Going in and out of Apapa GRA, Nigeria’s foremost maritime city, from any part of Lagos is a torturous journey; not because of long distance, but the daily pains of navigating through the sea of trailers parked on both expressways (Apapa-Wharf and Oshodi-Apapa roads) have weighed down heavily on the health and finances of residents, business owners, property owners and government’s infrastructure, reports DAYO AYEYEMI
Apart from being a maritime hub, the residential aspect of the enclave is right inside the foremost Apapa Government Reservation Area (GRA), which at a time paraded the best of infrastructural facilities, tight security, easy access and beauty coupled with lush vegetation that adorned most streets and houses.
Being a port city, Apapa was choice location to live for the rich, high-net worth businessmen and sailors.
It is also on record that the first Premier of the defunct Western Region of Nigeria, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, once lived in Apapa.
Other individuals such as former Minister of Commerce, the late Bola Kuforiji-Olubi, former Vice President, Admiral Augustus Aikhomu (now late), Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governorship candidate in Lagos State, Jimi Agbaje, Chief Edwin Clark, and host of others also lived in Apapa.
Apapa was hub of offices for international businesses and real estate, with the rich jostling to own property for residential or and commercial purpose in the enclave.
The affluence paraded by Apapa GRA also trickled down to its neighbours in downtown Ajegunle, Ijora, Satellite and Olodi Apapa areas.
However, all these glittering facilities and serene environment suddenly disappeared by the furnace of pains inflicted on residents, business owners and motorists by gridlock triggered by trucks/tankers’ drivers on Apapa roads.
The location, which was a once sought-out place, has been deserted by tenants and some landlords, while many blue chip companies have relocated.
New Telegraph’s findings show that from Liverpool to Ibadan Street, Olorogun Ibru Way, Ladipo Oluwole Street, Oduduwa Road, Sola Ayo-Vaughan Street and Marine Road, many of the houses have become emptied and streets in bad shape.
It was learnt that their residents ran away from the threat that ports reform of 2006 has unleashed on them.
Although Nigerian economy benefited from the reform, Apapa residents have been left with pains as perennial traffic on all routes leading to the enclave has led to continuous dwindling of property values despite several warnings and ultimatum issued to truck drivers/owners by government both at the Federal and state levels to move trucks off Apapa roads.
House rents in Apapa GRA have also dropped significantly, and vacancy rate in the neighbourhood has risen by almost 50 per cent.
When New Telegraph took the tour of entire Apapa area last Wednesday before the last 72-hour ultimatum Presidential Order issued on May 22, 2019 to trucks/tankers’ owners to move their trucks off the roads came, the entire Apapa-Oshodi and Apapa-Wharf expressways were blocked by trucks and articulated vehicles.
Also, all inner streets from Ijesha, Rainbow, Mile 2, Wilma to Ajegunle and entire Ijora were also no-go areas as truck and tanker drivers turned the roads into trailer parks, preventing residents and motorists easy access to their homes and business centres.
Our correspondent, who had boarded a public bus going to Apapa at 8a.m. on the fateful day, had to alight at Ijesha bus stop on Oshodi-Apapa Expressway to get on a commercial motorbike popularly called “Okada” about noon owing to the gridlock caused by trucks.
Two lanes on the main expressway were taken over by truck and tanker drivers, leaving just one lane for other road users.
Also, most Lagos flyovers from Oju-Elegba, Stadium, Alaka, Ijora and Marine Bridge were not spared by truck drivers.
Motorists and commercial bus drivers who got wind of the gridlock early enough took one-way, driving against traffic from Isolo to Berger Roundabout on Oshodi-Apapa Expressway.
Okada riders took advantage of the prolonged traffic jam, making brisk business for themselves by jerking up their fares.
“This is what people experienced on a daily basis on this route, and this is how we make our money too,” the okada rider, a middle-aged Hausa, who took the reporter from Ijesha bus stop, manoeuvring his way through the gridlock to Berger Roundabout, said.
“Yesterday alone, I made more than N8,000 before 6p.m.,” he announced while grinning
Officials of the police, Army, Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) and the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) on the expressway were having a hectic time clearing the traffic: it was an overwhelming task.
The entire Wilma Road from the expressway to Boundary in Ajegunle was a no-go area for motorists as truck drivers blocked the entire street.
For Emeka Ezekiel, a resident of Wilma Crescent, the nuisance of truck drivers in the neighbourhood has become residents’ headache over the years.
“This problem has been with us more than four years now. There are occasions we won’t even be able to access our homes unless we trek a long distance due to gridlock caused by these trailers,” he said.
A trader, who identified herself simply as Ifeoma, said many of her customers could no longer afford to come to Wilma due to the nuisance of truck drivers on the roads.
She added that other businesses in the area were badly affected.
Adamu, another okada rider, who took the reporter to Boundary, said he used to avoid the road during gridlock, explaining that a journey of less than 10 minutes could take over one hour during gridlock.
The trip from Boundary to Ijora was much better and took less than 30 minutes for the reporter, but became hectic from Costain to Apapa-Wharf as trucks took over the entire expressway as usual.
