No Respite Yet On Apapa Gridlock

Agony Unlimited

Agony Unlimited

Tankers, Trailers Still Unleashed
Commuters Groan, As Traders Recount Loss

COMMUTING in the Apapa area of Lagos is a torturous experience. If you wish to understand the magnitude of the problem, organise an event, maybe a wedding, then select a venue in Apapa and see who turns up. You will be luckiest, if you get a quarter of the hall filled with guests.

Yes, it’s that bad. In fact, merely seeing ‘Apapa’ on an invitation card puts Lagosians off, including diehard party rockers. Except for traders and workers on the axis, who must go through the nightmare daily in order to earn a living, Apapa is a no go area!

Be that as it may, the already bad situation has become worse in recent times. From the day petroleum marketers embarked on a nationwide strike that almost crippled the country’s economy, Apapa has been a string of sad tales. And by the time other unions in the sector joined the strike, in solidarity, things spiraled out of control.

The trade dispute saw all tank farms in Apapa completely shutdown, even as tankers and trailers remained on the expressway for nights. For commercial bus operators, who managed to get fuel from the black market, driving one way was the only option to meandering around the madness.

“It was a terrible experience for us. I’ve not taken my car to work for weeks. Sometimes, we walk long distances to and from the office. Most of our managers make do with okada (commercial motorcycles) including the publisher. I think government should find a lasting solution to this menace,” said Ben Njoku, a journalist with the Vanguard newspaper.

If the situation was bad for staff of the Vanguard, whose office is located at the Kirikiri Canal, their counterparts at Thisday saw hell.

“Every time I wake up in the morning and remember I would have to go to work, I feel very sad, knowing what I would experience on the road. Usually, we have our editorial meeting on Monday, but the traffic situation has become so bad that we find it difficult to attend the briefing. For a journey that should take about 15 to 20 minutes, we spend hours. Sometimes, you are just on a spot. In fact, the GTBank office within our premises had to shutdown,” said Azuka Ogujiuba of Thisday.

Lamenting her experiences on the route, Ogujiuba said: “The situation is worst at night; you are constantly at risk of area boys and robbers. At a point, we had to be sending our stories via e-mail; it was better than wasting man-hours in traffic. We work for a newspaper house, and that has a lot to do with timing. It’s hard to understand why construction work on the road has become an unending project.”

Around Orile-Badagry Expressway, the story is the same: heavy gridlock. And with the Mile2-Apapa Expressway constantly at a standstill, the Costain-Ijora axis became an alternative. But with the tanker drivers coming from different parts of the country to load petroleum products, it didn’t take long before that area became blocked also. People working on the Island tasted the bitter pill. No movement! No electricity! No fuel! In fact, Lagos state’s economy was almost shutting down before the state government wielded the big stick.

Following the heavy traffic experienced by motorists along Apapa roads and environs, the Lagos State government gave tanker drivers, trucks and articulated vehicles 48 hours to remove their monsters from the roads. Also affected by the ultimatum were tankers parked 300 meters away from depots. The then Commissioner for Transportation, Kayode Opeifa, who issued a statement on behalf of the state government, urged drivers to comply with the directive immediately, so as not to attract the full weight of the law.

Like magic, the drivers willingly moved their tankers and container trailers away from the road. And for about a week, there was sanity.

“We were surprised when we came to the market and discovered that the tankers had left. If you had been here last week, you won’t even get a place to stand. You know, since the All Progressives Congress (APC) won the presidential election, some of these unions have been very careful. If it were those days when the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was still in control, that directive won’t have worked,” said Chima Obi, a trader at Coconut Bus Stop.

As a result of this directive, the traffic jam usually encountered from Mile2 through Coconut, Tin Can and Liverpool was almost non-existent. There was easy flow of traffic as one approaches Apapa from Mile2 and from Iponri/Constain through Ijora Causeway. With the tank farms still under lock and key at the time, as a result of the strike, the service lane was free up to the point of making a turn back to Mile2.

But for those heading to Apapa-Wharf axis, traffic remained tight, with hundreds of trailers conveying containers to the port. In fact, at a point, they were the only ones on the expressway. Most of the drivers had slept on the spot for days. “We arrived this place yesterday and we are still here. I don’t even know when we are going to get to wharf. I don tire for this road jare,” said a young conductor, as he brushed his teeth.

Meanwhile, other cars and buses had resorted to taking one way to Apapa, using the Berger Bridge to connect the other side of the expressway. Trust danfo drivers, even while on the wrong lane, they were as reckless as ever, often almost knocking down pedestrians. Notwithstanding, traders and worker on that axis heaved a sigh of relief for a few days.

But since the petroleum marketers called of their strike and resumed loading of product at the tank farms, the worrisome traffic situation has returned. Danfo drivers have resumed taking one way from Cele Bus Stop to Mile2 out of fear of getting trapped in the gridlock. And with the fuel scarcity still biting hard, allowing tankers to load product was not debatable.

But trailer drivers, in a frenzied race to get their empty containers back to the ports, make the situation worse, practically blocking access roads.

“The truth is that business has been bad for us, since this traffic situation worsened. Nobody wants to come to Berger. To sell a car here now, you have to go online or find a way to take the car to the buyer; it has not been easy,” said Emma Nwafor, an automobile dealer at Berger Bridge.

While traders in lockup shops are groaning, street hawkers are smiling, as they make money from gridlocked commuters. Should a commuter become hungry in this traffic, his best bet is sausage roll or buns. On a sunny day, cold water and soft drinks sell fast. In fact, some greedy hawkers even charge extra money on their items, knowing the commuters have no option but buy from them.

Meanwhile, investigation shows that though tankers remain an impediment to traffic on the road, the current logjam is heightened by evacuation and return of containers at Tin Can Ports. As it is, the delay in clearing of goods from the ports, caused by the long queues, also affect the vessels’ Turn-Around-Time, which in turn affects the cost of transaction at the port. This might explain increase in the cost of some items.

But it’s not a helpless situation. Discussions are ongoing with various private terminal operators for trucks returning empty containers to the port to move such containers to the off-dock terminal, until the shipping companies are ready to receive them before they are moved to the port. As for the tanker drivers, the union has worked out a chart that determines who loads first and when.

According to Osaze, a staff of one of the independent marketers, the union had always operated an organised system at the tank farm before the strike.

“We usually organise this place in a way that you can only bring in your tanker when it’s your turn to load. Each line is dedicated to one independent marketer for easy movement. And we ensure the middle is free for cars to still be able to use the road. Even on the main expressway, the containers are usually limited to one lane. But what you are seeing here, now, is as a result of the rush by drivers to load products after the strike was called off; they are tired of sleeping on the road. Once this scarcity goes down, I’m sure things will get better,” Osaze said.

On why the tankers prefer to load from Lagos, he said: “Nobody wants to go to all those riverine areas because of the distance and bad road. For those coming from the north, it is easier to load from Lagos. So, at the end of the day, you have too many takers here.”

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