How we celebrated Xmas, New Year on bridges, highways —Truck drivers

•‘We cooked, drank on Ijora Bridge’ •It is dehumanising to have drivers celebrate Xmas, New Year on roads, bridges —Psychologist

For many truck drivers and motor boys, the Apapa traffic gridlock is gradually becoming a way of life. TOLA ADENUBI went after truck drivers and their employers to find out on how they celebrated the last Yuletide on Lagos bridges and flyovers. His report:

In Lagos, it is no longer surprising to see articulated vehicles lined up in a row on highways and bridges leading to the seaports. Each of these trucks has at least a driver and a motor boy attached to it and during the period of a very serious traffic situation, a truck can spend up to a month before gaining entrance into the ports.

One would have expected huge festivities and celebrations such as the last Christmas and New Year to provide a break and present an opportunity for people eking out a living on this axis a relief from the nightmare the axis has become lately. Interestingly, Saturday Tribune’s checks among truck drivers on the route revealed that the last Christmas and New Year celebrations were business as usual. The long and horrendous queues where there with some security personnel assigned to bring sanity into the environment making brisk business from the chaotic situation.

Saturday Tribune spoke to some of the truck drivers trapped in the traffic snarl on their experiences during the recent Yuletide, and they shared unbelievable experiences. The chairman of dry cargo section of the Nigerian Association of Road Transport Owners (NARTO), Alhaji Inuwa Abdulahi, explained that some drivers were left with no alternative but to celebrate Christmas and New Year at the port rather than doing so in the comfort of their homes among their loved ones. He stated that though he allowed some of his drivers to go and celebrate with their families, he had no choice but to ask others stuck in the traffic snarl to make merry on the highways and bridges.

“During the Yuletide, particularly when Christmas was approaching, I allowed some of my drivers who were close to our parks to take the trucks to the parks and go and celebrate with their loved ones. However, for those neck-deep in the traffic, there was no way they could leave the trucks, so they had their celebration in the trucks on the roads and bridges,” Alhaji Abdulahi. He said further that his insistence on some of the drivers staying was informed by exigencies of duty, and not out of wickedness.

According to him, had the drivers been allowed to go leave, it would have meant losing their positions on the queue and the drivers, too, realised this. “There was no way I could have allowed those neck-deep in the traffic to leave because if they left, they would lose their spaces to other trucks behind them, and ultimately lose the opportunity to enter the ports. So, my boys understood the situation and stayed behind to celebrate Christmas and New Year on the roads,” Alhaji Abdulahi stated.

One of the truck drivers, Mr Waheed Abass, told Saturday Tribune that Christmas and New Year celebrations came and were gone with his truck stuck in traffic on Ijora Bridge, which is a few kilometers away from Apapa Port.

“During the Christmas period, my truck was on the Ijora Bridge and you know that bridge is not far from Apapa Port. So, for me and some of my colleagues that were on that bridge, we simply went into the market in Ijora and bought rice and turkey parts to cook on the bridge. Some of us move around with stoves and pots due to the fact that we spend days on the roads anytime we take containers away and back to the ports. So, we contributed money and bought rice and turkey parts and prepared meal for ourselves on Ijora Bridge. It was fun because while some of us contributed money for food, others contributed money for drinks. We cooked and drank and listened to music from our MP3 devices. It was fun celebrating Christmas and New Year there on Ijora Bridge,” Abass stated.

Asked if that didn’t bring strange feelings or if they missed their loved ones, Abass explained that truck drivers were used to spending days and weeks away from their loved ones due to the nature of the haulage business at the ports. “Due to the nature of our work, we spend days and even weeks away from our families, so celebrating Christmas on the bridge didn’t bring strange feelings to us. We are used to spending weeks and days on the road, so it was nothing new to us,” he explained.

Narrating his own experience during the period to Saturday Tribune, Bolaji Olanrewaju, a motor boy, said after celebrating Christmas during the day, some of them visited nearby clubs and bars to enjoy the season. “Christmas was fun on the bridges. There were many of us and we had a nice time together because there were so much food and drinks to enjoy. In the night, some of us went to nearby clubs and bars to have more fun, while others stayed behind to keep vandals away from our trucks. We organised ourselves into batches to ensure that everybody did not leave the trucks at the same time at night. If some went clubbing today, the others that stayed behind would go the next day. We had to do it this way because street urchins steal truck parts once they notice there is nobody around,” Olanrewaju said.

For another truck driver, Bala Aminu, Christmas and New Year celebrations held on Lagos bridges didn’t leave out the traffic officials stationed to manage vehicular movement along the port access roads during the Yuletide.

