By Lakinbofa Goodluck
For many weeks now Lagosians have had to contend with a miserable traffic on the popular Ikorodu road. The traffic is primarily a consequence of the tanker drivers that have been forced to grab parking lots on the roads leading to the Apapa port. By parking on the road, the tanker drivers have shrunk the road to a single lane, which eventually leads to slow movement and ultimate traffic congestion on the road. Motorists are often upset and sometimes express their anger on the truck drivers. Sometimes, some motorists see the truck drivers as heartless and inhumane human beings for deliberately choosing to park their trucks on a major highway. To arrest the situation the Lagos State government has, in the past, banned the truck drivers from using the road, and in fact they have been compelled to only move at set hours and restricted to designated roads in the metropolis. However, all the efforts by the past government did not really solve any problem because the fundamental issues have not been dealt with and we keep beaming our searchlights on the wrong targets; the truck drivers are not our problem. In fact, they are also victims of a defective system.
When the Apapa Port was established in 1913 even before what we now know as Nigeria came to being, it was never envisaged to be what it is today. But being a nation with little or no respect for proper town planning, we allowed the port to grow and built a second one, Tin Can Port, besides the existing without the necessary provision for truck drivers. First of all, having to transport virtually all goods in and out of the port by road is an anomaly in 21st Century. That we now have to rely on trucks to transport every container in and out of the port is a complete shame on our transportation policy and a question on the seriousness of our nation. Nevertheless, if we have to rely on trucks to transport goods in the country, what is expected is for our planners to make adequate provision to ensure smooth movement without disturbing the mobility of others within the metropolis. Sadly, the contrary is the situation in our country.
Today, thousands of trucks make their way into the Apapa metropolis bound for either Tin Can or the Lagos Port, yet there is no parking space for the truck drivers. The government has not deemed it fit to provide a parking space for the truck drivers outside the port complex. Yet the operation of the port demands that trucks that are already in the port finish their business and exit the complex before other trucks are allowed into the complex. What that portends is that if there are 20 trucks inside the port complex and they are being attended to, for as long as they are in the port, all the other inbound trucks have to find a place to wait before they can go in. The Minister of Petroleum once said that Nigeria consumes about 28million litres of petroleum every day. A significant percentage of that is lifted from the Apapa depot because the other depots in the country are quasi-functional. As a result of this, thousands of trucks are always on the queue to lift petrol from the Apapa port. Considering the importance of petrol and based on past experience, a minor fuel scarcity in the country can completely shut down the country and crumble the economy. That gives a fair idea of the contribution of these truck drivers to the economy. Yet they are often blamed for traffic congestion on our roads. The truck drivers are repeatedly fated to survive in unspeakable circumstances. They are forced to sleep on the road since they cannot leave their vehicles and containers.
In a recent conversation with some of the truck drivers, they expressed their predicament and asked for government intervention. Tunde, who has been in the business for ten years, said “We appeal to the government to come to our rescue. We are forced to live like animals because we always have to sleep on the road. Sometimes, we spend 3days on the queue to enter the port risking our lives.” Jamiu, another truck driver said “We sometimes don’t have our bath for days and when we do, it is done by the truck. We respond to nature call under the bridge and the gutters since there are no public toilets.” This is the typical lifestyle of the average truck driver. It further shows the disdain we have for the human live in this country. Human beings sleep on the road as a result of government inefficiency, yet no one is even blinking an eye. Rather, we punish them for improvising to make the best of their quandary. The government can intensify campaigns against behaviours of this manner but how can we truly curb such behaviours when there are no alternatives. There are no public toilets for these truck drivers to enable them live like normal human beings; neither are they guaranteed of the safety of their vehicles if they leave them on the road.
Additionally, they are also faced with high level of insecurity. They are victims of robbery and harassment from different uniform officers. They often extorted by the uniformed men who should actually be interested in their safety and protection. The truck drivers are often extorted for as much as 5,000 naira by uniformed men for no particular reason. Refusal to pay this involuntary homage naturally results in injurious beating, detention and deliberated delay. It is so pathetic that the uniformed men would deliberately create barricades for the truck drivers in order to extort them. It is so bad that for a truck driver to park, the uniformed men would request a fee for parking. And when the truck drivers finally approach the port, the uniformed men would have created two lanes – ordinary and express. For a truck to be allowed to use “express”, the driver must pay between N30, 000 and N40, 000. Non-payment means the driver is doomed to use the ordinary lane. Truckers on the ordinary lane could be there for as long as 5-7days while truckers using the express lane do not queue at all; they are allowed express access into the port. They have now become the owners and keepers of the land even in a democratic and civilian regime.
In Apapa, the activities of some uniformed men are closely consistent with that of the touts in the area; it is even difficult to differentiate the uniformed man from an ordinary tout. And when the people that are responsible for ensuring law and order throw caution to the wind, chaos becomes the order of the day. The behaviour of the men in uniform has further emboldened touts to perpetuate their criminal activities since there is hardly anyone to question or even arrest them. In one instance, just like the way it is depicted in action movies, robbers were seen opening the container of a moving truck in a gangster-like manner to loot the truck. Thanks to a passer-by who alerted the truck driver and the motor boys before the truck stopped and the robbers were forced to elope emptyhanded when other passers-by raised alarm and attempted to descend on the robbers. In this case, there was no law enforcement agent to rescue the situation. The effect of the misbehaviour of the uniformed men is that truck drivers are now accustomed to driving against traffic rules since the antidote is to bribe the security agents on duty. So also a number of the trucks are driven without maintenance, often resulting in truck breakdown or container falling off, which further compounds the traffic congestion in the metropolis.
With this kind of reality before us, there is urgent need for the government to provide expansive parking space for trucks in the Apapa metropolis, as the first step in many reforms. The level of corruption that has engulfed the rank of the uniformed men in Apapa, including the military and police, is deeply cancerous. And in all honesty, it may be difficult to change this immediately because the corruption is systemic and has become a culture. Perhaps, the solution is to completely overhaul the security apparatchik in the port with stiff sanctions for operatives that perpetuate corrupt practices. This will serve as a strong deterrence for other officers in the area. This will massively contribute to the restoration of law and order in Apapa and lend a good atmosphere to the truck drivers that have become victims of the atrocities of our uniformed men in the area. Evidently, truck drivers are not the cause of traffic congestion and chaos in Apapa; the systemic corruption among the security officers in the area, and the defective planning of the port and its environs, are responsible for the embarrassing situation of the Apapa ports and the entire Apapa metropolis.
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