It was past midday, on Wednesday. Traffic was light at the seaport town of Apapa. Indeed many parts of the town appeared somewhat deserted. Several passengers in a vehicle which arrived at the town less than 30 minutes after leaving Victoria Island expressed surprise.
But Apapa had not always been this way. According to residents and workers in the area, Thursdays and to a limited extent, Fridays are the peak traffic days.
“I would ordinarily have parked my car at home if today was Thursday,” said Mr Augustine Eleweke who works at a media firm close to Liverpool Street. “Traffic has become a lot better these days. But it’s still bad. It’s mainly the bad roads. Many of the trucks which used to cause gridlock along the roads have been removed.”
Under the bridge at the end of Liverpool Street, a small food market was on. Beside the market and across the road, the lagoon extended far into the distance. Speedboats conveyed passengers to the island community of Igbologun, popularly known as Snake Island.
A man who stood at the bridge and watched as the afternoon wind played gently on the water surface told Saturday Tribune that the speedboat was the only means of entry to community.
“I have a relative there,” he said. “So I visit them from time to time. All the houses there are new, but accommodation is cheap. You can get a flat for N100, 000, or a one-room apartment (self-contained) with N60, 000.”
Further down the stretch, at Tincan First Gate, many people sat under the bridge, forming a large semi circle; it was as though they were in a meeting. But they were not; they were merely taking a break. A burly newspaper vendor, meanwhile, stood behind his table, completely concealed by a large army of readers.
But it is at this point that the roads became far more intolerable. Commercial motorcycles (okada) are the major source of transportation here. They charge as much as N150 to Warehouse or Coconut.
One of the riders who identified himself as Jali said if the roads were better, the fares could go as low as N50 or N100.
“I have been operating around this area for two years now,” he said. “It is the bad road that is the problem here. It is worse than it used to. You can see that it is difficult for buses and cars. It damages the motorcycles too. So it is bad for everybody.”
Both sides of the dual carriageway had deep gullies at several points, all of them completely filled with dirty flood from the rain of the previous night. There was no room for pedestrians.
A heavy commotion had erupted ahead, in the middle of the flooded road. A motorcycle had fallen, leaving both the rider and the passenger wet and dirty. Other motorbikes, meanwhile, rode silently past them as the passenger, a young man, continued to bawl at the okada rider.
“Did I not tell you to take it easy, eh? Answer me! Did I not?”
When the governor of Lagos State, Mr Akinwunmi Ambode visited Apapa in the middle of May, he was said to have directed relevant government agencies to immediately provide “palliative measures” to address the deplorable state of the roads. However, officials from the state Ministry of Works and the Lagos State Public Works Corporation (LSPWC) have since said that not much progress could be made until after the rains.
The trucks at Apapa have not yet disappeared. According to residents, sometimes, it appeared they had thinned out; other times it looked as though they had multiplied.
When Saturday Tribune visited the area on Wednesday, both lanes were almost completely taken over by parked trucks. What looked like the beginning of a heavy gridlock had started from one side of the carriageway at Warehouse, as hundreds of vehicles queued behind some trucks.
Meanwhile, business owners and workers along Warehouse on Wednesday said the trucks prevent people from visiting their offices.
“We are located along the road for a reason,” a middle-aged man who works at a bank told Saturday Tribune. “But many people would come here and they would not see us. It is not good for business.”
For Mr Paul Odey, the General Manager of Apapa Government Reserved Area (AGRA), it is a failure of government at all levels.
“Apapa has not experienced any change at all. The access roads are getting worse because you can only access Apapa through Apapa and Coconut bridges. The current Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr Babatunde Fashola, is familiar with our plight because he frequented Apapa while he was the governor of Lagos, though he could only come on Sundays because of the traffic situation.
“If one part of the body is bad, it would affect the other parts of the body. The access roads are in a terrible state, therefore the other infrastructure are collapsing. Why in the world would public money be spent to fix roads only for individuals to damage them? Are we running a country where you cannot even designate where trucks would park?”
Taiye Kolawole, a student who lives at Mustapha Street, close to Coconut, said unless a large parking space is provided for the trucks, the problem would continue to linger.
“What I want the government [both the federal and the state governments] to do is to create a parking space for all these trucks that carry fuel, goods, and other things. These are private firms, so why can’t they be controlled by the government?”
Apapa is not a place for waiting. Everyone appears always to be in a hurry, always anxious to leave the town as quickly as possible. Even at Coconut, buses do not wait long for passengers. As the buses move in the direction of Mile 2, with the traffic and the turmoil far behind them, they do this with such great speed that it often seems as though they are afraid that Apapa may resurface somewhere ahead of them, if they do not drive fast enough.