Two weeks ago, officials of the Lagos State government and the Nigerian Ports Authority patted each other’s backs: driving to the nation’s premier ports at Apapa and Tin can that usually lasted hours took minutes.
But the excitement was short-lived.
Barely days after the officials cleared trucks off access roads to the ports, the articulated vehicles returned.
PREMIUM TIMES monitored truck movements on the Oshodi-Mile 2, Mile 2- Alakija, and the Old Ojo Road during the week of March 8-12 and observed that they had taken to the inner roads, while some parked on the service lanes, away from the highways.
The truck drivers lamented lack of parking spaces and the ordeals of getting a pass to access the ports as barriers to them leaving the roads completely.
“Our people are just hanging around if you see a free space. Today you park there and pray that the task force will not be out to impound your truck,” Ismaila Habeeb, a truck driver at Mile 2 told PREMIUM TIMES.
“Another day, you move to another free space. That is what many people are doing, there are no free trailer parks, no provision was made by the government for parking space.”
In December 2020, the Lagos state governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, announced that his administration will set up a special team that will take over from the Presidential task force in the clearing of the Apapa gridlock.
According to the governor, the Apapa gridlock issue has protracted long enough and it is high time the state got rid of it.
Blaming the menace on the level of indiscipline among port players, the governor said he would hold meetings with the authorities and set up a team of committed officers to clear the highways.
On February 23, Mr Sanwo-Olu met with the Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority, Hadiza Bala-Usman, to discuss the new electronic call-up system which will allow trucks to go on the Apapa corridor only if they have been cleared.
“This electronic system has limited interface with security operatives and unions, which usually cause the gridlock problem. It will be a simple case of possessing electronic clearance. If you don’t have it, you don’t have any reason to be around the seaports,” the governor said.
He disclosed that the state would deploy more than enough towing vehicles to impound erring trucks.
“The huge amount to be paid as fine for flouting the call-up system will be a deterrent for drivers not to repeat it. The stakeholders need to understand we are serious about ridding Apapa of the menace that has brought pains to our citizens living and doing businesses along the corridor.”
The governor also vowed to publicly name and shame prominent people behind the gridlock, deploying about 500 officers of the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) to the Apapa corridor to work with the NPA officials.
The Lagos state government matched its words with actions when it moved against trucks on the Oshodi-Apapa expressway and environs, impounding several of them.
Following this action, sanity was restored on the roads, but this only lasted for some days, with trucks gradually returning to the highway.
We are stranded – Truck drivers lament
Many truck drivers interviewed by PREMIUM TIMES explained that they have no parking space and are not ready to go back to their destination without getting the goods which they traveled to Lagos for.
“We are tired, the government is not helping us, no parking spaces for trucks, yet you say we should leave the roads. For someone like me that has spent almost two months just to access the port, you now say I should go back to my destination and wait for the call-up ticket before I come back, that means all my efforts will amount to nothing,” Umar Yusuf, a truck driver said.
Other truck drivers lament how they move from one location to the other looking for free spaces to park and at the same time, staying clear from the taskforce.
PREMIUM TIMES also gathered that some truck drivers are beginning to boycott the electronic call up system by coming up with counterfeit e-clearance papers or bribing their ways through.
A truck driver, who refused to give his name, told PREMIUM TIMES that there are officials truck drivers collaborate with to enable them get the – call-up clearance.
“Once you have the e call-up paper whether it is original or fake, the taskforce will not disturb you. The moment you show them the paper, you will be allowed to stay on the road because any truck with the clearance letter is expected to enter the port,” he said.
While some drivers seen on the Apapa highway were en route to the port having obtained their electronic call-up clearance, several others parked hoping not to be disturbed by the law enforcement agents.
Lagos’ trailer parks
PREMIUM TIMES visited four trailer parks in Lagos to find out how they are helping solve the problem of indiscriminate parking of trucks on the road.
