Sunday, 3rd December 2023

Despite aligning with centre, Lagos ports’ access roads remain clogged 

By Gbenga Salau
11 June 2023   |   3:12 am
“All the major roads here are federal roads. By sheer mismanagement of the ports, the Federal Government has paralysed the Apapa industrial area. In a truly federal system, we should get derivation from the ports.

[FILES] Traffic situation along the road.<br />PHOTO: PAUL ADUNWOKE

“All the major roads here are federal roads. By sheer mismanagement of the ports, the Federal Government has paralysed the Apapa industrial area. In a truly federal system, we should get derivation from the ports. Oil-producing states get derivation but we pay the price for fuel haulage and mismanagement of the ports. Ninety per cent of fuel in this country is distributed through Apapa, with Lagos paying the price for it. This cannot continue.”

Former Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola, made the above statement on July 13, 2014, during a meeting with stakeholders, including fuel tanker drivers, tank farm owners, officials of the Nigerian Association of Road Transport Owners (NARTO), Association of Maritime Truck Owners (AMATO) and port managers.
Fashola at that forum maintained that the Federal Government must rise to the challenge of fixing the ports’ access roads, efficient management of the ports, and explore a better option of fuel distribution in the country to put a stop to the damage being done to the economy and the Lagos environment.
A few weeks before he made the above statement, Fashola during the opening of BusinessDay Newspaper’s new office at Apapa, on April 1, 2014, said: “Apapa was Nigeria’s first industrial estate. A lot of economic activities took place here. And presently, the Federal Government makes billions of naira, if not trillions of naira in terms of revenue from here. What kind of manager makes such a huge amount of money and puts nothing back there?”
Less than a decade after BusinessDay set up shop at Apapa, it relocated to Ikoyi. It was learnt that difficulty getting in and out of Apapa by management and staff of the outfit was one of the factors that forced the newspaper to relocate.
Since all these happened when the now opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was in power, many expected that with the All Progressives Congress (APC), being in power at the federal and Lagos State levels, many residents and businesses along that corridor would heave a sigh of relief. Alas! That has not been the case, as Apapa access roads gridlock remained, even with the appointment of Fashola as the Minister of Works, Housing, and Power, during the first term of President Muhammadu Buhari. Only the Power Ministry was excised from Fashola’s portfolio as he retained the Minister of Works and Housing portfolio during Buhari’s second term.
But eight years after, the Apapa access roads gridlock has not only persisted, but it is also inflicting immense pain on residents and motorists compared to what they suffered before APC came on board.
Of note, however, is the fact that from Fashola’s era as governor to date, there have been attempts to end the unending crisis, but they have all defied solutions. In most cases, there is usually temporary relief after an intervention by the government, only for the chaos to return weeks after.
As governor, Fashola, on September 17, 2012, forwarded a detailed presentation of what should be done to fix the roads and ease the traffic congestion to the then Vice President, Namadi Sambo. 
In the letter, the governor sought to make a presentation on the state of the roads, and what its restoration would take to the National Economic Council.
The Namadi wrote back to the governor, advising that the matter be brought to the attention of the then President, Goodluck Jonathan. Fashola complied with the suggestion on November 1, 2013, when he wrote Jonathan. 
When Fashola left office as governor and Governor Akinwunmi Ambode came on board, there were efforts to resolve the crisis, especially as it continued to inflict pain on not only businesses in that part of the state, but also on residents and commuters. 
When the outcry became deafening with residents spending several hours journeying between Oshodi and Mile 2, Ambode set up a joint task force of security agencies and stakeholders to remove all articulated vehicles along ports access roads. There was temporary respite before another effort was birthed under the “Operation Restore Sanity On Lagos Roads,” when Ambode reconstituted the task force to comprise 2, 271 personnel drawn from the Nigeria Police Force, Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA), Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA), Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), the Nigeria Army, air force, and the navy.
But Ambode did not succeed in putting a lasting solution to the Apapa access roads gridlock, despite the Federal Government also having in place, a special task force to tackle the menace headed by the immediate past Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo. 
The FG task force was constituted after Buhari sent Osinbajo down to Lagos to appraise the situation of things.  During the visit, Osinbajo was accompanied by the then Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, and the delegation was conducted around Apapa access roads by chopper in a bid to assess the menace. At the end of the visit, the vice president directed the police boss to clear the gridlock within 72 hours.
Evidence that all the efforts made had no impact explained why Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, on the second day of his resumption of office (during his first term), May 30, 2019, toured the ports’ complex access roads to assess the lingering traffic gridlock in the area. He, thereafter, pledged to find a lasting solution to the menace.

