The road has become synonymous with unending traffic gridlock. A mere mention of Oshodi-Apapa Expressway reminds one of what traffic jam is all about.
Sunday Ani ([email protected] gmail.com)
Many are the afflictions of the Oshodi-Apapa Expressway, the only gateway to the two major international seaports in Nigeria, Tin Can Island and Apapa ports. The road, which was once the pride of the country, is today bugged by all sorts of problems. It has completely failed and is now a nightmare to road users. Transporters who go to Tin Can Island and Apapa ports to load goods spend days and, sometimes, weeks on the road before reaching their destination.
The road has become synonymous with unending traffic gridlock. A mere mention of Oshodi-Apapa Expressway reminds one of what traffic jam is all about. It has become so problematic that most companies and business concerns that operate in Apapa or along the Apapa road, particularly from Berger Under Bridge, have either relocated or closed down.
The situation is compounded by the concentration of tank farms in the Apapa axis, thereby attracting large numbers of petrol tankers that jostle with container-bearing trucks on the road. From the Westminster bus stop, heading towards Apapa, one could see chains of tank farms such as Ibeto, SPOG Sea Petroleum and Gas Company, Sahara Group, Ascon Oil, Gulf Treasure Limited and Total, among others.
In fact, moving from Mile 2 to Apapa is like a journey through the valley of the shadow of death. A first-time visitor would think that, as the traffic glides at a snail’s pace, it would eventually open up to free flow of traffic at some point. But the hard reality hits home when, immediately after the Berger Under Bridge, there appears to be a complete lock down of the road, a kind of dead end. Most heavy-duty vehicles parked on the road have their engines switched off, abandoned by their drivers who probably have spent days on the spot, an indication that there is no hope as to when the line would start to move again.
Apart from the permanent lockdown of the road, there are many other problems on the road, ranging from waste indiscriminately dumped along the median, the many spots that have been converted to mini-toilets and rest rooms, to the lawlessness of the articulated truck drivers, commercial bus operators (danfo) and motorcyclists (okada) as well as the alleged sharp practices of the security agents drafted to the area to ensure continuous flow of traffic.
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From Berger, the entire stretch of the road median is covered with garbage of all kinds. Added to all these is the stench on the road, which our correspondent found out to be the handiwork of truck drivers and their conductors, as well as commuters, who trek long distances on the road every day. They have converted the entire stretch of the road to an open-air toilet, where they defecate and urinate indiscriminately, hiding under the articulated vehicles that permanently occupy the entire road.
It was also gathered that okada accidents on the road occur daily, leading to the untimely death of many, even as others have suffered both partial and permanent disability as a result. Blood of innocent Nigerians is spilled on a daily basis on the road, which has earned the road the sobriquet of “blood sucker.” Daily Sun’s reporter, who observed the road from Mile 2 down to Apapa, discovered that even if the trucks and tankers were not parked on the road, cars and mini buses could use the road because of its poor condition. The lanes have collapsed, which contributes largely to the gridlock.
Going to Apapa, the blockage starts from Berger Under Bridge. From that point, only container-bearing trucks and petrol tankers dare to advance. While the trucks head to the seaports, where they load goods, the tankers head to tank farms in the Sunrise area to load petroleum products. The only other road users are motorcyclists, since cars and mini buses no longer ply the road.
However, immediately after Sunrise bus stop, the service lane going to Apapa opens up until the Coconut Bridge, where it closes up again. Then, about 100 metres before the Tin Can Island Port’s gate, the service lane opens up again to enable trucks to enter the port. But, immediately after the gate, the blockade continues and that is how the service lane going to Apapa intermittently opens and closes until one gets to Apapa.
From Tin Can Island Port’s entrance to Sunrise on the other side of the road going back to Mile 2, only okada riders operate; there is no vehicle. And from Sunrise down to Berger yard before Otto Wharf bus stop, the road has completely failed such that even the trucks and tankers dare not ply it. They only manage to use the service lane, which also has gullies at several points.
