Lagos — Gridlock, chaos and confusion remain the order of the day in Apapa, the area housing Nigeria's biggest port complex and its environs in Lagos, checks by the Daily Trust revealed.
Truck drivers and their officials voiced out their concerns in separate chats with our correspondents, saying they were frustrated at the worsening traffic situation in the nation's biggest port terminals despite interventions by the federal government.
But those charged with the responsibility of sanitising the area, including the presidential task force headed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, debunked the allegation, saying things are now normal.
When our correspondents visited Apapa last week, chaotic gridlock dogged all access roads to the ports - from Costain-Ijora end, Mile 2 axis, Ajegunle, among others.
The seemingly unending long queues of tankers and container trucks were seen, all trying to access the ports either to lift fuel, drop export containers or pick imported goods.
Some container drivers who had been waiting on the queue for days and months decried the situation in the ports, lamenting that corruption and extortion allegedly by government and security officials drafted to control traffic on Apapa had worsened the situation.
For days and weeks, the drivers remained in muddy and dirty parks worsened by recent downpours. They bathe, eat and sleep at night in the area waiting to be asked to the port.
In addition to other avoidable logistical problems relating to imports and exports, Daily Trust had reported in June 2020, that the high cost of moving imports from Nigerian ports to other parts of the country has continued to affect manufacturers and the purchasing power of consumers.
This newspaper had also reported in July 2019, that a survey conducted by the organised private sector revealed that Nigeria loses about N3.06 trillion, on non-oil export, and about N2.5 trillion earnings annually across the different sectors of the economy due to Apapa gridlock.
Most recent statistics showed that it costs around N1.6 million to transport a 40 feet container from Lagos to Kano from the previous N900, 000. The same 40 feet container costs N1.2 million to move to Abuja from the N800, 000 that was previously charged, no thanks to the traffic jam at Apapa ports even as government officials have continued to claim that they have cleared the age-long problem.
Lamentations by drivers
"I have been here for over one month just to go and drop an export container at the port. I am supposed to drop this container at the port and lift another container," said one of the drivers, Tunde Babajide.
The driver who said he came from Abule-Egba in the state said it was hectic accessing the port.
"We have spent close to a month here. We would get close to Area B Command after paying all sorts of bribes and illegal levies only to be spent back because of "order from above."
Another driver who gave his name as Babajide Ali told Daily Trust at Ijora that he spent six days on the queue.
"I came from Mushin side and I don't know when we would get to the port complex. People have spent one month, two months here, some died waiting on queues.
"Getting to Apapa is not far but we are always told that some 'priority' trucks were being cleared. We are here on the line paying N3, 000 every day to 'Area Boys' as levy. The hardship is just too much.
"This is the only work we do to feed our families but we are frustrated by the difficulty in accessing the ports. You can't see this kind of chaos in other countries," he said.
During a visit, our correspondents observed that all access roads to the port complex were blocked while long traffic jams persisted.
Wharf and Creek roads, two major arteries leading in and out of the port city that are under reconstruction have remained a source of worry to motorists.
Only a single lane is reserved for smaller vehicles to meander through a never-ending queue of articulated trucks carrying containers.
This, according to those who reside or work in Apapa, has caused them untold hardship while driving in and out of the area.
The situation is worse along Mile 2 - Tin -Can road as there are craters on both sides of the service lanes, which impede movement.
Aside from the bad roads and the ongoing reconstruction, traders have converted road medians and roundabout into a refuse dump.
With the coming of the rains, heaps of refuse have been washed into nearby drainage, while truck drivers have also converted drainages into toilets.
The convivial atmosphere, which Apapa was known to have, has been taken over by mirage of problems, ranging from bad roads to nuisance caused by truck drivers and their conductors.
Why gridlock persists
Innocent Orok, a maritime stakeholder said it has become a nightmare for motorists and commuters following a recent downpour, which caused flood along Tin-Can and Coconut.
"Creek road is partially closed because of the ongoing road reconstruction. The contractor was forced to abandon the project following the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown order by the government to check the spread of the virus.
"Though work has resumed, I am afraid it will not be completed in the near future because of the snail pace at which it is going.
"The diversion of traffic away from Creek Road has also put pressure on Wharf road. Small potholes are beginning to show up and if not repaired on time, they may develop into big craters," he said.