“Many of the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) officials joined us in celebrating on the bridges. Maybe because canned alcoholic drinks were surplus on the bridges, many traffic officials joined us in the merriment and it was a memorable moment for everybody. Nighttime on the bridges was also fun for those of us who couldn’t go to the nearby clubs and bars. We drank and danced through the nights. The clusters of trucks and tankers held up in the gridlock provided a form of shelter for many of us and we enjoyed the season. For a while, we forgot about the traffic problem,” Aminu explained.

The beer parlours around Ijora and Kirikiri area were the biggest gainers during the Yuletide rush, one Alhaji Bashiru, a tanker driver, explained to Saturday Tribune.

“Some of us don’t move around with pots and stoves like many of our colleagues do, so we simply went to Ijora and Kirikiri to enjoy ourselves at the beer parlous scattered all around the motor parks. There was nothing we could do about the gridlock because many of us were heading to Tin-Can port, and not Apapa Port like some other, so we had no choice but to visit some of the relaxation spots in Kirikiri,” Alhaji Bashiru stated.

Confirming the exploits of truckers on bridges leading to the ports, the chairman of the Association of Maritime Truck Owners (AMATO), Chief Remi Ogungbemi, explained that it was a situation that was forced on the truck drivers by the prevailing traffic problem along the port access roads.

“The Christmas was bleak for most truckers because the gridlock was not what we wanted or hoped for. For many of the drivers and motor boys had to make do with what was available at that moment. Celebrating Christmas and New Year on bridges and highways is not a thing that anyone would be happy about. The truck drivers and motor boys had no choice because they were held up in traffic. It is a failure of the system. I think attention should be focused on the plight of truck drivers who could not celebrate the festive season with their loved ones.

“The Task Force has obviously failed because the gridlock around the port has been unprecedented, particularly during the Yuletide. There was chaos everywhere as trucks couldn’t go into the ports because the ports were filled up with cargoes. I pity the truck drivers for what they went through during the Yuletide. Many of them celebrated Christmas on top of the bridges while our leaders and other Nigerians were with their loved ones at home or at relaxation centres. Is it fun to celebrate Christmas on top of a bridge? I don’t think so. The drivers just didn’t have a choice, because if they did, they would have been with their families,” Chief Ogungbemi told Saturday Tribune.

For Basira, a beverage drink seller in Ojuelegba, canned alcoholic drinks sold more during the last Christmas and New Year celebrations. “Normally, we sell beverages and plastic soft drinks in traffic under the Ijora Bridge and round-about. But during the last Christmas celebration, we sold more alcoholic drinks in the traffic because the demand was high. Many of the truckers who were held in the traffic bought crates of beer and other alcoholic drinks from us. At a point, I shuttled between the top of the bridge and underneath the bridge due to the high demand for drinks by truckers sitting in their articulated vehicles. Some sat in groups on the median demarcating the dual carriage Ijora Bridge, while others sat under their trucks. The merriment was non-stop and I had to close very late due to the ceaseless demand for drinks. Even some food vendors who initially closed shop due to the holiday had to open for business when the truckers requested for food,” Basira explained to Saturday Tribune.

 

It is dehumanising –Psychologist

Speaking on the implications of the kind of celebration the truckers had, a psychologist, Mr Noah Adeseye, said it reduces the human essence. According to him, what separates human beings from lesser animals remains their ability to live and carry on decently.

“Celebrating a major festival such as Christmas on the highway in an improvised shelter does not indicate a decent living. It is only in this part of the world that we rationalise these things and believe they are normal,” Adeseye argued. He said holidays and vacations should serve as opportunities for relaxation so that people can go back to their jobs refreshed. For truckers, who had driven all through the year, not to have the opportunity to relax in times like this could have negative impact on their psyche. “Besides, the question is: how do these people pass their wastes, since it is obvious that after spending days, weeks or even months in traffic, they would need to answer nature’s call? So, how do they do this?” Adeseye readily attributed the filth at the port and its environs in recent times to the indiscriminate defecation and urination by the truck drivers.

“There are some places in that area where you can’t pass without holding a handkerchief to your nose. No sane society lives like that. It is simply abnormal, and what we are seeing is that the society is playing a major role in the dehumanisation of its citizens,” he added.

Meanwhile, Yuletide is over but the rush to get into the ports has continued for many of the truck drivers. For those not willing to part with around N50,000 to enter the port through a one-way arrangement in the dead of the night, moving at a snail’s speed in a queue of articulated vehicles for weeks and at times, months, has been the order of the day due to the congestion being experienced inside the ports.

The tedious nature of the haulage business which has been worsened by the traffic snarl has also led to the rise in haulage cost from around N150,000 per 20-feet container to around N750,000 within Lagos. For a 40-feet container which used to go for N200,000/N250,000, haulage rates now goes for about N1 million.

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