Tessy Igomu

Seething with rage and dripping sweat, Kunle cursed under his breath as he stared at the endless queue of vehicles, mostly trucks belching black smoke, ahead of him. Having been trapped for five hours along Liverpool Road in Apapa, his rage, it was obvious, had reached tipping point.

Kunle’s memories of what Apapa once epitomised and the utter chaos it had degenerated into readily brought tears to his eyes. His Apapa of the ’90s was serene and organised, with a thriving commercial and social life. It was a place to be in and it boasted of the largest concentration of foreigners.

Apapa was once the nation’s pride and, for many, it held beautiful memories. It was home to Nigeria’s two major money-spinning seaports, Apapa and Tincan Island, the popular Apapa Amusement Park, as well as other interesting concerns that attracted huge patronage.

But all of that has been long gone and confined to the dustbin of history. The place that was once home to the super-rich is now a shadow of its glorious past.

Looking forlorn and stripped of its former glory, Apapa now dons a garment of decay. The erstwhile economic gateway has degenerated into a deplorable state, with its infrastructure and residents perpetually and perennially ensnared in intractable gridlock. Utter chaos now reigns, as the roads are now majorly blocked with articulated vehicles that constitute health hazards to people within the vicinity.

As it stands, Apapa is in steady retrogression. Eroded is the confidence of yesteryears, which attracted business concerns, industries as well as people of might and means. The place shudders under unsavoury experiences dished out by lawless truck drivers who, with the gridlocks they cause, daily unleash woe in generous doses on Nigerians.

Residents and business owners have watched helpessly as container-laden trucks of various shapes and sizes descended on the area like a swarm of locusts, occupying all road and open spaces in the axis.

Virtually all streets in Apapa paint a picture of rot, frustration, anger and despondency. Crime and criminal activities bring dread on people, while refuse dots every available space. Main roads into the community are run down, riddled with craters and flooded with dirty, stagnant water with or without the rains. Some homes have their drains spewing sewage onto the streets, heightening fears of epidemics. Navigating through the chaotic maze is possible through the use of commercial motorcycles that ride at break-neck speed.

Lamentations and pain from the area daily make the headlines. For business owners, property owners and residents, the daily gridlock could only be compared to living in hell. Many businesses have been forced to either shut down or relocate due to the debilitating toll of the intractable gridlock.

People feel imprisoned by container trucks, while accessing and leaving the area has become a daily, endless war. Whether in the morning, afternoon or night, people are hemmed in by articulated vehicles in a way that had never been seen.

The living nightmare is also impacting negatively on productive man-hours and has imposed unbearable costs on businesses as well as reduced the revenue accruable to government.

Recently, lamenting the implications of the gridlock to the economy and other business concerns, Dangote Group’s president, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, said the situation was costing the country an estimated N140 billion in revenue weekly. He also said the economy loses more than N20 billion daily.

“Apapa is an embarrassment to the country. The state of the roads affects businesses across the country. All our operations in the hinterlands such as Ilorin, Kano and other areas are operating at 40 per cent maximum capacity,” he said.

Worse hit by the economic and social dislocation caused by the endless gridlock are operators in the real estate sector, as property values have dropped drastically. Many, frustrated by the daily torment, have moved to areas considered sane, thus leaving many houses and shops empty.

Accessing the two ports has become an unprecedented nightmare. Moving out of the ports is even more traumatic. The sorry state of the road has adversely affected cargo evacuation as it has continually led to high demurrage charges, high rental costs by terminal operators and high cost of freight.

For years now, people in Apapa have silently borne the monumental pain imposed on them by truck drivers, who have turned all the roads into parking lots. Navigating through the area has become practically impossible.

Ordinarily, what should be a less-than-two-minute drive through the axis has turned to hours of trauma. Many have lost count of the nights they have been forced to spend in their vehicles or offices because of gridlocks.

