Presidential Task Team & The Corruption induced Apapa Port Roads Traffic Gridlock

By Nelson Ekujumi
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On the 22nd of May 2019, in hearkening to the cries and agony of Lagosians and exasperated with the adverse setback to the ease of doing business and the nation's economy, the federal government issued a Presidential directive for the evacuation of trucks and trailers off Lagos roads within 2 weeks and went ahead to constitute a task team comprising officials from the Presidency, security and traffic management agencies and other relevant stakeholders within the port business environment to carry out the assignment with specific terms of reference.

On assuming responsibility, the task team under the leadership of the His Excellency, Vice President Prof. Yemi Osinbajo and Comrade Kayode Opeifa as vice chairman, immediately swung into action by convening a stakeholders meeting to collectively chart a path for the execution of it's mandate within the stipulated time.

For it's diligence and hard work in keeping faith with the Presidential directive on the restoration of sanity to Lagos roads and bridges for ease of movement in and out of Apapa port axis within 2 weeks, the federal government has graciously extended the deadline given to the team as a mark of appreciation for what it has been able to achieve in the weeks of its operations, which it carried out conscientiously and patriotically.

In line with it's mandate of restoring sanity to the road, the task team was first and foremost confronted with the task of dismantling of the various extortion points set up by the enemies of the country and her people, comprised of the military, the various security and traffic management agencies, local government councils, road transport employee and employers unions, drivers, traditional rulers, area boys, port workers, terminal operators, etc on the roads and bridges to the ports and it was very successful in this exercise because of the consciousness of the national assignment and uncompromising stand of all members as a team.

The Presidential task team went to work in earnest and immediately restored sanity to the Ikorodu road axis from Onipanu/Jibowu/Ojuelegba/Stadium/Alaka/Eko bridge ijora 7up, Sifax, Ijora Olopa, Marine beach, Apapa at the expiration of its 72 hours ultimatum to articulated vehicle owners to stay clear of the road as a park or garage, except if they are on a queue to the port for business, but unfortunately, the team has been having a running battle with articulated vehicle operators within the Apapa/coconut/Trinity/Berger/Mile 2 all the way to Cele bus stop on the Apapa Oshodi expressway, which has been compounded by the indiscipline of the articulated vehicle operators aided and abetted by a corrupt regime put in place by the military, security and traffic management agencies previously saddled with the responsibility of managing the traffic situation but ended up worsening it through a corruption extortionist syndicate of entrenched interest.

The manner of the operation of the extortion syndicate is heart rendering, traumatizing and inhuman as all those involved behaved like soldiers of occupation without conscience, scooping the spoils of war, as they had no feelings and regard for the economic paralysis and environmental nuisance that they were subjecting the country to by their brazen criminality.

Due to the slowness and inefficiency of the port terminal operators which is a fallout of corruption because as we speak, for example, only 2 out of 8 containers handling machines is functioning at the Apapa port. None of the scanners installed by the government is working as the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) examines goods manually. Also, the inefficiency and lack of patriotism of the agencies at the port is a contributory factor to the congestion at the port which has spilled outside of it and is killing businesses, inflicting pains on humans and subjecting importers, freight forwarders, clearing agents, vehicles operators and the general public to harrowing business practice and traffic gridlock on a daily basis, while not forgetting the attendant environmental nuisance that comes along with it.

Because of the congestion at the ports due to corruption induced inefficiency, complicity and lack of a strict compliance to defined rules by the port authorities which has created a lacuna, the various military and security agencies formerly saddled with managing the traffic situation and their collaborators mentioned earlier, thus exploited the situation by developing an extortion syndicate system whereby, movement for entry of trucks into the ports for legitimate business is based on the highest bidder, with trucks paying between N30, 000 - N120, 000 depending on mother luck. That a truck operator has paid say N120, 000-N150, 000 as bribe is not a guarantee that the truck has automatic pass, because an officer can surface unannounced to make personal demands of say N30, 000 extra and it is only those who pay at that point in time, that can go through as others who delay in responding to the new round of extortion are either forcefully turned back or their vehicle windscreen broken as punishment and thus, the money paid up to that point no matter the amount, goes down the drain, it was horrible seeing trained military personnel behave like touts and miscreants by ridiculing their commission.

