IN an apparent defiance to the ultimatum given by the Nigerian Navy to truck drivers to vacate Lagos roads and bridges, following the perennial gridlock , particularly along the Apapa/Oshodi expressway, truck drivers locked down the ever-busy expressway through out yesterday.
The traffic situation which worsened last week, has taken an alarming dimension since Monday, as truck drivers virtually took over both the major expressway and service lanes on both sides.
For the first time in a long while, motorists spent over 12 hours between Second Rainbow to Berger Under bridge, a situation that overwhelmed policemen and officials of the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority , LASTMA. The officials were sighted sweating profusely under the sun as they watched the helpless situation.
On its part, the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, NUPENG, heaped the blame for the gridlock on the door step of the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, saying that the management of NPA was not bothered about the gridlock. Lagos zonal Chairman of NUPENG, Mr. Tayo Aboyeji, told Vanguard that NPA knew what to do to ease the gridlock both temporarily and permanently, but had refused to do the needful for reason best known to it.
According to him: "We are tired of saying the same thing over and over again without action. I have told you before and I still maintain that tankers you see on that road are trapped on their way to the tank farms. Gone are those days when tanker drivers came from the far north or South-South to Lagos to lift products. Today, most depots outside Lagos are working so tanker drivers outside Lagos have no reason to come to Lagos to lift fuel.
"But those you see in the gridlock are simply trapped. The management of NPA is solely responsible for the gridlock. It has little to do with road construction or bad road. I can tell you that even if the road construction is finished today, the gridlock will not ease. If you like, construct 10 lanes, it will not solve anything. The NPA knows what to do. The Lagos Ports are congested. Until they are decongested, we will continue to live with it.
"Why has NPA failed to ensure the maximum use of other ports like Warri, Calabar, Onne, and Port Harcourt? Why has NPA refused to ensure that shipping companies and other have holding bays to take in used containers? Why has NPA refused to sanction shipping companies flouting directives on holding bays? What about the terminal operators, what has NPA done to ensure that they take-in used containers? Most of the trucks you see on the road are carrying used containers they are returning to the ports. NPA does not care about the suffering those living and doing businesses on that road are passing through daily. It is very sad and unfortunate. Nigeria should hold NPA responsible", Aboyeji said.
Meanwhile, contrary to the seven days ultimatum by the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, to shipping companies and terminal operators to provide holding bays for their empty containers, the stakeholders have refused to comply, a development that has further worsen the traffic gridlock on the Apapa -Oshodi Expressway.
Efforts to speak with the Managing Director of NPA, Hadiza Bala Usman, proved abortive as she neither picked her call nor responded to text messages sent to her on the issue.
But Assistant General Manager, Corporate and Strategic Communications, Ibrahim Suwaid, told Vanguard that it is not true that NPA gave an ultimatum to the shipping companies and terminal operators to provide holding bays but only advised them to do so.
According to him: "It was not an ultimatum, they were only advised to use their own holding bay. I remember there was the issue about Measkline then, when it was reported that they have been given an ultimatum to leave the country. We said no, they were only encouraged to use their holding bay."
On what they are doing concerning the disregard for the advice to the shipping companies and terminal operators to use their own holding bays, Suwaid said he was going to connect Executive Director Marine and Operations whether they have a response to that.
Similarly, former Senior Special Assistant to President Goodluck Jonathan on Maritime matters, Mr. Leke Oyewole, blamed the non provision of alternative routes in and out of the Apapa area of Lagos as the cause for the disruption of businesses and port activities that are impacting negatively on the economy.
Speaking to Vanguard on the development in Lagos, Oyewole said that closing the Apapa-Wharf bridge without proving alternative routes is a major problem for the country, adding that the government ought to have thought of this before announcing the closure of the road.
He however suggested the rehabilitation of the waterways and rail lines in and within Lagos to ease of the movement of people and goods. "We had tried it before now and the movement of cargoes from Lagos ports to Ikorodu was done so effortlessly that we saw as an alternative to moving cargo out of the ports. The Federal Government should explore other areas of ameliorating the suffering of people and their businesses in Apapa" he added.
Similarly, the National President of the National Council of Managing Director of Licensed Customs Agents, NCMDLCA, Mr. Lucky Amiwero, said that his association had petitioned the Presidency on the need to conclude the palliative works on the Tin-Can Island road axis before the closure of the road.
In the petition, dated April 9, 2018, Amiwero said that "The proposed closure of the Ijora Apapa Wharf Bridge, without the rehabilitation of Tincan Island road axis that connects the four major Ports in Lagos, will greatly affect the movement of goods into and out of the Ports, which will lead to closing down of operation in the four major Ports in Lagos."
Part of the petition reads: "We wish to bring to the attention of the Federal Government, the economic implication of the proposed closure of the Ijora Apapa wharf bridge for four months
"There is an urgent need to conclude the palliative work on the Tincan Island road axis of the Apapa Oshodi Express Way, before the closure of the Ijora Apapa Wharf bridge that is used as holding bay to en-route to Apapa Port, which puts pressure on the bridge.
"The propose closure of the Ijora Apapa Wharf Bridge, without the rehabilitation of Tincan Island road axis that connects the four major Ports in Lagos, will greatly affect the movement of goods into and out of the Ports, which will lead to close down of operation in the four major Ports in Lagos.
