The hopelessness of the lingering traffic-congestion in Apapa and environs is underscored by the fact that it has so far defied all solutions, including interventions by various security and traffic management agencies in the country.
Indeed, as the situation degenerated into total chaos, a traffic management and enforcement team comprising the Police, the Federal Road Safety Corps, FRSC; Lagos State Transport Management Agency, LASTMA; the Nigerian Navy; the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps, NSCDC, and NPA security officials was set up. Soldiers of the Nigerian Army were later co-opted into the traffic enforcement team.
Unfortunately the relief which motorists felt on account of interventions by these agencies, acting individually and as a team, was short-lived as the roads and bridges were later re-invaded and seized by these tankers and trucks. As a matter of fact, for these security agencies, it has been a no-win situation as far as the intractable traffic congestion in Apapa and environs is concerned.
Nigerian Navy's intervention
Not too long ago, there was a noticeable improvement in the traffic situation in Apapa following the intervention of the Nigerian Navy which said it was working with other security agencies to unravel the lingering gridlock.
To this end, it had introduced a Standard Operating Procedure to all port users. According to the Commander, Nigerian Navy Ship, NNS Beecroft, Commodore Okon Eyo: "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". After a period of lull gave way to the return of chaos, the call card system was reintroduced to check indiscriminate movement of trucks in the area.
Commodore Eyo informed at the time that: "... A meeting has been held with the NPA to see how we can extend the process towards Tin Can, having succeeded at Liverpool. We intend to send trucks that have no business at the Tin Can Port away.
"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."
But while the Navy's effort in this regard is commendable, it was not enough to arrest the lingering traffic problem. 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.
There's little we can do beyond managing the situation for now--FRSC
The Federal Road Safety Corps, FRSC, through the Lagos Sector Commander, Mr. Hyginus Omeje, said the agency, in conjunction with other government agencies, the military and paramilitary are doing its best to tackle the menace caused by the reckless parking of trucks and other articulated vehicles along the Oshodi-Apapa Express way and within the Apapa environs.
The sector commander who spoke to Vanguard on phone said that the Federal Government in conjunction with the Lagos State government is working round the clock to find a permanent solution to the problem. According to him, the problem could be solved by providing places for the trucks to park, and thus curb indiscriminate parking on the expressway and other major roads within Apapa.
The trucks need to pick the container from the port, while petroleum products are lifted from the tank farms within the locations.
He said that part of the solution is to provide parking bays for the trucks. To this end, he happily noted that the Lagos State government was constructing a parking bay at Orile-Iganmu which can take about 3500 trucks, while the Federal Government was constructing another that could take about 2500 trucks around Liverpool in Apapa. Omeje explained that with parking bays that could take 6000 trucks, a permanent solution would have been found for the trucks and the road would have been free for other motorists to go about their businesses.
The sector commander said that what the agencies were doing, in the interim, was to manage the situation while waiting for the parking bays to be completed.
He recalled that the Lagos State government last year constituted a task force to manage and ensure free flow of traffic along the axis. The task force, he said, comprised members of the FRSC, the Police, Navy and the Lagos State Transport Management Authority, LASTMA. FRSC alone, he said, deployed 200 personnel to the area as a backup squad coupled with their other personnel working at the Julius Berger and Kirikiri Commands.
"The reason you are seeing the trucks parked recklessly and obstructing traffic is that the parking bays are yet to be completed," he said. The sector commander, however, appealed to Lagosians for more patience as the construction works around Apapa continue in earnest and parking bays are completed and put to use.
He also disclosed that the Nigeria Ports Authority, NPA, has recently intensified afforts to find a solution to the traffic problem. "We have an understanding with NPA and others on how to take the trucks off the road. NPA has put up adverts inviting people to build holding bays. But we must manage the situation. We need the trucks to take the goods from the seaport, and tankers to evacuate petroleum products from the tank farms too. That is why all hands are on deck to ensure that we manage the situation pending when a permanent solution is put in place," he added.
