The initial gains recorded by the Presidential taskforce on easing the Apapa traffic headed by former Lagos State Commissioner for Transportation, Kayode Opeifa, has been eroded by allegation of bribery and corruption even as traffic returns to the port access road.
Abiola Seun writes.
When President Muhammadu Buhari at an emergency meeting on April 25th, 2019 announced the creation of a presidential task force to clear the perennial Apapa traffic, everybody including the clearing agents and importers,and other operators at the Lagos seaports had heaved a sigh of relief that the end has come for the traffic that has defiled all known solutions.
The presidential order is a fallout of an extra-ordinary Federal Executive Council meeting held on April 25, 2019.
The Presidential directive was for the immediate clearing up of the Apapa gridlock and the restoration of law and order to Apapa and its environs within 2 weeks.
To facilitate this important assignment, operators of trucks and tankers were directed to vacate the Port Access Roads within 72 hours.
The Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo chaired the task force while the daily operations were to be supervised by an Executive Vice Chairman, Kayode Opeifa, a former commissioner for Transportation in Lagos.
The president had then directed the clearing up of the Apapa gridlock and the restoration of law and order to Apapa and its environs. After the inability to clear the gridlock at the stipulated time given by the president, the vice president extended by two weeks, the time to resolve the matter, following a request for an extension by members of the task force and other stakeholders.
Despite the extension, the taskforce had been unable to clear the traffic and were embroiled in allegation of bribery and massive corruption by truck drivers, owners and clearing agents.
According to them, bribes were paid to members of the task force through proxies for trucks to shunt queues and get access to the port.
“We have to pay the area boys and the task force also want money,” said James Chukwu, a 40-year-old driver. “We can pay N80,000 naira in bribes per trip. If you don’t, it can take weeks to get access to the seaports”
Truck drivers however disclosed that before the introduction of bribes by the task force, normalcy had returned to the seaports road but they faltered at the end with the traffic becoming more daring and terrible.
For instance, in the last three weeks, about three clearing Agents have lost their lives making them threatening to down tools to show their displeasure to the gridlock.
Speaking on Tuesday, the Chairman of the Concerned Freight Forwarders of Nigeria, (CFFN) Andy Omenogo disclosed that a member of the group died last penultimate Friday and also lost another member the following Saturday.
According to him, soon thereafter, another member of the group slumped and died while in the traffic.
He lamented, “On Friday, we lost a friend at Tin-Can Island Port then on Saturday too we lost another friend and colleague and only this past Monday another member collapsed and died while in the traffic.
However, the group also blamed the death to the perennial traffic that has not only led to the loss of life of its members but adding billions of Naira has also been lost to the gridlock menance.
Also reacting to the development, Vice President of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Mr. Kayode Farinto said that 40 per cent of members of the group now suffer from high blood pressure, saying that the country will continue to lose to the traffic situation if urgent steps were not taken to address the crisis.
Also, Nigerian Shipowners Association (NISA), had knocked the Presidential TaskForce On Clearance of Apapa Gridlock, headed by Kayode Opeifa has failed in restoring normalcy to port road.
Speaking to journalists in Lagos during a roundtable discussion, the President of the Association, Aminu Umar who bemoaned the return of the traffic said several companies had vacated the port environment.
Umar who stated that with the huge amount of revenue generated at the port road, it was supposed to be the easiest road to access in the country.
He further disclosed that coupled with the massive employment the port offered to the country, he is shocked that for the past two weeks, the seaports – Apapa and Tin-Can Island – have been under lockdown as motorists now spends close to four hours connecting the port and Ijora.
According to the NISA President, “I cannot tell you how many companies have had to close down because of the Apapa gridlock issue. Many have gone under because accessibility to their business for customers became an issue.
“This days, movement in and out of Apapa is getting unpredictable. All what has been achieved in the last few months by the Presidential Committee on Apapa gridlock, has vanished all of a sudden in the last two weeks.
“The Task Force was created to ensure there is no traffic gridlock in Apapa, but in the last two weeks, many of us have gone spiritual because the gridlock’ has come back more worse than what it used to be.
“If for the past two weeks, the Apapa traffic chaos is back, then to we operators, the Task Force has failed. It is either the Task Force is not doing it’s job or something bigger than the Task Force has happened, and made them unable to do their job.
“Our major sadness is that Apapa port is Nigeria’s premier port. About 79percent of vessels that visit Nigeria come here to discharge their cargoes. If the vessels are not discharging at Apapa port, they are at Tin-Can port, also in Apapa, discharging. Yet there is no access road.
“The gridlock here in Apapa is adding to the cost of every good and services available around here. If I tell you the cost of discharging a cargo now, you will be shocked.
“The Apapa gridlock is part of the reason why our export drive in this country is not there. It is the same vessel that brings in cargoes as imports, that will carry export cargoes out of this country. If the access road is not there, how will the cargoes come in or even go out?
“We Shipowners think the situation has gone beyond the Presidential Task Force now. It is time every stakeholders here in Apapa gets up and ensures the roads are cleared. If you look at the developed world, the port roads, where the revenue comes in from, are always the best roads to play.
“Who knows the danger that lies on that Ijora bridge because the trucks have been there for two weeks now, turning the place into a parking lot. The bridge could collapse,” he lamented.
However, to solve the gridlock, ports operators have called for an integrated transport solution anchored on solid connecting roads and modern rail system.
They also believed that use of technology should be sustained instead of using crude approach such as taskforce.
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