"Lagos ports might be declared force majeure, due tooperational difficulties in going in and out of the Port, which will necessitate shipping lines to divert cargos to neighboring West African Ports, to reduce stay time of ships and cargos.
"The Tincan Island axis of the Port access road, should be rehabilitated, with part of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) allocation of the 7% Surcharge on Port Development Levy(PDL) in line with the provision of the Port Act Section 32-(a), which conferred authority to NPA, for the Maintenance, control and management of the Port Roads."
Meanwhile, terminal operators at the ports in Lagos have threatened to declare a force majeure following planned closure of Wharf Road, Apapa, Lagos by A.G. Dangote Construction Company Limited for four weeks.
Force majeure is a common clause in contracts that essentially frees a party from liability or obligation when an extraordinary event or circumstance beyond the control of the party and which prevents the party from fulfilling its obligations under the contract, occurs.
A.G. Dangote Construction Company recently announced plans to close both sides of the Wharf Road inward and outward Apapa for four weeks, while the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing also announced plans to shut the Marine Bridge in Apapa for permanent repairs.
The Federal Controller of Works, Lagos, Adedamola Kuti, while speaking in Lagos on Sunday said Julius Berger Plc., the contractor handling the bridge repair was ready to move to site.
However, sources close to some terminal operators at the Lagos Port Complex Apapa and at the Tin Can Island Port Complex, both in Lagos, disclosed that the operators are considering totally shutting down operation while the road closure lasts.
The Lagos Port Complex Apapa has four terminal operators namely Apapa Bulk Terminal, ENL Consortium, Greenview Development and APM Terminals while Tin Can Island Port has five operators namely Tin Can Island Container Terminal, Port and Cargo, Josephdam, Five Star Logistics and PTML.
A source at one of the terminals at Tin Can said, "The situation is bad enough as it is. At present, less than forty percent of the cargoes that should go out of the port is taken out because of the bad state of the road. To now close the road totally will spell doom for the whole port system.
"It will mean a total shut down. The best option for us then is to also shut down and declare force majeure.
This means we will not be liable to paying throughput fees or any other fees to government while the road closure lasts.
"Terminal operators are already groaning and suffering for no fault of theirs. The suffering, huge loss of revenue and the untold hardship foisted on our workers by a dysfunctional system will be compounded if the road is closed."
We have a serious challenge on Apapa traffic gridlock -LASTMA boss
When contacted, the General Manager, Lagos State Traffic Management Authority, LASTMA, Wale Musa, described the situation as "unfortunate", saying that the challenge it posed to the authority and the state "is quite enormous."
"He, however, gave a ray of hope that the situation will soon be a thing of the past as government was already working out a way to permanently end the ugly traffic situation in the area." According to Musa: "We are not unaware of the terrible traffic situation in Apapa. Though, we have our men stationed there on a daily basis for traffic control, but I must confess the challenge is quite enormous. The situation is so unfortunate.
"The activities at the ports and tank farms have made a destination points for the influx of both tankers and containerized vehicles.The present situation that the people are experiencing is made worse by the on-going construction of road at the corridor which aimed at improving traffic movement when completed.I want to assure the general public, particularly, the users of the road in the axis that by the middle of this year, there will be no such traffic gridlock because the present administration of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, has begun moves to tackle the menace and make the traffic in the area a seamless one."
"I just want to implore residents and road users to bear with the state government. There is no gain without pain. Very soon all these will be a thing of the past forever."
"Give us till next week- Navy "The Commander Nigerian Navy Ship, Beecroft, Apapa, Commodore Okon Eyo, who expressed concern over the plight of motorists plying the Oshodi/ Apapa expressway, said modalities had been put in place to address the perennial gridlock on the route."As at yesterday, he said that he had fine tuned the Standard Operating Procedure, SOP for port traffic decongestion.
"According to him: " I am working in conjunction with top management of the NPA and other stakeholders that utilize the services of the ports . Port transportation is responsible for this gridlock. We were working on that. SOP is the modality on how containers trafficking will be managed, how they are moved into the ports, how they are called up and how they are held in the holding bay." I have fine-tuned it and given same to the management of the two ports. There will be a meeting today or tomorrow with the small committee that is interfacing with other stakeholders and by next week Monday or Tuesday we will have an enlarged meeting of all stakeholders so that they can see the fine points that have been laid out in that SOP.
Thereafter, we will go to field and that will be the beginning of decongestion that will impact substantially on Oshodi Apapa Expressway."By then, we will know those (trucks) who should go into the ports, those who should go back and those who should leave the road.
It is not easy for such novel initiative to get off the ground, as it takes lots of engagements and other works to be done." "Vanguard observed that such initiative had begun around the Western Naval Command of the Nigerian Navy vicinity around Marine Beach and Ijora bridge, with heavy presence of naval personnel drafted to ensure compliance by turning back trucks which have no business at the port. Unfortunately, these truck drivers find their way to the Oshodi Apapa expressway where there are no presence of naval personnel, thereby worsening the already sorry situation.
"But Eyo assured that with the ongoing efforts, the traffic situation would begin to ease by next week. "He said: " It is not my intention that they ( truck drivers )should run to Oshodi/ Apapa expressway. I am optimistic that by next week you will begin to see movement. Every night , I sign 1000 call up cards in order to organise the trucks . This takes a huge toll on my direct responsibility. But the aim is to ensure relief on the roads.