Lagos — Despite presidential intervention, traffic chaos, confusion and allegations of extortion still persist in Apapa, the nation's premier port, findings by Daily Trust have shown.
Besides, trailers and tankers have returned to the roads linking Apapa thereby hampering vehicular movement.
Our correspondents who monitored the situation around Apapa and environs report that the traffic situation has worsened in recent times, even as truck drivers accuse officials of the task force and other security agencies of extorting them.
The gridlock remains a source of worry to stakeholders, including importers and exporters. Findings reveal that the Apapa and Tin-Can Island ports handle over 70 per cent of Nigeria's import cargoes and generate over 70 per cent of revenues collected from the seaports.
Officials of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) in both Apapa and Tin Can commands recently said they generated N382.52 billion from the nation's two major economic gateways.
The revenue which was announced in separate reports, represents 70 per cent of the amount generated in Customs duties paid by Nigerian importers on their imported cargoes from the month of January to June (first six months) 2019.
It would be recalled that following the worsening gridlock at Apapa occasioned by the long queues of trailers at Costain, Ijora Bridge, Apapa-Oshodi (Mile 2) Expressway, a Presidential Task Force chaired by the Vice President, Prof. YemiOsinbajo, was set up following an order by President Muhammadu Buhari for trucks to vacate Apapa and its environs.
This was followed by two different visits by Osinbajo to assess the state of the port and the traffic situation in the nation's commercial hub.
The task force, headed by the Executive Vice Chairman and one-time Commissioner for Transportation in Lagos, Comrade KayodeOpeifa, swung into action by removing trucks and trailers from major roads linking Apapa.
Trucks were evacuated from the flour mills in Apapa up to the entire stretch of Ijora Bridge to Costain, Marina and Ikorodu; areas hitherto littered with trucks and trailers.
In June, 2019, the task force ended its operation, declaring it 95 per cent completed.
Chaos is back
However, three months after, chaos and confusion have returned to Apapa as trucks have returned to roads linking the port, while residents and workers in the area face difficulty commuting.
Daily Trust reports that road works in some areas, coupled with bad portions, have exacerbated the chaos.
Areas where road works are ongoing are Commercial Avenue, Liverpool and parts of Mile 2. This has prompted motorists to make detours to alternative roads, especially around Ajegunle and IjoraBadia.
While the repairs are ongoing, port activities have become chaotic and those who work and reside in Apapa and its environs now live in danger.
Our correspondents report that Mba Road; from Otto-Wharf to Achakpo, has collapsed since articulated truck drivers started making use of the once quiet community to access the port in Apapa.
Kirikiri Road has also had its own fair share as the entire area has been taken over by flood. The drainage, according to the Chairman of Line C, Trinity Spare Parts Dealers Association, Rev. Chukwuka, were blocked and the roads had been rendered impassable by the activities of truck drivers.
Rev. Chukwuka said, "Business is no longer booming as it is now difficult for buyers to come to Trinity Spare Parts Market. They now prefer to go to Ladipo Market in Mushin."
A resident of Apapa, JimohMomoh Suleiman, said it now took long response times for ambulances and emergency vehicles to access the community in times of emergency.
Suleiman said the heavy presence of trucks in the area had impacted negatively on human and vehicular movements in Ajegunle, Amukoko, Kirikiri, as well as Badia, Ijora.
He said, "Only commercial motorcycles can move around, but they do so at exorbitant prices. The entire community is now in a state of confusion. Crime has increased drastically. There is no hope that government will one day look our way to repair the damages done to our roads by trucks when Oshodi-Apapa Expressway is fixed.
"We live like caged animals because the movement of people has been impeded by the activities of the truck drivers."
AJ City, which according to him, used to radiate passion among its inhabitants irrespective of tribe and religion, has lost its convivial nature as it has become known as Nigeria's "most neglected shanty".
A community leader in the area, Mr. Kareem Adejiyan, explained that diversion of traffic going to Tin-Can Island and Apapa from Mile 2 into Ajegunle and Badia had brought sad tales to the community.
Mr. Adsejiyan said it was strictly business to some, but that it had brought pain to others.
He said, "Truck drivers are the most corrupt people I have ever met. They have spoilt most of our girls. They have converted all our roads into toilets and their sleeping areas.
"They leave their trucks recklessly parked by the middle of the roads without respect for the rights of other road users. A good number of our boys who are commercial motorcycle riders have lost their lives as they often run under parked trucks."
Our correspondents report that trucks can now access Tin-Can Island only through Ajegunle and Kirikiri.
The truck drivers have also insisted that extortion still reigned supreme in Apapa.
A truck driver, Rufai Lanre, said, "The same extortion that the task force has come to eradicate is still going on. For you to jump the queue, all you need is a uniformed personnel. If you want them to escort you; your money increases. For you to be cleared at every point, you pay N1,000."
Why congestion is worse now
Daily Trust reports that the congestion at Apapa became worse in recent times following the stoppage of rail service which used to evacuate some containers from the port to the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC), Lagos District, at Ebute-Metta.
It was further learnt that NRC suspended the rail service on the old narrow gauge because of the ongoing construction of the standard gauge.
Meanwhile, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), the number one stakeholder in port activities, has said it would partner with the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing and other relevant agencies to rehabilitate the port's access roads to stop gridlock.
In order to assist the Terminal Operators, the MD of NPA, Hadiza Bala Usman, said one of the primary infrastructural requirements for efficient operations at the port in terms of movement of cargo and economic activities was port access roads.
Usman said the authority was fast-tracking the rehabilitation of port access roads in Lagos as part of measures to ensure efficient service delivery.
She said over 85 per cent of cargo coming into Nigeria, and by extension other landlocked countries around Nigeria, came through Nigerian seaports.
According to her, all necessary variables like the enforcement of tonnage limits for trucks and the use of railway for cargo movement would be encouraged in order to actualise the quick delivery of results concerning road rehabilitation, and pointed out that it was important to collaborate efficiently in this regard.
The Customs spokesman at Tincan-Island Command, Uche Ejiseime, told one of our correspondents that he usually parked his car at Amuwo Odofin Estate, Mile 2, when going to work and that he travelled the remaining distance to his office on commercial motorcycle.
Ejiseime said, "I have an okada rider who normally carries me to work from Mile 2 every day. That is the way other officers come to work also."
The Executive Secretary of the Nigeria Shippers Council (NSC), Hassan Bello, blamed the gridlock on the decision of terminal operators.
Bello said, "If a truck takes empty containers to a holding bay, there will be no need for the mad rush for the return of empty containers to the seaports. Terminal operators or shipping companies are expected to pick up empties from truck parks or holding bays."
The Executive Vice Chairman of the Presidential Task Force, Comrade Opeifa, was yet to respond to our correspondent's enquiry as of the time of filing this report.