By Enyeribe Anyanwu
This was the question on the lips of Lagosians as they woke up Friday morning last week to find that trucks and tankers had suddenly disappeared from major roads. Gone with them also was the usual excruciating traffic that normally attended their presence. The roads were free to the amazement and pleasure of motorists, commuters, Keke and Okada riders and even pedestrians.
Asking where the articulated trucks had gone to was more or less a rhetoric question as they already knew why: The President and Commander-In-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces, Muhammadu Buhari was visiting Lagos with his campaign train to campaign for votes to renew his tenancy at Aso Rock. Even though President Buhari may have been reading the gory stories of Lagos traffic and the menace of tankers and trucks in newspapers and watching the ugly scenes on television, Lagos State and federal government officials would not allow him to witness it physically.
But this was not the first time trucks would suddenly disappear from the Lagos roads. Trucks always disappear from Lagos roads whenever the President of the nation was visiting. Some years ago, it happened when late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua visited Apapa Port. Trucks also dissolved into thin air when former President Jonathan visited Lagos.
In fact, the mysterious disappearance of trucks, tankers and containers from Lagos roads last week was the second time this year. Barely a week before, the same mysterious disappearance had occurred. The event was the Lagos City Marathon. Notably, no outcry was heard. But this last week’s case was different because of the circumstances: The person who has the power to end people’s sufferings on those roads but has not done so was coming to ask for their mandate again to continue in office.
What do the sudden disappearances of these irrepressible monsters from the roads when presidents are visiting Lagos or when an international event is taking place mean to Lagosians? Specifically, how did Lagos citizens see the latest overnight disappearance of trucks on Lagos roads?
The governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Jimi Agbaje described the removal of tankers on major Lagos roads ahead of President Buhari’s visit as sheer wickedness and hypocrisy. He said the act indicated that the welfare of the citizens meant nothing to the two governments. “They turned deaf ears to the yearnings of residents and found the right strategy because the President was visiting the state,” he snorted.
Even though the caustic reactions of Lagosians may have been accentuated by the atmosphere of election campaign, their frustration and suffering in the hands of truck operators and their drivers cannot be gainsaid. Looking at free flow of traffic in the absence of the trucks at Eko Bridge, Ojuelegba bridge, Ikorodu road, Coastain, Orile, Apapa, the citizens cannot but remember the helplessness and suffering imposed on them by the activities of these truck operators who would return to the roads as soon as the APC rally was over.
This feeling of despondency is not helped when they remember that the same security agents that drove the trucks away would later watch them convert the roads to parking lots and drive recklessly against traffic. Some of the law enforcement agents would not even want to see the roads free since they collect money from the tankers and trucks and allow them to park on the roads, and cause the gridlocks.
But truth be told, it is not a case of bribery and corruption all through. Some security agencies, aware of the owners of the trucks and the petrol tankers, find themselves helpless in their genuine efforts to help the situation. Of course, it is common knowledge that these tankers and trucks are owned by powerful individuals in and out of government –especially retired generals, retired civil servants, influential business moguls and powerful traditional rulers.
The powers behind these heavy duty vehicles render law enforcement agents powerless. They, therefore, resort to collecting money from the drivers since they cannot change anything.
In November, Hyginus Omeje, sector commander of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) in Lagos, lamented that trucks and tankers parked on roads are linked to powerful Nigerians, and that his men were handicapped to enforce traffic regulations that could lead to arrest and prosecution of the drivers of those heavy duty vehicles.
“My officers often try to enforce arrest and subsequent prosecution, but the culprits mostly go free after one influential person calls from Abuja, demanding for the release of the impounded vehicles. This is a daily occurrence that has been impeding the operations of the FRSC in tackling the wharf access road crisis,” he had said.
Although Omeje was referring to roads in Apapa, where trucks and tankers from all over the country converge to load petroleum products from tank farms, and to lift containers from the ports, the menace constituted by truck drivers stretch to Eko bridge, Iponrin, Costain, Ojuelegba bridge, Oshodi-Apapa, Ikorodu road and indeed, other parts of the mega city.
“You see what we complain about? The government knows the right thing. About 2000 trucks on this bridge but immediately they heard Buhari was coming, they cleared everything,” a policeman was reported as saying in reaction to the president’s visit. He added:
“Tomorrow, before Buhari enters his plane, what am I saying? Before he gets to the airport, the trailers would be back on the roads. We know it is because of him they disappeared. They just keep pretending, they don’t want to be embarrassed. Then, Buhari comes and he would say the roads are free.” Another resident who reacted anonymously said:
“It’s amazing that for so long, Lagosians have cried, suffered and pleaded with the government, federal and state, to do something about the trucks but they turned deaf ears.
“All of a sudden, there’s APC rally for Buhari in Lagos and space fell from heaven at the port for these trucks to pass. Today, what has been taking about 30-40 minutes for a one kilometre journey within Surulere literally took 10 minutes? 10 minutes! Imagine all that productive time I have wasted because my life and the lives of Lagosians are less worthy than the life of a president who was elected to serve.”.
The gridlock on Lagos roads, especially Apapa Port access roads has been taking huge economic tolls. Business activities in Apapa often grind to a halt when motorists and commercial vehicles operators cannot access the port city, which is the commercial nerve-centre of Lagos, and indeed, the nation.
About two months ago, the umbrella body of port terminal operators in the country, Seaport Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN) begged the federal government to take urgent steps to resolve the protracted Apapa gridlock. They declared that the economy was losing over N20 billion daily as a result of this avoidable situation.
The Chairman of STOAN, Vicky Haastrup, who decried the bad roads and the devastating Apapa gridlock in a chat with newsmen, described the situation as a monumental national disgrace. She said terminal operators were working under the harshest business environment in spite of the huge investments they had made to develop the ports.
Haastrup wondered why successive governments in the country allowed the port access roads to progressively degenerate until they have become impassable.
“The situation in Apapa particularly as it relates to access to the port is a monumental national disgrace. How can a sector that has such huge potential and that generates billions of naira for government be left to so degenerate? Government is looking for oil but we have a sector that has the capacity to give you all the revenue you need yet the sector is suffering. Why has it not been attended to?” She wondered.
The STOAN chairman pointed the finger to the large number of tank farms located in Apapa which she said have compounded the chaotic traffic situation.
The Apapa road gridlock and the menace of articulated vehicles remains a sad commentary on Nigeria’s transportation network. If the incumbent President, Mohammadu Buhari wins the presidential election that is around the corner to continue in office, Nigerians will expect him to take the access roads to the ports very serious and provide a lasting solution. If he does not win, then this would be one of the areas he failed woefully and disappointed the people who voted for him in 2015 with great expectations.
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.