Investigation by our correspondents revealed that the deplorable condition of the Mile 2-Tin road now has a spiral effect on the adjoining communities such as Kirikiri, Olodi, Ajegunle, Ijora as well as Old Ojo road.
Also, MBA, Achapo, Ojo roads have been rendered impassable. The Otto-Wharf inward MBA is now so bad as a result of the diversion of articulated trucks away from Mile 2-Coconut en route Tin-Can port.
The President, Association of Maritime Truck Owners (AMATO), Chief Aderemi Ogungbemi, said that the only way out is for the relevant authorities to introduce an 'electronic call-up system'.
Ogungbemi said though a temporary measure, the call-up system would ensure that truck drivers only have access to the facility when they are needed.
"The call-up system is a temporary method, but it will enable an agent to call a truck driver when needed to load goods.
"The truck drivers will no longer queue on the roads waiting to be called. They can stay anywhere until they are called that there is consignment for them to carry," he said.
The Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Shippers' Council (NSC), Barr. Hassan Bello told one of our correspondents that the council had taken the front seat in the effort to rid Apapa of traffic gridlock to avoid a total shutdown of activities at the port due to the high volumes of cargoes coming into the country as a result of the closure of land borders by the federal government.
Nothing like gridlock at Apapa again - Task force
Daily Trust reports that the congestion in Apapa has attracted Presidential attention, which led to the inauguration of a Taskforce by President Muhammadu Buhari in May 2019.
The task force is chaired by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, while a former Commissioner of Transport in Lagos State, Kayode Opeifa, is the executive vice-chairman.
The task force, reports directly to the president, had on its terms of reference, the development of an efficient and effective management plan for the entire port area traffic, including the cargo, fuel distribution, and business district traffic.
The task force was also mandated to immediately remove all trucks from the bridges and roads within Apapa and all adjoining streets leading into the port's axis.
When contacted, Opeifa said there was nothing like gridlock at Apapa again, noting that more cars now access the area compared to trucks courtesy of the work of the task force.
Opeifa said there was "a plot by some agents of progress" to blackmail the taskforce and dismiss the good work it was doing.
According to him, many stakeholders now commend the task force for its patriotic duty of restoring normalcy to the community.
"Whoever claims to see gridlock in Apapa must be living in illusion because the stakeholders in Apapa like the terminal operators, the manufacturing companies and the authentic truckers and transporters are there to attest to the progress we made; we also have pictures and videos to show.
"Occasional traffic will exist in any situation and if the presence of trucks moving to the port is what some people call gridlock, it is too bad. They need to understand and people should not allow themselves to be used by corruption fighting back and those who are parading themselves as stakeholders in Apapa. The issue of gridlock in Apapa has ended as far back as July 2019 and we stand to defend it," he said.
"On the issue of the Tin-Can side, the road has been cut off by construction and the contract would be concluded in November 2020. However, we still manage the corridor and the movement of trucks does not affect everyday traffic. If you see traffic on the Apapa-Oshodi Express road, go and check under the Mile 2 Bridge on the Lagos-Badagry expressway, that is where the traffic is coming from as a result of the bad road under this rainy season," he said.
On his part, Chairman, NARTO, Tin-Can, Inuwa Abdullahi, told one of our correspondents that there is some relief while accessing the ports.
According to him, "The Apapa Port manager and her team have launched a transparent Call-Up for the admittance of trucks to the port with the supporting WhatsApp platform with the key stakeholders in the group.
"The presidential task team has always been on the ground controlling the traffic for other road users living the trucks queuing from Oto-Wharf down to Tin-Can, which we refer to as the port area. But the challenges our drivers are facing are that they are delay for weeks before accessing the port," he said.
Daily Trust reports that the Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC) recently stepped in to help in decongesting the Port through its haulage activities. Working with the APM terminal, a major terminal operator at the port, the NRC now helps in lifting about 380 containers out of the port complex weekly.
The corporation was reportedly exploring a partnership with other terminal operators to take tankers off the street and reduce congestion in the port.
The NRC Manager, Lagos District, Engr. Jerry Oche, in a chat with one of our correspondents, urged stakeholders at the port to believe in the capacity of the NRC to help in decongesting the port through its haulage activities.
He said, "We and APMT signed a standard operating procedure (SOP) recently. We have been on this for a long time but last week alone we did 228 containers instead of 380. We have a timetable. We were supposed to do two trips in and two trips out, which would have been 380 but we couldn't achieve that."