By Lakinbofa Goodluck
Apapa metropolis has become synonymous with excruciating traffic for many years and it appears the situation has shamed all logic and reasoning. Not only is the metropolis a commercial capital of traffic jam, it has also become a wellspring from where traffic jam is extended to other parts of the city. To compound the sad state of affairs, Funsho Williams Avenue into Eko Bridge is the new unofficial park for trucks waiting to access the Apapa and Tin Can ports. The trucks sometimes stay on the road for two weeks or even more. The drivers and truck boys have learnt to survive amidst this shameful and degrading condition. Interestingly, many commuters hate to behold the sight of the trucks on the road because their presence automatically translates to an obstruction on the free flow of traffic. The sore experience of commuters in Lagos has pitched them against the truck drivers and operators. If Lagosians had the opportunity, they would probably chase every truck away from the road in order to have some sense of sanity, and this has been represented by the actions of the governors of the state at different times. Sadly, truckers live in an unpleasant condition that only they can understand. If they had the opportunity, they would live a better life while they continue to provide essential service to the rest of the nation. But the situation appears to be outside their control; they are constrained by the realities of how things operate in Apapa and its environs. It is not the fault of the truckers that there is no adequate designated parking area for them. On different occasions, the Lagos State government, in a bid to forcefully restore order, had ordered the truckers to vacate the road within a given ultimatum. The immediate reaction to the usual ultimatum is to evacuate their trucksfor a temporary location only to return in few days. Every time the truck drivers vacate Lagos roads, they return in matter of days.
The indiscriminate parking on the highway is not peculiar to Lagos state. The Lagos-Ibadan Expressway axis of Ogun state has also become a harbour for trucks. Sections of the expressway have been reduced to fewer lanes because of the train of trucks parked on the road, which is acclaimed as the busiest in West Africa. The situation on Lagos-Ibadan expressway is the same in Ore, Benin, Okenne and different parts of the country.It is the same situation at all the other functional seaports in the country.Beyond the traffic jam and the inconvenience the indiscriminate parking inflict on commuters, the truck drivers are also subjected to fatigue, which is partly responsible for their unpleasant and reckless driving on the road. Perhaps, the fatalities that have been recorded due to reckless driving by truck drivers could have been avoided if there were functional truck parks equipped with adequate provision for rest. To address the situation, the FRSC Corps Marshal, BoboyeOyeyemi, once called on local governments in the country to build truck parks in order to address the consequences of the absence of same. However, in a bid to address the menace, successive administrations in Ogun state intervened by building the Gateway Trailer Park in Ogere, Ikenne Local Government. For lack of proper management, rather than solve the problem the park turned out to be a centre for abandoned trucks and a sanctuary for criminal activities. Irked by the increase in traffic gridlock and the criminal activities, the Ogun state government, at some point, was compelled to direct the truck drivers to evacuate their trucks within a 21-day ultimatum.
Clearly, everyone is upset by the challenges the indiscriminate parking of truck drivers poses, but no one seemed to be willing to provide a lasting solution. This is why the Truck Transit Park (TTP) initiative sponsored by the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) is worthy of commendation.
The proposed Truck Transit Park will serve as a public rest area located off the road, and designed to provide temporary rest location for truck drivers. It is primarily intended for short-term breaks and also long-term parking services where truck drivers can get fuel, food, restrooms, shower and basic supplies like oil and spare parts as well as servicing and repairs of haulage vehicles.The parks will be equipped with gas station, hotel and motel, restaurants, mechanic workshop, fire station, police post, and automated cargo tracking system. In essence, the TTP is designed to be a one-stop transit centre for truck drivers in the country. There is no gainsaying that this is an ambitious initiative that cannot be left to the government to actualise.
In appreciation of the capital intensive nature of the initiative, the projects are designed to be driven on a Public Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement. In 2017, in pursuit of the initiative, the NSC convened a National Summit on the Establishment, Management and Operation of Truck Transit Parks in Nigeria with a view to brainstorm on ways to address the infrastructure deficit in the country, provide short-term resting place for truck drivers on long distance travels and reduce loss to life and cargo caused by accidents arising from fatigue. At the summit, the Minister for Transport, RotimiAmaechi said, “The high statistics of road accidents and loss of cargo occasioned by bad road is of concern to the government. “Therefore, the federal government plans over the next couple of years to develop truck transit parks at Lokoja in Kogi State, Obollo-Afor in Enugu State, Ogere in Ogun State, Jebba in Kwara State, and Port Novo Creek in Lagos State as an alternative strategy to address the menace of truck congestion at the seaports in Apapa and Port Harcourt.” The minister also called on state governments to support the initiate and facilitate its realisation.
Expectedly the plan has been greeted with diverse reactions. The National Association of Road Transport Owners (NARTO) has hailed the decision as it will improve efficiency in haulage and increase returns on investment in the trucking business. According to the National President, Dr.KassimBataiya, “The establishment of the TTPs will reduce man-hours spent in gridlock and in sourcing for cargoes by both dry and wet cargo truck owners. It will also improve the security of trucks and prolong the lives of drivers, as well as reduce the exposure of trucks to hijacks, robberies and extortions.” The Corp Marshal of the Federal Road Safety Commission, FRSC, BoboyeOyeyemi, on his part stated that:“The indiscriminate parking of trucks, trailers and tankers on the nation’s highways has been a major problem to safety, security and free movement of traffic. The TTP project, when fully implemented, will go a long way in addressing some of these challenges. With the setting up of a taskforce to ensure the enforcement, TTP is guaranteed to succeed.”Mr.TaiwoOgungbemile, who is the president of the Association of Maritime Truck Owners (AMATO), has also commended the initiative. He said:“We at AMATO, we consider the TTP project as a welcome development. A project like this is long overdue in Nigeria. Truck drivers need a place to rest. They need a place to park, fix their trucks. They need a secured area to stop and buy food, buy fuel and do one or two things before proceeding on their journey. This will reduce accidents on the highways.”
On the contrary, the President of the Road Transport Employers’ Association of Nigeria (RTEAN) Alhaji Musa Isiwele feels the initiative is a misplaced priority on the part of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council. According to him,“The truck transit parks that the shippers’ council wants to build are not their duty because they have no business with road transportation or do they have trucks on the road?They are shippers’ council, they deal with water and ships, are they are saying that because they are getting funds from the government, that’s why they want to divert from their own profession.”
However, the support for the initiative is apparently louder than the criticisms against it. Truck Transit Parks are necessary for a country like Nigeria where more than 80% of cargoes are transported by road. The TTP project will not only solve the problem of indiscriminate parking and traffic congestion; it will also massively contribute to job creation in the country. Additionally, the provision of TTPs will also serve as a good precursor to the introduction of Truck Appointment System or what some refer to as Electronic Truck Call-up System, which stakeholders in the maritime industry have been clamouring for.
The concern of many stakeholders has remained the Nigerian factor in the implementation of novel ideas such as this. Many laudable projects of this nature have been confined to the binof abandoned projects in the country. Nevertheless, with the current PPP arrangement we hope that very soon truck drivers and motorists will have a new lifeline on Nigerian roads, and the perpetual traffic congestion at our seaports will become a thing of the past.
Copyright Ships & Ports Ltd. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit given to www.shipsandports.com.ng as the source.