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Apapa and a failed presidential order

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The gridlock in Apapa


A report that the recent presidential order to decongest Apapa, promptly has failed to bring succour to the troubled port city merely confirmed our fears that mere orders cannot solve the traffic gridlock in Apapa without considering the fundamental issues of critical infrastructure in the mix. 

This newspaper has repeatedly pointed out that similar top-level government orders had been issued by both the Federal and Lagos State governments without result. We adopted a wait and see attitude to how a miracle would be done to free Apapa from traffic and here we are, roundly disappointed. It is possible to clear the trucks off Apapa if the political will is there and undue bureaucracy is frozen. Without opening the access roads and the rail system, it will be difficult to bring sanity to Apapa.

According to reports, despite the presidential intervention, traffic chaos, confusion and extortion still persist in Apapa. In fact, according to a recent account, the situation has worsened, thereby making mockery of the presidential directive.Trailers and tankers that were targeted to be evacuated from the roads and bridges have made a massive come back on the roads linking Apapa and hampering vehicular traffic and other economic activities in that axis. Allegations of extortion by officials of the task force and other security agencies are rife. And members of the task force are aware and in fact complicit. 

It would be recalled that last May, President Muhammadu Buhari gave an ultimatum to the trailer drivers to vacate Apapa roads and bridges within 72 hours. Before then, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu had reportedly vowed to end the Apapa gridlock within 60 days of his administration, though he later denied the claim. 

The presidential directive followed an emergency meeting convened by Buhari and chaired by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo on April 25, 2019. A task force headed by Osinbajo, which was set up following the meeting immediately swung into action. The terms of reference of the task force, which was to report directly to the president, include the development of an efficient and effective management plan for the entire port area traffic, including fuel distribution and business district traffic; enforcing the permanent removal of all stationary trucks on the highway and the development of an effective manual call-up system, pending the introduction of the electronic truck call-up system. It also includes the implementation of a workable Empty Container Truck handling policy, among others.

Consequently, the Nigerian Navy and all other military formations were directed to withdraw from traffic management duties in the Apapa area, while military and paramilitary checkpoints in front of the ports and environs were to be dismantled.

In their place, the Lagos State Traffic Management Agency (LASTMA), was authorised to move into Apapa as the lead traffic management agency, while the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), was to commence the immediate use of the Lilipond Terminal and Trailer Park A as truck Transit Park. The taskforce had two weeks to complete its assignment.In June, 2019, the taskforce ended its operation and declared that 95 per cent of the job had been done, with the expectation that sanity had been restored. But that has turned out to be a mirage. Unfortunately, three months after, the chaos and confusion have returned to Apapa. The trucks and tankers have, once again, taken over the link roads, thereby, making life hellish for residents, workers and commuters.Ongoing road works on Commercial Avenue, Liverpool and parts of Mile 2, coupled with bad portions of the roads and floods have compounded the problem, thereby, forcing motorists to make detours to alternative routes around Ajegunle and Ijora Badia. 

The heavy presence of trucks in the areas has reportedly impacted negatively on human and vehicular movements in the entire vicinity. While road repairs are ongoing, port activities have become chaotic such that those who reside in Apapa now live in danger.The truck drivers recklessly park on the middle of the roads without respecting the rights of other road users. Amidst the chaos, uniformed personnel on duty reportedly fleece the truck drivers. All that is needed to jump the queue is to bribe the uniformed personnel. If you want them to escort you, the bribe increases and to be cleared at every point, the driver pays N1, 000. 

The chaos on Apapa roads is certainly a national embarrassment. The endemic gridlock has clearly gone out of control. No solution is readily available on hand to address the problem. The origin of the present impasse: The Joint Security Taskforce formed by the former Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, to clear and ensure free flow of traffic in Apapa was ineffective. Rather than improve, the situation got worse.

Without doubt, the Lagos State government has been helpless even as the Federal Government abdicated its responsibility on Apapa by leaving the port infrastructure to disintegrate over the years. The badly dilapidated roads and lack of parking bay for the trailers constitute the main problems.

It is shameful and curiously so that despite a presidential directive, a situation where all the major access roads into Apapa are permanently blocked by trailers and tankers, which makes movement practically impossible is confounding and unacceptable. Restoring sanity in Apapa is a critical challenge that needs to be tackled with utmost vigour. The taskforce approach could only provide a mere palliative. The only way to achieve a permanent solution is to do the roads and resuscitate the rail line. The other is to develop the ports in other coastal areas in the country. 

The Federal and Lagos State governments should collaborate to develop a lasting solution now that the two are showing concern for the endemic traffic problem in Apapa. Meanwhile, this newspaper will continue to remind the Federal Government of its covenant with the people of Lagos on February 3, 1976 when a Head of State proclaimed Abuja as the nation’s new capital. On that day, there was a commitment to making Lagos a Special Federal Territory and Apapa, a national security asset that would continue to be maintained by the federal authorities. This is a burden that must be discharged. 
 


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