Another person, whose head office is located in Apapa, Mr. Chuks, said that “those who have any business coming to Apapa at all, have resorted to other measures,” aside trekking long distances from Ijora, to driving their vehicles to Marina/CMS on Lagos Island, and crossing over by ferry into Apapa, to return by the same route and method.
The reporter was still on the trip when the news of Presidential Order of 72-hour ultimatum to truck and tankers’ drivers to move away their trucks from Apapa roads broke.
While it was cheering news to new comers, other residents and stakeholders were not bothered, saying that was not the first time such an order would emanate from the Federal Government.
Reacting, Bode Olaniyan, a resident of Apapa GRA, said the issue of Apapa gridlock was beyond issuance of order.
According to him, until all factors contributing to the gridlock are identified and tackled, the problem will persist.
He said that was not the first time the President would give deadline for truck drivers to leave Apapa roads and they refused, stating that the latest order would not be an exemption.
Just as Olaniyan said, as at last Saturday when the ultimatum supposed to have expired, trucks were still blocking the expressways.
Reacting to the 72-hour ultimatum order by the Federal Government, President of Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Babatunde Runwase, said the logjam caused by trailers and trucks in Apapa was not a problem that could be resolved by fiat. “I believe the trucks will be back. The problem cannot be resolved by fiat,” he said.
Looking back, he said that the problem started with vandalism of pipelines carrying petroleum products by oil thieves. Due to this challenge, he said all tankers had to come to Lagos to load their products, adding that this also led to proliferation of tank farms in Apapa.
According to survey carried out by the Organised Private Sector (OPS), it was revealed that Nigeria was losing trillions of naira yearly to Apapa gridlock.
Runwase urged the need to look at the problems confronting Apapa holistically. “The problem is such that we must deal with it; pipeline has to be used to move petroleum products and rail must replace trucks to promote efficiency at the port. There should be a single window where all agencies will look at documents,” he said.
Three days after the expiration of the Presidential order, a Female LATSMA official, Folashade Arogundade, was reportedly crushed to death by one of the truck driver that was reversing.
Officials of the FRSC said they were making progress as measures were being put in place to ensure sustainability in accordance with the recent Presidential ultimatum to clear the gridlock in Apapa and its environs.
The Lagos State Sector Commander, FRSC, Mr. Hyginus Omeje, said they started with meeting with stakeholders, pointing out that it was discovered that 54 private parks were identified where trucks were expected to move into before going to the port with the assistance of manual call-up system that the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) was practicing now.
He said the Lily pond’s park had also been opened for containerised vehicles for parking before accessing the port.
The Chairman of Apapa Residents’ Association, Brigadier Sola Ayo-Vaughn (rtd.), in a report, said the major causes of the Apapa problem were the NPA, which is government’s regulatory agency, and the shipping companies.
He said that the failure of NPA to regulate activities in the environs was reason for the degeneration of Apapa below the standard of what could be called a GRA.
Vaughn said: “The problem of Apapa goes beyond the gridlock which everybody sees; a lot of us, especially the retirees, depend on income from our houses; many of these houses have been empty in the last five years.”
On April 26, 2019, the Senate Committee on Works issued a two-week ultimatum to NPA, truck owners, and shippers to find lasting solution to Apapa gridlock.
On December 14, 2018, residents and firms’ owners in Apapa gave a 21-day ultimatum to the Federal Government to remove all articulated trucks or incur their wrath.
They threatened that failure of the government to effect the removal of the trucks would result into indefinite shutdown of all entries linking the ports. They lamented that they were living in perpetual fear due to recurring attacks by hoodlums who had taken advantage of the situation in the area.
The residents added that apart from the fact that the area had become a hideout for armed robbers, some families during emergencies had lost loved ones in need of medical care to total blockade of access roads by the articulated vehicles.
Speaking on behalf residents and business owners, Vaughan hinted that they had started preparing for the possibility that the government would not yield to their demands.
According to him, the residents and business owners are prepared to block all entries both in and out of Apapa since the gridlock had already wrecked businesses and robbed residents of good lives.
Vaughan said government and its agencies in connivance with the shipping companies deliberately refused to implement policies meant to keep the trucks and containers off the road so as to force landlords, residents and business owners out of Apapa.
In September 2017, the Lagos State government also gave a 48-hour ultimatum to owners and operators of articulated vehicles/trucks and petroleum tankers to stay away from Lagos due to incessant traffic bottleneck impacting negatively on commercial activities of citizens.
The Federal Government had through the Federal Roads Committee on Surveillance and Action Against Road Abuse (FERCSARA), in conjunction with the Federal Road Maintenance Agency (FERMA), moved on the massed trailers, tankers, containers and trucks, which lined both entry routes into Apapa, Nigeria’s premier seaport.
Also, the Lagos State government under former Governor Babatunde Fashola, tried to adopt the same tough stance to curb the Apapa traffic situation.
Back then, a persistent task-force set up by Fashola harassed the errant tanker and container drivers into compliance and scores of trailers and containers were impounded and towed away, with the owners reportedly forced to pay fines ranging between N50,000 and N100,000, depending on the type of vehicle and the nature of the offence.
