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Taming the monster of traffic gridlock at Lagos seaports

By Sulaimon Salau
13 June 2021   |   4:18 am
When president Mohammadu Buhari visited Lagos seaports to inaugurate the deep blue project on Thursday, the protracted Apapa traffic gridlock that has defied nearly every solution disappeared...

Port access road in Apapa during Buhari’s visit

When president Mohammadu Buhari visited Lagos seaports to inaugurate the deep blue project on Thursday, the protracted Apapa traffic gridlock that has defied nearly every solution disappeared overnight; leaving the stakeholders with shock about the magic wand that brought the monster of the gridlock to its knees.

Even though, President Buhari ignored the bad roads, he came into the port at about 12.16pm with retinue of dignitaries through the newly constructed railway line that has now been linked to Apapa port terminals.

For over a decade, evacuation of cargoes from Nigeria’s busiest seaports in Apapa area of Lagos has become a clog in the wheel of the seaborne trade, which constitute over N34 billion to the nation’s economy.

After several tactics and deployment of technologies over the years the gridlock had proved to be a monster getting stronger with no end in sight. But the unexpected happened within 24 hours when president Buhari visited that area, while the situation returned to status quo the day after.

This apparently has shown that the situation has graduated from natural to man made, as some powerful cliques appear to be sabotaging the sincere efforts of the stakeholders, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and Lagos State Government at bringing the gridlock to an end.

The electronic call-up system, otherwise known as ‘Eto’, was introduced about three months ago to solve the congestion along the port access roads, which also serve as the major route to lots of petroleum tank farms in Lagos.

Recently, major truck owners operating at the ports revealed monumental fraud and extortion in the electronic call-up system, calling for proper synchronisation of the system.

The truck owners who spoke as members of Council of Maritime Truck Unions and Associations (COMTUA), and concerned stakeholders said that implementation of the e-call up system is currently being sabotaged.

COMTUA is made up truck owning associations in the Nigerian maritime sector. The association comprises Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria (RTEAN), National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), Nigerian Association of Road Transport Owners (NARTO) and Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN) and Corporate Fleet Owners.

Those who spoke to the media expressed shock that contrary to the agreement that the electronic call up system will cost N10, 000, truck owners now pay as much as N31,500 for the service.

In addition, they said the system has been so compromised that trucks with genuine electronic call up into the ports are not allowed in, even as they stated that the trucks that are currently in the terminal find their ways in fraudulently.

They also alleged that there is a high level of collusion between officials of the Lagos State government that were drafted into the special task force, and officials of NPA, Messrs Truck Transit Park (TTP), who are the operators of the truck parks and the police.

A member of COMTUA, Mrs. Folake George, said, “in most cases, trucks that keyed into the ‘Eto’ platform, and got to the truck park at either Ijora or Tin Can may stay there for almost two weeks, while the ones that circumvent the process through collusion with TTP officials are the ones gaining access into the port.”

But, the Chief Operating Officer, Trucks Transit Parks, Temidayo Adeboye (the company in charge of Eto technology) told The Guardian that the corrupt officials have been identified and sacked immediately.

He said: “In the first two weeks, we came up with a solution but as they say when you fight corruption, it will fight back. There were lots of money that were changing hands and people were profiting from the chaos and weren’t happy when TTP came.

“So, people started fighting back and the major fight back we had was the human-technology interface. We deployed the right technology to drive the process and it was a very reliable system, it was organised and guaranteed easy control of traffic,” he said.

He assured that the company would not succumb to the saboteurs, as it continues to work with Lagos State government and NPA to ensure that the scheme provides the desired results.

He alleged that the activities of tanker drivers, who refused to key into the electronic call-up system, are also hampering the success of the scheme.

Adeboye said: “As we are trying to solve the traffic problem for NPA, the oil and gas tankers storm the road uncoordinated and have refused to key into the new technology,”

According to him, there is a need to create a trailer park for the tankers and scheme their schedule of operations to suit a perfect traffic system.

The Managing Director of the company, Jama Onwubuariri, said that the company would continue to improve on the system, urging the government to ensure strict enforcement of the process through the security agencies.

He said the company is working with the state government to establish an investigation and monitoring team, adding that it has already set up an ethic helpline to get feedback and solve immediate challenges.

On the Tin Can roads, he said the construction works have hampered the free flow of traffic, as the road is too small for the available traffic.