Also, in May 2019, Buhari empanelled another presidential task force headed by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, with Kayode Opeifa as vice-chairman. The task force was later disbanded and its authority was handed over to the Lagos State government. This was principally because it made no headway, with the slogan, “Apapa pass Yahoo,” coming into the lexicon of those who operate around that flank. It was also alleged that those who were sent to proffer solutions to the crisis, especially security operatives were in bed with unscrupulous stakeholders whose major pastime was to clog the roads and extort truckers.
So, rather than the chaotic traffic ending with articulated vehicles vacating the roads, the crisis became worse, especially along the Apapa-Oshodi corridor, and some persons illegally enrich themselves as truckers paid huge amounts to access the ports and businesses premises within the neighbourhood. 
When the state government took over the management of port access roads under the former Special Adviser on Transport to Governor Sanwo-Olu, Toyin Fayinka, the successes recorded were aided by the introduction of the electronic call-up system (Eto App), launched on February 27, 2021. The ETO call-up system also had its challenges.
But after Fayinka left office to contest in the ruling party’s primaries and was replaced by Sola Giwa, who incidentally had been part of previous taskforces, things degenerated, and articulated vehicles, especially tankers returned to the roads, and accessing the ports once again became a Herculean task, especially the Mile 2 area. Even all the little successes earlier achieved have since evaporated.
Some stakeholders had consistently argued that previous attempts at ending the Apapa access roads crisis met a brick wall because some persons were benefitting from the chaos. 

This in part explained why Sanwo-Olu vowed to fight, name, and shame saboteurs of the ETO call-up system after the initial successes began to fizzle out.

A trucker who pleaded anonymity alleged that those frustrating government’s efforts to return sanity included transport unions, security personnel, unscrupulous LASTMA officials, and their cronies, adding that they were benefitting from the rot through extorting truckers and sometimes escorting truck drivers to the port gates for a fee.
Providing insights on why encumbrances still abound on port access roads, the President, Association of Truck Owners, Chief Remi Ogungbemi, said that there were still people cutting corners because they are not following due process to access the port.
“Ordinarily, before any truck can leave the park, they ought to have been informed electronically to move into the port. But things are not yet what they ought to be. I am looking forward to how the call-up system can improve and deny those who want to wangle their way into the ports illegally. The bar at the port gate should not open for any truck driver with the wrong pass because the electronic gate will not recognise the dubiously procured access pass.
“So, I am looking forward to how the automation system will single out those cutting corners. I know that they are trying to improve on what they are doing, so I expect that they improve on that because there is room for improvement.”
Ogungbemi further stated that petrol tankers parking on the roads also contribute to the impasse, noting that tanker drivers are not regulated the way that containerised truck drivers are regulated. The tankers are coming in large quantities to the port access roads, which should not be. They should subject themselves to the call-up system. This is because all the tankers cannot be loaded at once at the tank farm; it has to be one after the other. So, every loading point should be requesting for the number of tankers, or trucks that they can manage within their yards without spillover on the road.”

The Head of Operation, Truck Transit Park (TTP), Irabor Akonoman, maintained that the electronic call-up system is working perfectly. “However, one of the major challenges that we have been facing is the activity of bad actors who make every attempt to circumvent the system.”
He alleged that some transporters who duly booked their trucks to access the port through the laid down procedure, end up selling their tickets to bidders who do not want to go through the process but want to quickly access the port.
“This is enabled because these transporters create fake plate numbers since we do not have access to the vehicle registration numbers database to validate. Some greedy and selfish transporters are the cause of the current challenge that transporters are complaining of.
“For the traffic at Tincan corridor, it is caused by the ongoing road construction along the Tincan axis, activities of thugs that are struggling to collect bribes from truckers who want to park indiscriminately, as well as the activities of other state actors.”
He noted that though there would be attempts to circumvent the process, his organisation is working on a technology that would mitigate observed challenges, and hopefully get the approval to deploy it before the end of the year.