arrests and discipline them in a departmental way as regards the traffic frustration in blocking access to the ever-busy road.
"The Commissioner of Police, Imohimi Edgal, has also increased traffic personnel in the area through the Spy Police. They help to reduce and control traffic, especially during the weekend. We have added 6000 Spy Police to the traffic management and working with the state government also to reduce traffic in the area. As part of our commitment, we have also informed members of the public in the area that whenever they see any police man committing any form of misconduct or corrupt practice, they should just step aside and call the emergency citizen number centre and report such conduct to the police. We will take action from there and we will continue to do that until Lagos traffic crime is curbed.
On traffic robbery
"Presently, you can see high police patrol in every area, in every bus- stop, in every locality, in every community. A minimum of four policemen patrol traffic congested areas during off and peak periods. We have strategies put in place permanently in pin down points in every part of the state, especially those areas that are prone to crime, areas where you will see people trying to sell one form of beverage or the other, and use that opportunity to rob motorists of their valuables. We have achieved so much in that regard and we will continue to do so while arresting criminal elements and continue putting the issue of traffic in the state in the front burner.
Bad roads, indiscriminate parking-- Twin evils of traffic pain
Meantime, Vanguard can confirm that a combination of indiscriminate parking and recurring crater-like potholes has over the years reduced the carriage capacity of the road, causing traffic congestion on the ever-busy expressway. Consequently, Apapa and Oshodi bound motorists and commuters literally pass through hell to get to their destinations after spending several hours in the traffic on daily basis.
Those who have targets to meet now use the services of commercial motorcycle operators popularly called Okadariders despite the obvious risk. In fact, most commercial drivers and motorists now navigate through Olodi-Apapa through Boundary, Ajegunle, to access Apapa, a longer but a better alternative route.
Indeed, it can be said that the traffic gridlock at Mile 2 axis, onward Apapa Ports, has for the last couple of weeks reached its all time worst as petroleum tanker as well as containerised vehicle operators continue to park indiscriminately on the highway. The comparative relief which was enjoyed in 2015, following series of meetings with stakeholders, had since fizzled out due to overt indiscipline and total disregard for the state's traffic rules and regulations by these haulage operators.
FG says it is responding to the situation
Meantime, the Federal Government, through the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing, has said it is responding as expected to the chaotic traffic situation in Apapa area of Lagos metropolis occasioned by the deplorable conditions of the roads leading in and out of Apapa, through ongoing reconstruction of Apapa Wharf Road and Ijora Causeway.
The Special Adviser on Media to Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Hakeem Bello, who responded on behalf of Mr. Babatunde Fashola, said public outcry over the situation in Apapa led to the ongoing intervention at Apapa Wharf Road and Ijora Causeway by the Federal Government.
Bello who noted that the Tin Can axis of the Apapa/Oshodi Expressway had been earmarked for reconstruction up to Berger Yard, said motorists and commuters were bound to suffer some inconveniences when construction works are ongoing on major highways. He assured that the completion of the Apapa Wharf Road project in a few months time, will bring some measure of relief to motorists and commuters plying the Apapa/Oshodi Expressway, as he blamed the prevailing situation on spill over of traffic from Apapa Wharf Road.
Appealing to the general public to bear with government, Bello, however, disclosed that at the recently held stakeholders' meeting on the Apapa traffic situation, one of the resolutions reached was that truck and tanker owners who had formed the habit of parking illegally along the expressway and on top bridges should remove them and find where to park them while waiting for their turns to load.
He expressed surprise that in spite of the fact that the resolutions were popularly adopted, the situation in Apapa continues to deteriorate by the day.