He said: “We are making progress and we have done a lot in a short time. So far, we have processed about 100,000 trucks in the past three months. We have about 5,700 different stakeholders, that is the transporters and transport companies. And the average daily truck count at the Apapa port is about 700, while work is in progress to get the accurate statistics of how many trucks access the Tin Can port.”

The suspended Managing Director of NPA, Hadiza Bala Usman had on February 27, this year, introduced the electronic call up system to restore sanity at the ports, only for it to prove otherwise, as a result of the efforts of saboteurs in the system.

The Guardian gathered that Bala Usman was putting up fresh strategies to come up with the expected solution before her suspension.

Since then, the acting Managing Director, of NPA, Muhammed Bello-Koko, has taken up the challenge, but the situation has remained the same.

Koko met with the Governor of Lagos State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu last week to adopt stronger measures to curb corrupt practices and alleged extortion of truck drivers by traffic and security operatives along the Lagos ports corridor.

Speaking at the meeting, he harped on the need to strengthen enforcement of traffic laws along the Apapa and Tin Can Ports roads.

Koko stated that the NPA has been inundated with complaints of extortions from truckers, especially by security operatives, including the Military, the Police and NPA Security, demanding money from drivers before accessing the Ports.

He described the ugly practice as a major disincentive to the smooth implementation of the truck call-up system.

He said it has been alleged that no less than 30 ‘toll-points’ have sprung up around the Apapa and Tin Can Port, where bribes are being collected before trucks are allowed into the Port.

“Because of the involvement of several security units, many checkpoints have been created, we believe there are over 30 checkpoints within the Apapa and Tin Can Port axis, and we believe that this is a major issue causing delays and a whole lot of problems, this was one of the concerns we raised at our meeting with His Excellency,” he said.

He explained that last week after an assessment visit, he directed the ‘Eto’ Project Consultant and operator of the Lilipond Truck Transit Park to redouble their efforts, especially on the deployment of necessary physical and IT infrastructure as well as adequate human resources, to address the gaps and complaints of delay from Port users.

He disclosed that the Authority has given the TTP company ‘marching orders’ to immediately see to the deployment of these infrastructures, so as to reduce the waiting time of trucks in and out of the Port.

Koko also bemoaned the poor access roads, especially around Sunrise Bus-stop leading to the Tin Can Port.

Port access road in Apapa on a normal day

“The situation now is that trucks going to Tin Can follow the Apapa Port Road, so no matter how much you control the traffic in Apapa, it would be seen as if you are doing nothing. NPA has reached out to the Federal Ministry of Works, we have been speaking with the Director of Works in the state, and we have asked that they should provide some palliatives around Sunrise Bus-stop. We were made to understand that the contract for that section of the road has just been awarded, but because of the rains, work has been delayed. There is need for that part of the road to be graded so that the Tin-Can Port corridor would begin to enjoy some measure of free flow of traffic”, he said.

He directed TTP to deploy necessary infrastructure such as bollards, spikes and automated barriers, while CCTVs be fully installed at the port gates (entry and exit points), especially at the Tin Can Island Port where such equipment are practically non-existent at the moment.

“Similarly, operators of approved parks and holding bays should immediately take steps to install such equipment in their terminals,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu assured that the state is going to work closely with NPA in ensuring that truck call-up system is successful and the nation’s economy benefits optimally.

He said there was need for Port service providers, security agencies and NPA to adhere to their Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) as well as invest in the needed infrastructure, which would galvanise the ‘Eto’ system to heightened performance.

He assured that the state government would commence engagements with the petroleum tanker drivers, tank farm owners and the NUPENG Union to ensure that they are factored into the ‘Eto’ call-up system.

Sanwo-Olu said the poor state of the Sunrise Bus-stop corridor has been identified as the major cause of the traffic congestion into the Tin Can Island Port, and there is need for the contractors to speed up work around that area.

When The Guardian visited that area on Thursday, construction work had stopped at Sunrise Bridge.

From Sunrise outward Mile 2 Bus Stop remains in a bad state with trucks and petroleum tankers parking indiscriminately on the major carriageway of the Oshodi-Apapa Expressway.

Stakeholders, who spoke with The Guardian expressed shock that a “magic wand” could clear the gridlock overnight for about 24 hours during the Buhari’s visit to the ports. They appealed to the same “magic wand” to bring forth a permanent solution to Apapa gridlock.

They opined that the situation might remain the same until the issue of enforcement, which is devoid of corrupt practices, is given utmost priority by the security agencies.