The parks include Capital Oil Park, Sanya, Oshodi-Apapa road; Lilypond truck park, Ijora; and the Bola Tinubu Truck Park, Orile-Iganmu.
At the Capital Oil Park, which is the closest to the Apapa port from Oshodi-Mile 2 expressway, there was a total congestion. Several trailers lined the street leading to the park, and others were parked on the service lane of the expressway.
“There is no space here, you see that even those trying to come out of the park find it difficult. No free space,” a security officer at Capital Oil said.
At the Bola Tinubu truck park, there were also few spaces left for trucks to park.
At Lilypond truck park, there were lots of unoccupied spaces for trucks to park, but several trucks were seen on Ijora bridge, refusing to enter the park.
“No truck will want to come in here with what we are experiencing,” Victor Anyawu, a truck driver said.
“Most of us have been here for over one week, I have been here since last week Wednesday, yet, there is no specific we will be going out.”
“What they told us is that once you come in here, you sign your clearance paper and move out. I don’t know when they turned this place to a (permanent) parking space.”
Mr Anyawu said the gate to the park will not be opened for them if their clearance paper is not signed, but the officials are signing for trucks outside the yard.
“Most of us here are stranded, staying here more than seven days, you can feel my pain. On Saturday, we saw many of the containers on the bridge blowing straight, is it not someone that signed their papers?,” Mr Anyawu said.
Another driver, who identified himself as Sylvester, said the officials that were supposed to sign their clearance papers collect bribes from drivers outside the yard and allow them to go.
“You see the officials authorised to sign papers, once it is 7 p.m., they go to the bridge and sign papers for those people and leave us here. They passed only 11 vehicles since yesterday, they are only looking for money.
“They caged us here, it is better when we were on the road, because we know we will move once other vehicles are moving,” he said.
PREMIUM TIMES could not confirm the allegations. The spokesperson of the NPA, Ibrahim Nasiru, did not respond to calls and text messages.
PREMIUM TIMES contacted officials of the Lagos State government on the measures used in easing traffic on the Apapa corridor and the gradual return of trucks to the highway.
Olajide Oduyoye, the general manager of LASTMA, said it will take a while before the truck drivers fully adjust to the new system and his agency is ready to maintain sanity on Lagos roads.
“People have been doing these things for years, you must understand that it will take a while for people to agree and let it sink in that there is a change. The Nigerian factor is always like government just makes noise and after a while they will soon relax, that is why you still have some trucks around.
“Their unions have been told, the truck drivers have also been informed, but some people think it is still possible to bribe their way through and jump the queue,” Mr Oduyoye said.
The LASTMA boss said officers of the agency are ready to maintain law and order and ensure that the new system works.
Also speaking about the strategies used by the state government in ridding truck menace off the Apapa road, Bola Ogunlola, the Assistant Director of the Ministry of Transportation said several meetings are being held with truck drivers and truck owners.
“We are not relenting on the enforcement aspect of it, both the state government and the NPA. This time around, it is not only the state that is fighting this battle, the federal government and all those that should be involved are fighting it,” she said.
Mrs Ogunlola said the adoption of the electronic call-up system and efforts of law enforcement agents has helped the state record significant successes so far.
When asked about the gradual return of trucks on the road and issues with the e call-up system, the official said the state was trying to get things right and it is normal to encounter little challenges.
“Just like any other system, it will pass through a tutelage period,” Mrs Ogunmola said.
“Some trucks that don’t have e call-up may likely want to play a fast one. It will pass through the tutelage period for us to get it right and that is where now. We cannot say that we have gotten it right completely, we are still on it and we hope it will continue like that.”
Mrs Ogunlola said monitoring exercises along the corridor will continue and erring trucks will be towed away, in which the owners will pay heavy fines to collect them.
“It is a continuous effort, we are not going to stop because we have some calmness now, we will monitor it for a long time to ensure the system works. The situation we found ourselves in did not start overnight, so we will continue working,” the official said.
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