Traffic gridlock an enormous problem--LASTMA boss
When contacted recently, the General Manager, Lagos State Traffic Management Authority, LASTMA, Wale Musa, described the worsening traffic gridlock as "unfortunate", saying that the challenge it posed "is quite enormous."
Musa said: "We are not unaware of the terrible traffic situation in Apapa. 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 ports and tank farms are usually busy with activities since they are destination points for the influx of both tankers and containerized vehicles.
"The present situation is made worse by the on-going construction of road at the corridor 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 and work again.
"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."
But his assurance had fallen flat because rather than the situation improving by the middle of the year, it took a turn for the worst in living memory. It had prompted the interventions of both the Federal and the Lagos State governments to wake up from their prolonged slumber to introduce emergency measures to arrest the situation.
As the traffic gridlock in the Apapa axis of the expressway got to a crisis point, the Lagos State Police Command was inundated by complaints and appeals for police intervention to curtail not only the chaos but also the attendant crimes in the area. Indeed, following appeals by the management of Vanguard Media Limited, Divisional Police Officers, DPOs, of the various police divisions in the area did swing into action by mobilising their men to man all the identified flash points.
Though they were initially able to contain the situation, this was short-lived as the congestion lingered in some areas as a result of road damage and the increasing number of trucks and fuel tankers heading towards the ports.
DPOs at work
As early as 5.00 am, traffic policemen were seen positioned at strategic areas of the road directing traffic to various locations. A corridor was created from the NNPC side of the expressway leading towards Mile 2 bridge en-route Apapa while vehicles descending the bridge towards Orile had easy passage way. Traffic flowed smoothly on the service lane towards both Berger Yard and Orile. Divisional Police Officers and other senior officers were seen busy coordinating and supervising their men in all the flash points.
Interestingly, some youths clad in vests with the bold inscription "Police helping hands" were seen at both the Fatgbems filling station axis and Mile 2 bridge, busy assisting regular traffic policemen and other plain-clothes officers in controlling and directing traffic. They told Vanguard that they were recruited by the police in Festac to assist in decongesting traffic along the expressway.
The Divisional Police Officer in charge of Festac, CSP Obong Okon, led his team to supervise and direct the volunteers on how to carry out the exercise. The Divisional Police Officer in charge of Kirikiri division, CSP Musediq Orobiyi and his team supervised traffic flow from the Otto Wolf side of Customs office towards Berger Yard and Kirikiri area.
When later traffic heightened along the Kirikiri bridge towards Berger Suya, CSP Orobiyi and his counterpart at Trinity, CSP Oni Abayomi, engaged the services of some youths to fill up some of the deep gullies and pot holes that make traffic flow impossible under the bride at Berger Suya. The exercise, it was gathered, also involved policemen who assisted in breaking huge stones used in filling up the craters, thus paving way for free-flow of traffic.
Free movement of vehicles: Unfortunately, the gridlock later re-surfaced along Kirikiri route towards Berger Suya making it virtually impossible for the trucks and fuel tankers to pass freely as a result of trucks that got stuck at the top of the bridge because of the pot holes at Berger Suya. This affected the free movement of vehicles in almost all the areas as the gridlock extended to both NNPC and Berger Yard area. A team of policemen was, however, able to clear the area around 3.00pm.
The worsening situation later attracted the attention of the state Commissioner of Police, Imohimi Edgal, who directed all Area Commanders and Divisional Police Officers around the route to swing into action and decongest traffic along the route.
And following this directive, no fewer than seven DPOs converged at the head office of Vanguard Newspapers at Kirikiri Canal for a three-hour interactive session at the end of which action plans aimed at decisively tackling the lingering traffic situation in the area were outlined.
But in spite of this commendable initiative there were still misgivings in several quarters about how this will work out when the root of the problem has not been tackled.
According to one interested observer, in as much as the police deserve a pat on the back for their commendable efforts in trying to salvage the situation, their efforts will achieve little if government fails to immediately embark on major repairs of the expressway and access roads in the area.
According to him, all efforts should be geared towards checking the flow of heavy duty trucks and fuel tankers into service lanes from NNPC and Fatgbems filling.