Since the beginning of the year 2018, it has been hell for motorists and other road users in the Mile Two/Berger/Coconut/Tin Can axis of the Oshodi-Apapa Expressway. This is no thanks to the lingering traffic congestion in the area taking an alarming turn for the worse each successive day.
Last week it degenerated into a climax of chaos as over 5000 tankers, trucks and other articulated vehicles invaded and seized a whole section of the dual carriageway, completely paralysing traffic from Oshodi to Tin Can, inward Apapa.
Although motorists presently enjoy some measure of respite following government intervention after a media reports-inspired public outcry, the situation remains uncertain with speculations running wild on what will happen next. Indeed, from Sanya Bus-Stop on the Oshodi-Apapa Expressway to Tin Can/ Wharf, much of the available spaces are still under occupation by fuel tankers and various sizes of trucks. The prolonged illegal occupation of the roads by tankers going to lift petroleum products from tank farms and trucks heading for the ports has become the rule rather than the exception. The Police, Federal Road Safety Corps, FRSC and other traffic management agencies have not had it easy controlling traffic as well as maintaining law, order and security in Apapa and its environs.
The reasons are not far to seek. First, the deplorable state of the roads has affected free movement of tankers and trucks. Second, the owners of the tankers and trucks have not demonstrated strong commitment to leaving the roads. Third, government, both Federal and state, has not shown enough political will to enforce sanction against tankers and trucks owners. The government's position seems to be based on the availability of petroleum products. In other words, government feels that the forceful removal of the tankers from the roads could result in fuel shortage as 36 tank farms are currently located in the area.
Indeed, the popular impression is that the situation persists because of the pervading sense of helplessness being demonstrated by government and other relevant authorities. It is a situation that was captured by a foreigner, Mr. Kazuma Anatolia, who claims to have been a resident in Apapa for over 30 years. He told Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, during a recent visit to the area that "Apapa is sick and need a doctor to fix it, from both the Federal and state governments."
According to him, due to the current situation in Apapa, over 12,000 jobs had been lost and still counting, while over 2,000 houses are vacant as owners have abandoned their properties.
evailing traffic lock-down in Apapa seem to have intensified as the situation gets out of hand by the day. Efforts by both the Federal and Lagos State governments to address the traffic situation have so far yielded no significant or far-reaching result.
As the blame game rages over the deteriorating situation, the Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Shippers Council, NSC, Mr. Hassan Bello, who spoke with Vanguard, specifically pointed accusing fingers at truck drivers who he said have no business coming to park along the road and congesting the area, before proceeding to the port. Bello explained that a study carried out recently showed that the ports are only supposed to accommodate about 2,000 trucks, but that presently about 5,000 trucks come to the port daily.
He stressed that there is need to regulate the activities of truckers to ensure that only those that need to go to the port do so. One of the ways of achieving this is to ask truckers to form bigger units rather than the present one-man-one-truck system.
But for former Chairman of the Council for Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria, CRFFN, Alhaji Olarenwaju Hakeem, road reconstruction and activities of truck drivers alone are not responsible for the gridlock. According to him: "I've been in this environment for a very long time. I schooled in Apapa. I've been living in Apapa for many years.
Return of empty containers
"When you look at the structure of the port, no matter how the road is constructed today, it will not ease congestion; it will only reduce it to 20 percent. Go and write it down. We are still coming back there. Based on the way the port is designed, together with the road there, it is not meant for all these fuel tankers.
"We should be talking about the railway. We have Dangote Cement factory packaging cement inside there. The trucks are moving. That is additional to what is in the existence on that road. Number two, the way the Flour Mill was designed was not to bring trucks there. They are to use trains. That is why we have those warehouses in Iddo, Oyingbo and towards Yaba.
"The trains those days were to move imports to Iddo; and that is why we find lorries there. So, when you move your containers there, the one going to Onitsha, Maiduguri offload from there and return the empty containers back to the port. Then you will only see trucks going to industrial areas like Agbara and Ikeja. That is why you don't see traffic jams in those days. But now the railway has collapsed, everybody comes to the road.