There are insinuations from some quarters that the many tank farms along the Apapa road are the major contributory factor to the gridlock, as they don’t have enough space where the petrol tankers could park while waiting to be loaded.
But, this argument does not add up as far as the duo of Kola Adekola and Akinlolu Akinjobi are concerned.
Causes of the gridlock
Adekola, a National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) taskforce member on traffic, attributed the gridlock to bad road and the large concentration of many companies in Apapa and along Apapa road. He said: “The major problem is that the road is not good. Assuming that the road is good, the vehicles will be moving. Once you leave this point (Sunrise), you will still get to a very bad spot after the Coconut Bridge. Again, there are so many companies here that attract these trucks and tankers. The shipping companies, oil and gas companies and Apapa wharf are all in this axis.
“Another factor is that there is no parking space for the containers inside the wharf any longer, unlike before, when they would all go inside the wharf and park there waiting for their turns. I understand that where they used to park their trucks inside the wharf has been sold. So, they don’t have anywhere to park inside the port.”
Adekola believes that the container-bearing trucks are the ones causing the gridlock, apart from the bad road: “The container drivers are the ones that are creating this problem. However, bad road also contributes greatly, but if the container drivers have a place to park inside the seaports, this problem would not get to this magnitude. This thing is affecting our work; we belong to the oil and gas sector (NUPENG). You can see that one lane was given to the trucks but they still park indiscriminately, thereby blocking everywhere. So, aside from the bad road, the lawless conduct of the truck drivers also contributes to this gridlock. It affects us badly because we spend so many days trying to get to the depot to load due to the gridlock,” he said.
Akinjobi agreed with Adekola’s submission on the cause of the gridlock. He lamented that they spend between three and six days before getting to the depot.
“And sometimes, we may also be delayed for some days inside the depot due to one reason or the other,” he said.
Confronted with the insinuation that most depots lack adequate space to accommodate the tankers that want to load petrol, he said: “There is space for tankers to park inside. The problem with this road is not because of the tankers; it is the container people that are causing all these troubles. You see that as we arrange our tankers, we are moving but these containers don’t move; they are where they are because they just park anyhow. They are the ones that block the road and they are all heading to the port. I also heard that inside the port is already blocked because where they used to park has been sold and the new owners don’t want them to continue parking there. That is part of the reason,” he said.
Although he agreed that depots might not be able to take all the waiting tankers, as some could barely contain 50 tankers, he still did not believe that the unending gridlock was caused by shortage of space in the tank farms.
When our correspondent entered one of the tank farms, the compound was large, with trucks in two rows waiting for the loading operation to start. Although there could still be a third line, one of the security guards, who identified himself as James, told our correspondent that the space was reserved for people to move around the premises. This reporter was not allowed to go round the premises to know the number of tankers on the queue but, according to the security guard, more than 40 tankers were allowed inside at a time while the rest queued outside waiting for their turn.
“But, when loading starts, about 100 trucks could be loading at the same time,” he said.
Container driver speaks
In what appeared like admission of complicity in the drama, one of the truck drivers, who gave his name as Chike, agreed that the road was bad, but he also said that they were stopped from parking inside the wharf, where they used to park: “The problem is bad road. The road is too bad, coupled with the fact that where we used to park inside the port has been sold. So, we can’t park inside the port and that is why we park anywhere we find space.”
Chike lamented that the suffering was becoming too much, as they spend weeks before they get to the port to load goods. He called on the Federal Government to provide alternative parking space for them, while the reconstruction of the road lasts, even as he also urged the contractors handling the reconstruction project to expedite action to prevent further hardship on Nigerians. He said: “The thing is not easy for us because we spend between 14 and 30 days, depending on how the security agents manage to control the flow of traffic. We are not happy the way things are but there is nothing we can do about it. We want government to provide alternative parking space for us, while they fix the road, so that this suffering can come to an end. If not, things will even get worse in the days ahead.”
