An unplanned fact-finding visit to Apapa, on Monday, 28 December, 2020 by Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu to ascertain the causes of incessant gridlock on roads leading to the seaports has revealed several factors, which are responsible for the congestion.
It was the fourth time Governor Sanwo-Olu and members of the state cabinet would be visiting Apapa over traffic congestion, which has impacted negatively on businesses and lives in the environ.
As the Governor physically assessed the complexity of the situation that allowed heavy-duty trucks to clog up the access roads, a blame game ensued between stakeholders operating within and around the Apapa seaports.
While the Committee of Freight Forwarders and Maritime Truckers (COFFAMAT) blamed the Nigerian Port Authority (NPA) officials, Presidential Taskforce on Port Decongestion and the police for the corruption that allowed truck drivers to park indiscriminately on the road, the Council of Maritime Transport Union and Association (COMTUA) absolved the police and the Taskforce, accusing COFFAMAT, truck drivers and other stakeholders of not playing by the rules.
A customs licensed clearing and forwarding agent, Mr. Boniface Okoye, heaped the blame on the customs for giving undue access to the shippers’ council to leave empty containers to the port areas, while pointing accusing finger at the police for looking away after allegedly collecting kickbacks.
Following the accusation and counter-accusation, Sanwo-Olu intimated the stakeholders of the state government’s move to checkmate activities of all operators that had led to the problems being experienced in the area.
The Governor wondered why container-laden trucks not yet called upon for loading in the ports were indiscriminately parked on newly rehabilitated Tincan Road, instead of moving into the approved terminal provided by the Government.
Sanwo-Olu disclosed that part of the steps being taken by the State Government to restore sanity back to the area was to take over the enforcement of the Presidential Taskforce on Port Decongestion and create a new operational template for the task force, which will be enforced by a combined team of officers of Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) and the police.
He said: “This is about the fourth time which my Government has been trying to address Apapa gridlock and bring sanity back to the area. On each occasion we had come here, we knew that there were road constructions. This time around, there has been a lot of improvement and we have seen that a lot of the roads within Apapa have been completed. But, there has been no respite for commuters in terms of free traffic flow.
“Our plan is to bring about cohesive system where all stakeholders would understand their roles and resolve challenges being encountered. Since last year, the Presidential Taskforce has been working on this issue. Now, there is a process that is starting in which the State Government is taking over the task force. This is one of the reasons for this trip to Apapa today; to ascertain what needs to be done. We will have a team of policemen and LASTMA dedicated to Apapa Ports for enforcement of task force’s mandates.”
The Governor said the visit to the ports would be followed up with stakeholders’ engagement with NPA, shipping companies’ owners and freight forwarders, stressing that a situation where truck drivers needed to wait for about 10 hours for handing over of operation from one NPA team to another was not acceptable.
Sanwo-Olu said the sharp practices and inadequacies observed in the handling of the container operations at the ports would be escalated to the Minister of Transport, adding that the misconducts of the policemen stationed closed to the ports would be reported to the Inspector General of Police (IGP).
The Governor said it was time the arm of the law caught up with those who had created the situation that led to the chaotic movements of container-laden trucks in and out of the ports.
He said: “Lagos State Government is not the owner of the ports whose operations is causing pain to residents, but we owe a duty to our citizens whose lives and businesses have been badly impacted because of the gridlocks created in this part of the State. I believe this trip would give us another opportunity where all of us, as stakeholders, will be able to identify impediments and resolve the issues once and for all.”
Sanwo-Olu also part of the issues to be resolved with the Federal Government over Apapa congestion was the uniformity in the operational licence being issued to barge owners. This, he said, is to stop creation of illegal terminals for barge operators and make adequate plan for licencees operating in traffic-prone areas.
He said: “We have arrested people we felt were operating illegal barge terminals before, but we were surprised some of these people had licences issued by the Federal Government. This is part of the issues we want to resolve. We are working collaboratively with the Federal Government on this. If someone gets an approval for barge operation, let Lagos Government be aware, so that roads are probably planned to those terminals.”