NB: Infact, there is point on the road called the red sea, this is the point on the Marine beach bridge above NPA Lilypond truck terminal, any truck that has not crossed that point, is yet to cross the red sea, once you have scaled the red sea, you have a 60% chance of going into the promised land, called the port. This is where the Nigeria Navy extortion headquarter is situated. Most of the atroticities of extortion of the sum of N120, 000 and above for trucks occur especially at night, when the officers having collected such amount, sends its men to go and pull out and escort such compliant trucks from as far as Ojuelegba or Alaka who just arrived some few hours ago, to go into the port straight at the expense of other trucks that paid maybe N30, 000-N90, 000 and have managed to move at snail pace up to say NPA Lilypond terminal bridge Marine beach Apapa and have been on the queue on the roads for 2 weeks or more and even those who are right in front of the Nigeria police area B command, Apapa or flour mills with just about 300-1000 metres to the entrance of the Apapa port, same thing is replicated on the Tincan Island Apapa/Mile 2 Oshodi expressway corridor where they also escort such compliant trucks to even drive against traffic, taking one way.

This is how it operates: Trucks with legitimate papers for export or evacuation of goods out of the port or returning empty containers to the port, due to the lack of defined rules of operation and or enforcement by the Nigeria ports authority (NPA), instead of moving into the NPA terminal park which is supposed to be the holding bay but unfortunately, is not fully functional even till now when they are supposed to be in operation 24 hours service daily, queue and wait for their call up by parking on the road and thus converted it to a park or garage for onward movement into the port.

The local government councils were part of the problem as they saw it as a revenue drive by engaging the services of touts as collection agents for trucks parked on the roads in their localities by issuing tickets. The youths in the adjoining streets on the roads to the ports, also became involved by collecting parking fees from drivers whose vehicles were parked on the streets. Road transport workers union were also involved as they became collection agents for the use of their garages as parks and remitted part of the proceeds to traditional rulers and chiefs (Baale's) in the locality. The various police divisions and area commands of the Nigeria Police, Lagos command on the road to the port were part and parcel of the extortion syndicate as they turned themselves into collection agents for trucks passing in their locality. Even truck drivers were not left out of the bazaar as they exploited their employers to part with amount above what was demanded by their exploiters, in most cases, a driver will tell the owner of the truck that the Navy has allegedly demanded N90, 000, when in actual fact, what was demanded of him was just N30, 000 or even less than N50, 000. The situation was a huge mess that never occurred in the history of engagement by stakeholders of the ports and must never be allowed to repeat itself by permanently making sure that the Nigeria Navy never returns to the road or road elsewhere in the country to manage traffic despite all the subterranean moves to back to the roads.

While Nigerians were crying out to heavens and the government for help from the menace of articulated vehicles on the road, the real problem was not the trucks but the extortion syndicate who created artificial traffic gridlock on the road through the collaboration of their cohorts so as to continue milking innocent truck owners who, having invested millions of naira into the acquisition of trucks either through lease or loan purchase from creditors and because of the pressure of servicing the loans, were forced to cough out thousands of naira as bribes to ensure that their trucks remained in business, while those who couldn't play ball and their drivers remained on a spot on the road for between 3 and 4 weeks and the extortionist cartel were illegally making about five million naira on a daily basis.

As the Presidential task team continues to battle with the indiscipline and lawlessness most especially on the Mile 2 Apapa Oshodi expressway which one is optismic will be sorted out in due course, it is important to identify some recommendations which are very pertinent if we are to put behind us, the trauma that Lagosians and Nigerians have been subjected to by some criminally minded elements in their quest to be rich at the expense of the wellbeing and economic prosperity of the Nigerian people.

1. There should be an urgent and complete reconstruction of the roads within Apapa and the roads leading to the ports on both the Ijora/Marine beach and the Apapa Mile 2 Oshodi expressway which has contributed significantly to the problem.

2. The federal government need to issue a timeline for shipping companies to have a container bay where importers can deposit empty containers outside of the ports and not be forced to return them to the ports directly.

3. There is need to appoint a supervisory agency to oversee the operations in the ports to ensure compliance and efficiency meant to improve on the ease of doing business.

