There presently appears to be a ray of hope for an end to the confusion arising from the traffic gridlock in Apapa and environs. This has been attributed to the Federal Government engaging some stakeholders in a partnership to find a lasting solution to the lingering problem.
According to the Federal Controller of Works, Lagos, Mr. Adedamola Kuti, the Federal Government/Stakeholders' initiative entails series of engagements in tackling the traffic quagmire. While admitting that the activities of truck drivers in the area have grave implications on the road infrastructure, Kuti posited thus: "The stakeholders are meeting and ours is just to protect our own infrastructure. All the security personnel are working with us. And we are also aware that trailer parks are being constructed. So we hope it would be enough to get some of these truck drivers to properly park their articulated vehicles.
"But it's an abuse of the road when the drivers park the trucks on the bridges. But I can assure you that work is on-going to have them (trucks) off the road without further delay."
Speaking at a one-day public enlightenment on developments in the road sector in Nigeria, held in Abuja, Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola stated: "For the benefit of those who may be unaware, there are now existing treaty obligations within the West African sub-region and beyond that regulate the amount of load any goods vehicle can put on an axle and by extension, on the road in order to do business within ECOWAS and beyond.
"Our compliance with these regulations will open a massive door of opportunity and prosperity of cross-border trade to Nigerians engaged in the transport business. This is why this meeting was convened because when President Muhammadu Buhari said that if Nigerians will change their habits, it will change Nigeria, I believe this is one of the things he had in mind.
"While it is true that we could have done better by way of massive investment in our transport infrastructure during the windfall of income from oil, this government is now rapidly and aggressively addressing road transport infrastructure repairs, rehabilitation and construction as many of you who travel regularly will attest. There is no state in Nigeria today where you will not see our contractors busy at work. And I must acknowledge what the state governments are also undertaking with regard to states and some federal roads."
Navy to the rescue with call up card system
The noticeable traffic improvement in Apapa has particularly been linked to the intervention of the Nigerian Navy which said it is presently working with other security agencies to unravel the lingering gridlock. To this end, it has commenced the second phase of its bid to check indiscriminate movement of trucks in the area, by reintroducing the "Call up Card System" which was earlier introduced on March 22.
The Commander, Nigerian Navy Ship, NNS Beecroft, Commodore Okon Eyo, while briefing news men on measures taken so far to provide a lasting solution to the traffic situation in the state, said the second phase would begin at the Tin Can Port, and would extend to Berger Yard and Mile Two.
Eyo informed that at the moment, Dockyard Road, Malu Road up to Apapa ports had been cleared of trucks, thereby allowing free flow of traffic. He said the second phase would begin at the Tin Can Island Port and would involve turning back trucks that have no business at the port.
Eyo said: "As I speak, a meeting has been held with the NPA to see how we can extend the process towards Tin Can, having succeeded at Liverpool. The Port Manager of Tin Can Island was here yesterday (Monday) to work out what was done at Liverpool down to Malu Road. We intend to send trucks that have no business at the Tin Can Port away.
"The state government is fully aware of the effort we are putting in. We had a town hall meeting with the Governor of Lagos State, Mr Akinwunmi Ambode, where he spoke of developing a holding bay that will take over 3000 trucks. When all this come on board, we will still need a form of organisation so that people don't just drop trucks anywhere. There should be some form of control to ensure trucks enter loading bays or have a place to stake them. I believe this will ease the traffic situation along Oshodi/ Apapa expressway."
On the modalities that worked in phase one, he attributed that to the introduction of the Standard Operating Procedure to all port users. According to him: " What we did was to design a call up card. Every morning we ask them to bring the particulars of their trucks which we endorse and return to them."
The Commander, however, stated that the problem would not have lingered if the shipping agencies have holding bays, as that would have gone a long way in easing traffic on that axis.
After the briefing, the commander led journalists to inspect the phase one clearance of trucks between Dockyard road and Apapa
At Apapa, the Traffic Manager, NPA, Mr Victor Ogini, attributed the result achieved in the first phase to the existing relationship between the Port, the Navy and other security agencies.
Shipping companies responsible for 70% of problem --Apapa LG Chairman
Meantime, Apapa Local Government Chairman, Elijah Adele, has lampooned shipping companies operating in Apapa, saying that they are responsible for 70 per cent of the traffic congestion experienced at the port. Adele while fielding questions from journalists in his office, alleged that many of the shipping companies do not have holding bays. According to him, the shipping companies are driven by greed. He noted that most of them deliberately keep trucks bearing empty containers lined up on the road in order to deplete container deposits paid by importers.
The chairman said many residents of Apapa have been adversely affected by the traffic situation, even as he lamented that the revenue collection of the local government has dwindled because most business owners have closed shop. Adele told journalists that this was the main reason why he decided to erect barricades, thereby restricting trucks from accessing the inner roads and residential areas in Apapa.
The chairman also said that it is regrettable that the NPA which is saddled with the responsibility of inspection of shipping companies and their holding bays before renewing their licences, has failed to do its job. "The major challenge of the trucks on our roads are the shipping companies; 70 per cent of the traffic situation in Apapa is caused by the shipping companies. They are supposed to have holding bays or bonded terminals; it is just as if you are bringing in a car from abroad, but instead of you to have a car park, you decided to park on the main road.
"We have government officials that renew their (shipping companies) licences and one of the conditions needed to be fulfilled is that you need to inspect their bonded terminals to be sure that they have a place for empty containers, but here, the reverse is the case. The shipping companies are doing this because they usually collect N250,000 as demurrage (container deposit); because of exploitation, they allow truckers to be on the main road and because of this, a journey of five days would now take you two weeks. On each day, for one empty container, they charge about N9,500 as demurrage, some containers can stay on queue for a month, it then means that the N250,000 is gone.
"When I resumed here newly, I talked with the truckers, NPA, APMT and other concessionaires; and I also talked with some of the shipping companies. But they have this confidence that no matter how you try, you would not break through; so I was challenged," Adele stated.
He noted that the barricades on the Apapa inner roads are movable, but any company that needs to receive a container must inform the government 12 hours ahead in order to have access.
On weekends, he said they need to inform government 48 hours ahead so that officials can be on ground.
He assured that the local government area wants business owners within the inner roads in Apapa to be able to do their businesses without stress. "Revenue generation in Apapa has declined and it is only those that are rugged that are still in Apapa, but by the time you meet them, they would tell you their side of the story that for one month, customers find it difficult to access their place.
"As for the trucks on the Apapa Bridge, we have already moved they out, the strength and expiration date of the bridge have already lapsed, some of them have spent more that forty years, it is only the grace of God that has been sustaining that bridge, not to talk of adding more load on it.The bridge is supposed to be for transit and not for cargoes not to be personally situation".
While reacting to the high level of refuse that have taken over Apapa port and inner residential roads, Adele said that the local government is financially handicapped. He admitted, however, thus: "One of the primary responsibilities of the Local Government is to clear refuse and it has to be based on the resources that you have, for now I have two compactors, one of them is as good as gone, the second one is still Ok. I am planning to buy a second hand tokunbo compactor for N18million, but where am I going to get the money?"