There is no respite yet from the suffering of motorists and other users of the ever-busy Oshodi-Apapa Expressway in Lagos as the impunity of tanker drivers, who have taken over the road, in their scramble to access an MRS Truck Staging Area, continues.
As part of measures to decongest the ports and Apapa area of articulated trucks, the staging area was created to serve as a temporary park where trucks set for loading of petroleum products wait to be called up with a teller number granting them access to the ports at Apapa.
But the new arrangement seems to have compounded the traffic situation on the road as it has only shifted the problem from Apapa to the city centre. The MRS site with capacity to take over 300 tankers is fully occupied, with every inch of available space taken, leading to invasion of the highway by the truck drivers. More trucks that cannot be accommodated in the park now litter the road.
The situation has become worse since Monday with six lanes of vehicles, including fuel tankers, wedged bumper-to-bumper from Gbagada all the way to the MRS tanker park at Toyota Bus-Stop, along the expressway. Horn blasts by angry drivers enveloped the diesel exhaust-choked air. Brakes screeched as vehicles inched forward and cars rocked forward and backward in the frenetic bid to escape the gridlock. The situation is also characterised by hours of manpower loss.
The gateway to the nation’s busiest airport – Murtala Muhammed International Airport– was also not spared by the gridlock that threatens the economy of Lagos State with the traffic congestion.
For about six hours yesterday, the expressway, one of the most significant economic arteries in West Africa, which serves as link way to the busiest seaports and airport in the country, was blocked.
If taken as a country on its own, Lagos would be among the largest economies in Africa. According to a recent Economist report, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Lagos exceeds that of Kenya, East Africa’s beefiest economy.
Also in the 2015 Youthful Cities Index, the study notes that for any young African entrepreneur, Lagos is the place to be. Lagos has a strong entrepreneurial culture, fuelled by the numerous business incubators that are popping up. Added to that, registering and running a business is easier in Lagos.
In the top five African countries for youth entrepreneurs, Lagos (in Nigeria) came first ahead of Johannesburg (South Africa), Accra (Ghana), Durban (South Africa), and Nairobi (Kenya). That is the same city factors like the Federal Government’s neglect and dereliction of duty by some state authorities are trying to make a bedlam of crisis with the mishandling of the traffic situation.
The menace of tanker drivers has gone on unabated, taking over the service lane between Charity Bus-Stop and Iyana Isolo, and forcing vehicles that should use the service lane to face incoming vehicles on the express.
A motorist, who was trapped in the traffic for several hours, Tade Owolabi, said the problem of the tanker drivers, rather than being solved, is going from bad to worse. “It is surprising that our government cannot do anything to curb the excesses of these tanker drivers. It is unimaginable that tanker drivers would be parking along the expressway after taking over the entire stretch of the service lane. The danger their indiscriminate parking poses to pedestrians and motorists coming from Oshodi axis or the airport road cannot be imagined. I urge government at all levels to find a solution quickly to this problem, else tanker drivers would become ‘gods’ to themselves in Lagos.”
Another stranded road user, Emeka Obinna, wondered why the tanker drivers are extending their tentacles from Apapa to Oshodi. “If this is allowed to continue, they are going to wreck Lagos economy. At least, we should have some breathing space now that the government at the centre is in the same party with the government in Lagos.
Before now, former governor, Babatunde Fashola, had heaped all the blame on the administration of former president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan. If the solution to our problem is with the Federal Government, why is the current governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, not saying anything or doing something about it?
“Railway system should be revamped so that Lagosians in particular would have peace on the roads. If it is not fallen containers today, it will be tanker drivers’ menace tomorrow. Also, loading of petroleum products should be decentralised and not limited to Lagos ports. I am sure by the time this is done, the problem would ease greatly,” he said.
An official of the MRS Truck Staging Area, who pleaded for anonymity, said the problem is beyond what the union can handle. “Many of the truck drivers have lived all their lives on the road from an early age and are strange to social norms and courtesies. The only language they understand is force, but by the time you apply force, they will threaten to go on strike.”
Attempts by the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) to intervene in the situation were frustrated by the nonchalance of the tanker drivers, who further compounded the situation by struggling over every available inch of space with other road users.
The consequences of their lawless driving and indiscriminate parking are being felt by Lagosians plying the busy Apapa-Oshodi expressway, Airport Road, and Isolo-Daleko-Mushin road, when they are forced to waste precious working hours in the traffic.
On Monday, the LASTMA General Manager Bashir Braimah, had in a bid to seek the support of transport unions in tackling the gridlocks, led officials of the authority on an on-the-spot assessment of the expressway.
The LASTMA chief lamented the nonchalant attitude of the truck drivers and their commercial counterparts plying the route, saying many of them are indifferent to the plight of other road users and with little or no regard for the state’s traffic law.
“At the MRS Truck Staging Area along Oshodi Apapa expressway, fuel trucks were indiscriminately parked on the dual carriage with the excuse of awaiting the collection of fuel loading teller. This led to total blockage of other road users’ access to the road,” he said.
He condemned the act of ‘impunity,’ urging the Petroleum Union Drivers (PTD) to key into the vision of the government by obeying traffic laws and personnel, who are working to ensure free flow of traffic.
In his reaction, Joseph Okpara, an executive of the Petroleum Tanker Drivers (PTD) expressed displeasure on the conduct of his members, saying his union will partner LASTMA to find a lasting solution to the traffic situation in that axis.