Trucks are back, and with fury, on Apapa roads and those leading to the port areas, no thanks to laxity on the part of the task force set up by President Muhammadu Buhari to decongest the area.
The presidential task force, set up in May to clear the gridlock in Apapa and its environs within two weeks, was only effective for a few weeks before the traffic situation worsened, THISDAY's investigation has revealed.
The task force, headed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, whose mandate has since been renewed until sanity is restored, was set up as a result of a presidential directive that ordered the removal of trucks on bridges and roads in Apapa as well as the restoration of law and order in that part of Lagos.
Explaining the reasons of the gridlock, the Vice Chairman of the Presidential Task Team, Mr. Kayode Opeifa, said the current traffic crisis was as a result of the shutdown of tank farms on Lagos-Badagry Expressway axis by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) due to road construction ongoing in the area.
He said with the shutdown of the depots, tankers were being diverted to load in the depots around Kirikiri, Marine Beach, Naval Yard, Wharf Road and Creek Road areas of Apapa, thus resulting in the current gridlock.
But the Chairman of Ijegun-Egba Tank Farm Owners Association, Mr. Debo Olujimi, told THISDAY thursday that with the level of support and collaboration from the NNPC and other stakeholders, the depots in the axis are loading petroleum products to tankers at full capacity, trucking out an average of 18-20 million litres daily.
Vice President of Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Dr. Kayode Farinto, said the task team went to sleep after its initial success.
He blamed the situation on the laxity of the task force.
Farinto, who described the situation as unbearable, called on the federal government to reinforce the task team and urgently get them back to work as the situation is getting out of hand.
Chairman of the Association of Maritime Truck Owners (AMATO), Remi Ogungbemi, blamed the worsening traffic gridlock on vested interests who are profiting from the crisis.
"I am being careful so as not to upset vested interest, but we cannot continue to keep quiet because some people don't want to hear the truth. There are too many vested interests and their interest is about naira and kobo. Some are just after what they can gather; however, I have to be careful because any statement I made will not go down well with them, "he said.
On the solution to the problem, he said, "It is time we move away from manual call up system to digital. Analog can no longer address the problem. What do I mean by analog? Anything that has human contact automatically favoritism will be there. If it is digital, electronics don't respect anybody.. Electronic system is no respecter of persons. What we need now is automation of our systems, by the time this is done, everything will be seamless."
Also, residents who spoke to THISDAY, blamed the task force and corruption for the intractable Apapa traffic, adding that a few people are profiting from the crisis.
As the gridlock worsens, the cost of transportation has tripled with commuters and residents who cannot afford the cost resorting to trekking long distance.
For instance, the transport fare from Ojuelegba to Apapa Wharf that used to cost N100 by bus is now N300 while commercial motorcyclists charge N1,000 against N500.
Some clearing agents also told THISDAY that the cost of transportation of containers has increased astronomically.
National President of National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agent (NCMDCLA), Mr. Lucky Amiwero, told THISDAY that the cost of transporting a container from Apapa Port to Alaba International Market that used to be between N400,000 and N600,000, is now N1 million.
But Opeifa told THISDAY that the NNPC had shut down the tank farms because of road construction and environmental concerns and diverted products for loading to other depots at Apapa.
He said 400 extra tankers redistributed as a result of tank farms shutdown by the NNPC.
"What happened was that we had tanker invasion as a result of the shutdown of tank farms around Abule-Ado on Lagos-Badagry Expressway by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation. When you have like three or four times the number of tankers you used to have there will be problem. Also we have road construction around Creek Road leading to the Apapa port and Apapa-Oshodi Expressway.
"The tankers pass through three points in Apapa. From Apapa-Oshodi axis they move products to Rahamaniyya around Kirikiri. What happened was that most trucks wanted to enter Kirikiri that was why it extended to Second Rainbow on Apapa-Oshodi Road and we have removed them yesterday. When that happened, the tank farms were loading two times what they used to load, they were doing like 100 before but started loading 200."
"On the Apapa Wharf side, they started sending products to Aiteo and NIPCO after Naval Yard and all trucks descending at Total started taking that one tiny lane; the same lane that trucks takes to Lilly Pond Truck Transit Park, which led to the shutdown. These tankers come at 6a.m and the tankers to Folawiyo, which were the ones loading before were coming at 10 a.m and these area was not prepared for tankers coming at 6a.m. Mobil, Forte Oil, Conoil and Total are the ones loading at Marine Beach. So, those ones too saw a surge in the amount they should load because of the tank farms that were closed by the NNPC.
"Don't forget Lagos must load a certain number of products a day to meet national demand. So, when they closed other places whatever they were loading will be distributed to other places. Those they redistributed are at Marine Beach, Naval Yard and Folawiyo on Creek Road and contractors on that road have shut down the route to the port at about the same time. Two weeks ago Lilly Pond was attacked; they burnt their security post, vehicles and other operational materials. You cannot erase the effect of that until after two weeks. But if you were in Apapa by 8.a.m the road was free," he explained.
However, Olujimi told THISDAY that the depots on the Lagos-Badagry are currently loading seamless without any interruption.
"Well, we are very happy as depot owners. As I speak to you, on the average, we are loading between 18 and 20 million litres. We are getting the needed collaboration and support from the NNPC, the Lagos State Government and every stakeholder.
"Before the end of the year, there will be 24 hours of operations. Where we have issues on the road, the Lagos State in collaboration with the federal government and NNPC are already taking care of it," he added.