"That is why we started having congestion. Then the tank farms came from nowhere. Before then they were producing cement there in those days. They usually come to take cement in barges. I remember the Flour Mill, even when the congestion was trying to build up; Flour Mill quickly arrested the situation by loading in the night.
"Their trucks would come in the night around 10; before 4am they have distributed what they needed to deliver for that day. So you won't know what has happened. But now, that programme is not working. The congestion started from there. Then Dangote Cement wanted to do its own with other companies that are springing up. Nobody thought about the waterways; today nobody is thinking about the movement by barges. When you go to Port Harcourt, go to Onne, 50 percent of what is coming to Onne moves by barges to various locations.
"When you see trucks moving from Onne, they are the ones going to known riverine areas and even Aba and other trade zones. But all the oil services companies go by barges. So if the government wants to do something now, it must quickly work on the railway.
"That is the solution. The road is not our solution. If they like they should repair the road; I give it another two, three years, it will depreciate again. It will only reduce gridlock by 20 percent because what is coming in here is much. Even all these tank farms, they should do something about them. They can create their own road. I'm praying Dangote Refinery starts soon. That's another solution that can reduce the congestion here," he concluded.
Decentralise ports, relocate tank farms -- Lagos law maker
The Deputy Majority Leader in the Lagos State House of Assembly, Mr. Olumuyiwa Jimoh, while speaking with Vanguard, did not sound optimistic about an early end to the lingering traffic problem. According to him: "Unfortunately, all the solutions that have been proffered in terms of traffic in Apapa may not yield result. The first thing is that when the former President of Nigeria, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo did the concession of the Port to AP Muller, especially the Lilly-pond container terminal, nobody thought it was a wrong concept.
"Lillypond as a terminal within Apapa geographical area contains more than 10,000 containers. How can such terminal be given to a German firm which cannot operate it, thereby depriving others from using that facility? And when tank farms were being located in Apapa, the rail was still functioning and there were less tankers; a train can move more containers than 500 tankers in one day."
Problem debated in the House: Continuing, he said: "The value of properties is dropping in Apapa. I am a representative of the people, but I am incapacitated as an individual; I cannot help the situation. We have brought it on the floor of the House and it has been debated severally. This is not the first time. It was debated during the 7th Assembly too. The National Assembly also debated it.
"The Federal Government is just doing the palliative measure; this will not reduce vehicular movement on that axis. Therefore, the best option is a radical step which is to decentralise the port and reduce the number of tank farms in Apapa".
Traffic law on movement of trucks and tankers at night
On the traffic law enacted to restrict the movement of trucks and tankers at night failed, the lawmaker said it could not function because the Federal Government created the impression that the designated axes are Federal Government roads.
The railway option revisited
As a possible long term solution to the problem, Jimoh is considering proposing multiple options, including a resuscitation of the railway system. According to him: "The railway system needs to be resuscitated. The road construction is also a problem. Tank farms in that axis need to be relocated because they are too much. I think, it is necessary for tank farms in Apapa to be relocated so as to reduce the number of articulated vehicles that are plying that road.
"There are two ports in that axis: the Tin Can Island Port and the Apapa Ports Complex. In Rivers State, Port Harcourt, is the only port in the entire state. But, in Lagos the greatest number of ports in Nigeria, if not West Africa, is concentrated in Apapa. So, there is need for decentralisation of either the ports or the tank farms should be relocated. Although, it might be costly but there must be a solution. Another alternative is that some vessels should be diverted to either Ibeju Lekki or Epe."
FG must find solution-- NUPENG
While reacting to the situation, President of the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, NUPENG, Igwe Achese said the traffic menace in Apapa will persist unless the Federal Government finds a workable alternative to the trucking of petroleum products. Achese, during a recent television interview regretted the resort to trucking petroleum products as against piping them to major depots across the country.
He noted that the past hostilities in the Niger Delta region leading to the bombing of oil installations, ruptured pipelines and the collapse of the nation's refineries which now make Nigeria dependent on imported products, are issues that required urgent intervention by the government.
According to Achese, to free the roads, the Federal Government must ensure that the pipeline and the rail option work effectively. He added that the union would also be ready to partner Lagos State on the development of a parking lot for tankers.