4. The operations of NPA needs to be investigated and monitored on a regular basis to ensure that they it doesn't undermine the economy and welbeing of Nigerians by straying away from it's mandate which is very apparent now.

5. The Presidential task team must remain on ground to restore sanity and report back on a regular basis until law and order returns.

6. There must be regular engagements with the ports stakeholders to measure the impact of the reforms being put in place to improve on the ease of doing business.

7. The diversification of the transportation system of the port through the use of railway wagons to convey goods must be upscaled.

8. The call up system for trucks into the ports must be configured in such a manner that all the stakeholders are on the platform to avoid shady deals, identify and promptly address problems that may arise.

9. The operations of the terminal operators need to be strictly monitored, as they seem to be working at cross purposes with the goal of ease of doing business and economic prosperity of Nigeria.

10. The Nigeria Navy must never be drafted to manage traffic operations on the Apapa port roads and elsewhere in the country because of how they ended up denting the image of the institution and the Nigeria state by their despicable and condemnable extortionist conduct at the expense of the national economy and security. The Nigeria Navy personnel conduct on the Apapa port road was very traumatic and humiliating for all the other stakeholders except their partners in crime with whom they operated for monetary gain.

11. The fleecing of freight forwarders and importers by shipping companies through payment of demurrage on late return of containers needs to be addressed, so as to put a stop to this extortionist scheme which has undermined the ease of doing business and impacted negatively on the economy.

12. The men and officers of the Nigeria police, Lagos state command by their repeated conduct of complicity in condoning lawlessness for financial gain have shown that they lack the capacity to manage traffic on the Apapa port corridor, therefore, they must be banned from controlling traffic in whatever form on that road.

13. The management of traffic on the Apapa port road must be the sole responsibility of traffic management agencies alone.

14. Security with a strict mandate must be beefed up for the traffic agencies with deployment to forestall a likely breach of peace that may arise due to the nefarious activities of some beneficiaries of the old order, who having tasted the forbidden fruit of huge bribes, are either overtly or covertly seeking a return to status quo and would go any length, the message about the presence of the state on the Apapa port roads needs to be firm for sanity to prevail and endure.

15. The Lagos state government must constitute a team to interface with the Presidential task team and the federal government on a regular basis on the ports and sundry issues because it is the one that bears the brunt of port activities, whichever way it swings, therefore, it must be an active player in the engagement and stop sitting on the reserve bench.

16. Importers and freight forwarders need protection in form of demurrage moratorium against the foreign shipping companies who have compelled them to return the empty containers to the ports by payment of a deduction of N20, 000 daily demurrage charge from the N300, 000 deposit and thus contributed to the road congestion, this practice has to stop.

17. The Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) must upgrade it's truck container terminal at Lilypond pond truck terminal Marine beach, Apapa to be functional and serviceable to trucks 24/7 in line with the port operations, the current situation of the terminal is a setback to the nation's economy and the ease of doing business.

18. The Lagos state government has a responsibility to install CCTV and other security monitoring equipments to scientifically tackle and respond to the myriad of man made problems created on the the Apapa ports corridor to harm the state and nation's economy and people.

The Governor of Lagos state, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu deserves to be highly commended for his personal visit to Apapa port area within his first week in office and the commitment shown to addressing the abnormalities on the Apapa port roads which has been allowed to go unchecked for so long to the detriment of the health and economy of Lagos.

Having worked closely with the Presidential task team and witnessed the tireless efforts, commitment, courage, tenacity and patriotism displayed by members of the team in the face of intimidation, inducement and sabotage in achieving it's mandate since assuming duty, all the members of the team deserves a Presidential commendation for the way and manner they have responded to this national assignment which is highly commendable.

Stand up for Presidential commendation, Comrade Kayode Opeifa, Commissioner of Police, CP Hakeem Olusegun Odumosu, Assistant Commissioner of Police ACP Bayo Suleiman and their team of gallant officers and policemen, Hyginus Omeje Lagos state sector commander, Federal Road Safety Corp (FRSC) and his team, Wale Musa General Manager and Bolaji Oreagba director of operations, Lagos State Traffic Management Agency (LASTMA) and their personnel, the conscientious staff of NPA, Apapa Residents Association for their resilience and support, and other stakeholders such as Nigeria Shippers Council, etc.

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