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Daily, trucks trying to reach the many terminals in the region take over the roads as they wait on queues to load or offload containers. The drivers, who do not have any regard for others, endanger the lives of other motorists and road users also trapped in the midst of the container trucks. Their indiscriminate parking has caused unquantifiable losses in man-hours, sometimes leading to disabilities and deaths.

Though the gridlock has been blamed on the on-going port road construction and unavailability of parking spaces for the trucks at the ports, many have maintained that government should do something about the distressing situation.

Mass exodus of businesses has also become the lot of Apapa. Not long ago, many were bewildered when the Nigerian National Shipping Line (NNSL) closed shop. Till now, its building, Development House, on Wharf Road, has been an empty shell. Several other businesses on popular streets like Creek Road and Commercial Road, among others, have ceased to exist.

Ferdinand, a hotelier and landlord in Apapa, said he had concluded plans to sell his properties at a ridiculously low rate. The decision, he explained, emanated from the fact that properties in Apapa have depreciated in value over the years due to the myriads of challenges afflicting the area.

“We don’t know what we have done to the state government. We have been suffering terribly in the hands of these truck drivers. I have practically lost all my customers and business has dwindled badly. Most of those that still take the pain to patronise me do so because of the relationship we have developed over the years. We have lost all hope of having this place salvaged and sanitised,” he said.

Also lamenting, Habeeb, a landlord, declared that the lingering crises in the area have jeopardised his life and future.

He said the perennial gridlock has profoundly impacted adversely on the welfare of residents in the area and posed serious risks to the many bridges and flyovers along the axis, which carry the heavy loads of stationary vehicles, including tankers, for several days.

“Everywhere is full of trucks. Every area of our lives has become paralysed by the activities of these truck drivers. Government should either get them off the roads completely or make them park on a lane,” he said.

For some of the truck drivers, the development has also been unpalatable, as they are most times marooned on a spot for days without an inkling of when they would inch closer to their destination.   

Funsho Alao, a truck driver, said inasmuch as people were blaming them for the chaos Apapa has degenerated into, they were more at the receiving end and at a loss on how to solve the problem.

He noted that immediately goods are offloaded from a container, the driver is given a permit to drop the empty container at any authorised terminal. However, lately, the terminals are usually filled up, leaving drivers with no choice than to wait for days or weeks for a ship to berth and pick up empty containers to create space. He also lamented that roads leading to the various bonded terminals are in a sorry state.

A business owner in Apapa asserted that the chaos being experienced in the area has highlighted the ineptitude of statutory bodies charged with the responsibility to ensure safety and orderliness on Nigerian roads. He called for designated holding bays as well as the streamlining of enforcement agencies for effective and result-oriented operations.

Speaking on behalf of the residents and business owners, Brigadier General Shola Ayo-Vaughan (retd.) lamented that the gridlock has wrecked their businesses and robbed them of living good lives.

He accused government and its agencies of conniving with the shipping companies to deliberately refuse to implement policies meant to keep the trucks and containers off the roads so as to force landlords, residents and business owners out of Apapa. He alleged that the long-term plan of government and its allies was to strictly turn Apapa into a port area.

Another resident regretted that people now live in perpetual fear due to recurrent robbery attacks by hoodlums who see Apapa as a perfect hideout. He also lamented that some families have lost loved ones in need of medical care as a result of the total blockade of access roads by the articulated vehicles.

However, for many, the solution to the debacle lies in the decongestion of Lagos ports.

For Felix Ibikunle, a maritime expert and business owner on Liverpool Road, it is not about bad roads, it is purely about the volume of traffic to and from the ports. He noted that even if the roads and drains are fixed, without port decongestion, the gridlock would continue unabated.

His words: “Ports in places like Onne, Calabar, Port Harcourt and Warri can be patronised by diverting ships to them. If government does not address the volume of traffic to Lagos ports, the gridlock will remain, irrespective of ad hoc and other fire brigade approaches.”