TOLA ADENUBI writes that the Presidential Task Force saddled with the mandate to clear the Apapa traffic gridlock after its initial two weeks mandate failed to clear all the articulated vehicles dotting the port’s access roads, but now have another lifeline of two weeks to finish the job. But will it?
WHEN President Muhammadu Buhari set up a Task Force on Apapa gridlock to be supervised by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, the mandate was clear: to rid the ports access roads of articulated vehicles. To ensure that the Task Force is familiar with the Lagos terrain, a former Commissioner of Transportation in Lagos, Mr. Kayode Opeifa, was asked to lead the onslaught against the menace symbolised by articulated vehicles on Lagos roads.
The task force swung into action and swept away articulated vehicles along Apapa Port’s access roads like the Eko Bridge, Ijora Bridge, Ijora Olopa axis, and Funsho Williams Avenue. Many of the trucks were either asked to make a u-turn to their garages, or were moved into the newly-established Lillypond truck park at Ijora.
Soon, the Lillypond truck park was filled to capacity, even as many of the trucks still refused to leave the roads. As such, many errant truckers had their trucks arrested for non-compliance with the task force regulations. In total, the task force impounded 120 trucks for flagrant disregard to its directives.
Initially, Apapa and its environ heaved a sigh of relief as many road users began to praise the efforts of the task force for restoring sanity to the hitherto congested Lagos ports access roads.
Within its initial two weeks of operation, the task force was able to clear all the port’s access roads except the Mile 2 end. The Mile 2 end defied all possible solutions because it is directly linked to the broken down section of the Apapa-Oshodi highway, particularly the Coconut section which has become a total failure. Secondly, many of the trucks lined up there were returning empty, and needed to avoid incurring demurrages slammed on late return of empty containers by the shipping companies.
Many trucks were initially trapped in the broken down section at Coconut section of the road and could not be easily moved out by the task force. With time, the number of trucks on the long line that stretches from that road began to swell as days went by because many had to return empty containers.
According to a resident of Amuwo Odofin, Ifeanyi Uzoka, a clearing agent who witnessed firsthand the menace of the articulated vehicles along the Mile 2 stretch: “the task force initially started removing trucks from Cele bus stop along the Apapa-Oshodi highway. At a point, they succeeded up to Sanya bus stop area, but they never got to Mile 2.
“Mile 2 was the nucleus of that long queue of articulated vehicles. At Mile 2, it was like somebody is manufacturing articulated vehicles. The entire Mile 2 Bridge was taken over by the articulated vehicles. The task force could not dislodge the Mile 2 logjam because it was directly attached to the failed portion of the road at Coconut. Before long, the long stretch of articulated vehicles started stretching back to Cele bus stop, thereby making it look like the task force failed.”
Following the conclusion of its two weeks mandate, the presidential task force, in its farewell message, identified some infrastructure challenges that made it impossible for it to totally clear the Lagos ports access roads of articulated vehicles.
The task force’s executive vice chairman, Mr. Kayode Opeifa, while briefing newsmen, admitted that articulated vehicles were still on some sections of the roads.
“Some of the trucks you still see on the roads are going to Tin-Can port. Some of them are going to Apapa port. Those going to Apapa port will use Creek Road axis and Creek Road is under construction just to make things better. Creek Road to Tin-Can port is also under construction but the trucks are finding their way.
“The Tin-Can port for now is handling about 1,000 empty containers per day. But beyond those two ports, we also have other port terminals which are handling other goods. The trucks that you are seeing on the road are those carrying empty containers for return, and one of our terms of reference is to work with the Nigerian Ports Authority to develop an empty container return handling policy. When we are through with this place, we are meeting with NPA to finalise our experiences and what that handling policy will be.
“Another major reason the truckers are still there on the roads is because the freight forwarders give the business to the fleet operators, the fleet operators put it on their trucks driven by the drivers, the drivers and everybody is running to beat demurrages. The people who collect the demurrage are the shipping companies.
“The Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC), the NPA and the office of the Vice President are working on that to make sure that demurrage regime is such that will not put the operators under pressure to the extent that they are rushing on the road,” Mr. Opeifa told journalists after a media tour to round off the task force’s two weeks mandate.
Gridlock back again
With the departure of the task force, the articulated vehicles began to return to the access roads, causing confusion along the Marine Bridge axis. When Sunday Tribune passed through the area to see the extent of the work done, a long queue of trucks carrying empty containers was seen jostling to enter into the ports.
In the words of an Apapa Government Reservation Area resident, Mr Benson Orji, “the situation always gets messier at nights when many of the traffic controllers would have left. During the day, they line up in an orderly manner, allowing just enough space for motorists to pass through. But at night, it is terrible. Most times when I come back home from work, I have to take an ‘Okada’ to go through the long queue of articulated vehicles along the Marine Bridge. At times, the stretch gets to Ijora area, and it is really disturbing.”
For many members of the truckers associations, the return of trucks on earlier cleared access roads is due to activities of some government agencies. Speaking to Sunday Tribune, the Vice Chairman, Dry Cargo Section of the Nigerian Association of Road Transport Owners (NARTO), Alhaji Inuwa Abdullahi, stated that the reason queues were coming to port access roads again is due to activities of the Safety Department of the NPA which is currently taking the minimum standards of trucks on the roads.
“The bad road at Mile 2 end is the major reason the task force could not clear Mile 2 area. Aside this, I can boldly say the task force succeeded. If you go to Eko Bridge, Ijora Olopa and other areas, you will understand what I am saying. The task force was a success. It executed its mandate successfully to the best of my knowledge,” Alhaji Inuwa Abdullahi stated.
When reminded that the long queue of trucks is gradually returning to those places initially cleared by the task force, the NARTO boss explained that “the NPA Safety Department has started taking the minimum standards of trucks going into the ports, and that is the reason you saw the small build-up of trucks along hitherto cleared areas.”
Also speaking to Sunday Tribune, Chairman of the Association of Maritime Truck Owners (AMATO), Chief Remi Ogungbemi, explained that only an electronic call-up system could rid the ports access roads of articulated vehicles.
“I must commend the task force because their activities within the past two weeks have led to a reduction of extortion along the port access roads. However, it is important that they liaise with the NPA as regards the electronic call-up system, because that is the only way articulated vehicles can be taken off the roads,” the AMATO Chairman explained.
Back to the trenches
At the end of the initial two weeks given to the task force, it was clear that the task was not yet completed. Five days after the expiration of the two weeks, another two weeks extension was given, a deadline the task force is trying so hard to beat. However, with the situation on ground, the extension may just be another exercise in futility.