However, the remedial measure could not be sustained for long, as the owners of the impounded vehicles applied pressure on government at the federal level to call Lagos State to order.
Effects on houses, businesses
According to the President of Dangote Group, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, businesses are losing N140 billion to Apapa gridlock weekly.
Indeed, a recent study by the Organised Private Sector (OPS) showed that the Nigerian economy is currently losing about N600 billion in Customs revenue, estimated $10 billion (N3.06 trillion at N306.35/$1) on non-oil export and about N2.5 trillion corporate earnings across the sectors on a yearly basis, due to inefficiencies at the ports and access roads to the ports.
According to the study undertaken by the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), in collaboration with the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG) and OPS made up of MAN, NECA, NACCIMA, NASME, NASSI, and Centre for International Private Enterprise (CIPE), the chamber noted that the port reforms undertaken by the Federal Government are being frustrated by businesses and government agencies thriving from the inefficiency of the ports.
It is estimated that 40 per cent of the entire buildings in the Apapa GRA are empty. On the average, 10 houses are empty on any given street. Average house rent (buildings) in this area is N5 million per annum, meaning that in one street alone, income loss for the five-year period is about N250 million. Many property owners are selling at ridiculously low prices.
Vaughn lamented that, in spite of this ugly situation, Lagos State government still collects tenement rates from Apapa residents and expects them to pay same as payable in Ikoyi and Ikeja GRA whereas some houses here have been empty for three to five years.
Although the Federal Government has carried out rehabilitation of bad portions of Wharf Road, Ijora Bridge and part of Commercial Road to ease traffic, the gridlock has refused to leave. The gridlock also led to degeneration of Liverpool and other major roads in the Apapa GRA.
On Wharf Road alone, it was reported that more than 10 banks and two eateries have shut down their branches due to the pains and difficulty in accessing these branches, leading to loss of substantial customers in the area.
The Managing Director of NPA, Ms Hadiza Bala Usman, in a report, said the Lagos Port had become an emergency, adding that whatever losses that stakeholders might incur would be reviewed.
Usman, while stating this after meeting with the terminal operators, also called on shipping companies, port managers and allied stakeholders to do all they could to eradicate or at best mitigate the effects of the present congestion at the nation’s seaports.
According to the NPA boss, the issue of ports congestion should be of concern to all and therefore they should look into the issue of evacuation of empty containers, increase in free days of storage, wavering of demurrage for a definite period of time, creating a window of some period to accommodate the concerns of importers.
Effect on bridges
It is not an exaggeration that some Lagos bridges are hosting over 3,000 trucks daily.
Already, structural engineers are raising the alarm to stop trucks’ drivers from using the bridges as parking space to prevent total collapse.
Investigation revealed that the expansion joints of the bridges have been weaken and would need urgent replacement because of the heavy permanent loads on them.
Some of the affected bridges under great burdens of immobile articulated vehicles laden with empty containers and other export goods include Abalti Barracks, Ojuelegba, Stadium, Iponri, Ijora, Iganmu, Coconuts, Liverpool, Eko and Carter Bridges owing to prolonged and recurring traffic jam and bad state of roads leading to Apapa ports and tank farms.
It was learnt that BUA, Standard Flour Mills, Dangote Group, Flour Mills of Nigeria, Honey Well and Crown Flour Mills, operating at the industrial areas of Lagos and Tincan Island ports owned 70 per cent of the trucks.
According to structural engineers, long staying on the bridges by stationary vehicles would have negative impacts on the facility.
The former President, Nigerian Institution of Structural Engineers, Mr. Victor Oyenuga, also warned that most of the flyovers in Lagos had heavy load already, pointing out that additional stationary loads on the bridges could lead to total collapse.
He explained that trucks were not expected to park on the bridges.
The Federal Controller of Work for Lagos, Mr. Adedamola Kuti, an engineer, confirmed that expansion joints of some of the bridges have been weakened.
New Telegraph learnt that the security operatives, who supposed to enforce the law, have been exploiting the system by making illegal money from truck drivers
“We pay huge amount of money to stay on the bridge in order to meet up empty containers surcharges by the shipping lines that own the boxes,” said a trucker, identified simply as Kabiru.
Confirming the claims, the Lagos State Vice Chairman (Dry Cargo) sector of Nigerian Association of Road Transport Owners (NARTO), Mohammed Inuwa Abdullahi, said that about 4,500 and 5,000 trucks used the bridges on a daily basis because of the tank farms, industries in the ports and terminals.
Abdullahi noted that truckers stayed on the road for over six weeks before getting to Apapa Port.
He said: “They eat, defecate, take their bath on the queue if they have the opportunity of getting water within and sometimes for those drivers who base in Lagos, their wives or children come with food on the queue because some of them cannot leave the trucks.
“If you don’t want to stay long you pay money to the security operatives. Payment is in different categories. Those that can afford to bribe their ways pay between N100,000 and N120,000 and within two or three days they will load and other that are on the dedicated lane will remain there for between five and six weeks or more than that before getting to Apapa Port.”
Also, Governor of Lagos State, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu has pledged to end Apapa traffic jam within 60 days in office.
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