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Apapa gridlock: Is there end in sight?

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Seventy-two hours to the two-week deadline to rid the ports and access roads of trucks, hope appears dim that a total evacuation of the roads is possible, writes ADEYINKA ADERIBIGBE

For citizen Joshua, a media executive who works at Apapa, clearing the gridlock in Nigeria’s busiest commercial corridor appears to be a mirage.

Narrating his experience, Isaac last Friday said he had left his office on Point Road, Apapa at 6pm, hoping that the trucks clearing exercise going on around Apapa would help him get home early. But that was not to be. He did not get home until 2.30am on Saturday. He spent 8 ½ hours between Apapa and Egbeda, his home, an equivalent of the same hours it would take him to travel between Lagos and Anambra, Southeast of Nigeria or to Lokoja, the Kogi state capital, in North-central Nigeria.  “It was one of my most harrowing experiences since I started working at Apapa,” Joshua, who gave only his first name, said.

The gain of the last one week of presidential intervention was being eroded by the congestion that re-appeared on the access roads last Thursday. Last Friday and all through the weekend, the little success achieved seemed to have been totally reversed on all access roads.

The only part where sanity still prevailed was the Western Avenue/Ikorodu Road axis. The road before the exercise had trucks lining it up to Palmgrove Bus stop. It was empty of trucks as at Sunday. But same cannot be said of Ijora and Ajegunle, which still remained a huge mess, as trailers blocked everywhere from Ijora to Point road, leading to the port.

Notwithstanding the huge personal sacrifices of Kayode Opeifa-led Taskforce, which had shifted its operational base to Apapa since the penultimate Wednesday when President Muhammadu Buhari issued the  two-week deadline to flush all trucks out of Apapa and its access roads and bridges. Himself and Hakeem Odumosu, a Police Commissioner, who heads the enforcement gang, co-opted virtually all senior government workers, including the Federal Controller of Works in Lagos State, Mr Ademola Kuti, and the port managers among other stakeholders, to solve the “truck madness,” at Apapa.

According to Joshua, there are chances that  the problem will continue to fester. He urged Vice President Yemi Osinbajo to stop giving out orders to clean up Apapa, as it has repeatedly proved counter-productive.

Josua said: “I’ll like to beg VP Osinbajo to stop dishing out ‘Presidential Orders’ to trucks to vacate Apapa roads and bridges. Rather, the Federal Government should work quietly with Lagos State to find a solution to the crisis, rather than embarking on empty noise and giving puppet orders that amounts to nothing.”

He said anytime Prof. Osinbajo reels out ‘orders,’ the blockades in Apapa get worse. It always seems as if the trucks are let loose to unleash greater mayhem whenever Osinbajo talks.

“It has been totally frustrating for those of us living or working in Apapa as trucks and tankers have blocked every possible exit in Apapa,” Joshua he  said.

Joshua was not the only one worried about Apapa becoming a nightmare. Apapa Residents Association Chairman, Brig-Gen Ayo Vaughan, said many residents have fled the once honey pot property market and relocated to more livable areas.

The retired General said he looked forward to a return of the good times, saying he would continue to mount pressure until government succeeds.

However, unfolding events at Apapa showed that not only the residents were feeling the pinch. Just last Saturday, some “frustrated truck drivers” protested the avoidable delays that left them stranded for over a month on the Apapa road without access to the port.

Some drivers with cargoes marked for export said they have been stranded between Sanya and Coconut bus stop since April. They were unable to access the ports and discharge their cargoes, some of which had gone bad and left their owners indebted.

Opeifa in a chat withThe Nation, said the team has recorded appreciable success, expressing the the committee’s commitment to deliver a truck free Apapa port and access road to both the Federal Government and Lagos State by Friday.

He said Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu paid a visit to Apapa last Friday, expressing happiness at the level of success achieved by the task force.

The Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, Opeifa believed,  is committed to making Apapa work. The two areas, which the taskforce has focused on according to him, are truck traffic management around the access areas and port traffic management, with the government allowing the NPA to solely handle the latter.

An efficient and effective traffic management, Opeifa said, would address traffic management plan for the entire port area traffic, including cargo, fuel distribution and business district traffic that would incorporate integrated manual call up system, pending the time automatic call up system would be unveiled, as well as truck incident recovery and rescue plan. This would be complemented with a 24-hour mobile police enforcement for security and back up enforcement activities.

Also unveiled are the deployment of revised empty container return management policy and the use of dedicated truck parks as temporary holding bays to access the Port via Lillypond or  Tincan via the Apapa-Oshodi access way.

Within the port area, port users agreed to strict adherence to Nigerian Port Authority’s (NPA’s) Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) on Port Truck Clearance, which incorporates temporary Manual Call-Up system.

For managing the truck parks, 54 private parks have been identified and approved by the NPA and all trucks approaching the ports are to head for these NPA approved parking lots, for port access through Lillypond Terminal, which would serve as a marshalling yard, while trucks are to access the port only and exclusively through the NPA call up system on SOP, and Port Truck Clearance Procedure (PTCP) basis.

According to Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industries (LCCI) President, Mr Babatunde Ruwase, the nation’s economic loss to the Apapa gridlock is about N7 trillion yearly.

The figure, Ruwase said, are losses from imports, exports, customs duties, other port charges, as well as the maintenance cost of the vehicles, drivers, and other costs.

For Ruwase, the government’s executive order on the ease of doing business will continue to suffer reversals until the traffic gridlocks, especially at the ports, is tamed.

Traffic flow

He said all stationary, immovable, accidented or wrongfully parked trucks must be removed on all port access roads to designated LASTMA yard. Penalties, fines, fees and charges  should be imposed before their release as applicable by Lagos State Laws.

Secondly, the enforcement team will ensure all stationary, sided, reefer, silos, Arewa, Dangote, BUA, Flour Mills of Nigeria Ltd (FMNL), Honeywell, Fish  and Flat bed trucks approaching Port gate are to be given priority access based on their individual Port Terminal programme, capacity and common access traffic management system.

Thirdly, stakeholders agreed that all export container carrying trucks; such as those conveying perishable goods to proceed directly to the port for services and delivery.

If customs clearance is required, trucks are to approach NPA designated Park for Customs clearance and release.

The elaborate strategies, according to Opeifa, would effectively mop up the traffic and reduce the lock down being experienced on the roads.

A logistics automation expert, Tunde Olaosun of Hermonfield Ltd., hailed the government on these measures, describing what is happening at Apapa as “organised chaos”, which is not beyond solution.

Olaosun said only those with the inner workings of the ports can help solve the crisis, which he described as fallouts of the ports concessionning policy of the Federal Government in 2006.

He said: “The ports at inception was designed as a multi-purpose port intended to be run by one operator, but ever since the concessioning, Apapa now plays host to five terminal operators all of who are sharing one gate.

“Being a multi-purpose port, there are different types of truck needs or requirements. The truck requirement for a bulk terminal is different from a container or general cargo terminal. However, the need of every terminal varies, and based on the concession agreement, each of the terminals are supposed to submit to the NPA their truck requirements for proper traffic management 24 hours ahead.”

Olaosun blamed the gridlock on access control and insider round tripping. Speaking on access control, he said four of the five operators at Apapa Port share one access gate. There are the APM Terminal, EML Consortium, Green View, Apapa Bulk Terminal. While the last has its own access gate, the others use one.

He said most of the terminal operators’ policy on empty containers are the reason behind the logjam on the Apapa port and access roads. He wondered why importers and businessmen would find it difficult to return empty containers after discharging their goods, putting the blames on some operators who feed fat on innocent importers while government turns blind eyes to their malfeasance.

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