Security agents implicated in shady deals
Daily Sun’s investigation revealed that the security agents drafted to the road to ensure free flow of traffic have been compromised. It was gathered that they collect between N3,000 and N5,000 from container drivers to allow them to drive against traffic, an action that often contributes to the lockdown of the road.
According to an okada rider, who discolsed this to the Daily Sun, the officers are busy making money and looking the other way as the lawlessness of container drivers continues.
“Yes, bad road, but if the security men drafted to the road are doing their job religiously, the gridlock would not be like this. Most of the security agents have been compromised. Whenever you see any container driver running against the traffic, such driver must have given N5,000 to the security men before he could do that. When such lawlessness is being perpetrated, the security agents look the other way because their hands have been soiled. That is another major problem we are facing here. Many of them who are posted to control traffic on this road are not doing their job, rather they are busy looking for drivers who would give them money to be able to drive and park anyhow,” he said.
The Oshodi-Apapa road, particularly from Mile 2, has been taken over by okada riders. They have become the only means by which one can access the two seaports through the Apapa road. From Tin Can Island Port’s gate down to Sunrise bus stop, not even the immortal danfo buses dare to ply the short distance. So, it is a field day for okada riders, who charge sky-high fees, depending on the negotiation or haggling capacity of the passenger.
One of them who conveyed this reporter from Tin Can Island Port’s entrance to Sunrise said the road construction works going on in Sunrise area was the main reason for the complete absence of any kind of vehicle within the axis.
“Motorists are not here because of the construction work going on at the Sunrise end of the road. We like it as it is because it makes it possible for us to make some quick cash. We don’t even want them to ever return; we like it as it is,” he submitted.
On the situation of the road, he said bad road, lawlessness of the container drivers and the corrupt activities of the security agents were the causes of the unending gridlock.
A car seller at Berger Under Bridge, Stagger Uchenna, lamented that the situation has almost crippled his business and that of others. He wondered why government could not rein in the truck drivers, whom he accused of behaving as being too big for the law to touch.
He said: “I understand that the road is bad really; that is not in question. But what surprises me is the way and manner these truck drivers behave. Are they above the law? Why can’t the government call them to order? I mean, they should respect the traffic laws. A situation where somebody would come to the middle of a major expressway and park his truck there is what I cannot understand. Why are we like this?
“This people have virtually invaded the whole Lagos; it is not only on this Apapa road that this madness is exhibited. It has gone to all the suburbs that are in proximity with this road,” he said.
On his part, a motor spare parts dealer at Trinity, along Apapa road, Kenneth Udunze, blamed the bad road for the gridlock. He called on the state and federal government to be alive to their responsibilities and fix the road to save Nigerians from the unnecessary pains they go through every day on the road.
“What kind of government do we have? Do you know that some portions of the road have gullies as deep as three feet? What happens to all the money they make from the seaports in Apapa? If not that our leaders are not thinking, how can they neglect a road as important as Oshodi-Apapa road, a road that leads to two major international seaports in this country?
“It is a shame. My brother, I am tired of this country. All these things have been reported repeatedly in papers but I am sure they don’t even read them, not to talk of listening to them. But, I know that, one day, God will answer our prayer in this country,” he said.
He did not forget to comment on the conduct of the trailer drivers and the security agents, whom he accused of adding to the suffering occasioned by bad road.
“The truck drivers on this road are above the law. They drive as they like and park wherever they like. Yes, I heard that where they used to park inside the ports have been sold to a private person who doesn’t want them to park there any longer. But, is that why they should park in the middle of the road? I don’t get it.
“And the security agents who should ensure that order is maintained on the road are folding their hands doing nothing. Well, I know they have been compromised, otherwise I see no reason why they should not act in the face of this brazen act of lawlessness by these truck drivers. Look at okada riders, they have taken over the whole place, breaking people’s legs, hands and necks every day. That is for those who are lucky to survive many okada accidents that happen on this road every day. In short, what we witness here every day is bedlam and we can only appeal to government to do the needful and get the road fixed as soon as possible,” he said.