Despite efforts by a Presidential panel headed by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo to clear roads leading in and out of Apapa ports in Lagos of gridlock, soldiers and touts have continued to frustrate the project.
The extortionists are said to be making about N1m everyday from desperate truckers trying to use a section of the road not meant for them to access the seaports.
They reportedly use touts to collect bribes from truck drivers, who sometime block the port road with their vehicles after the soldiers have given them the right of way.
President Muhammadu Buhari in May had constituted the panel and gave the truckers, constituting a nuisance on that axis, a 72-hour ultimatum to vacate the roads.
After the expiration of the 72-hour ultimatum, the President gave the task force two additional weeks to sanitise the area.
Although the section from Ikorodu-Western Avenue-Ijora to Apapa had been rid of trucks parking on the road, the Mile 2-Apapa axis has remained a no-go area for motorists as trucks still clog up the road along with the reconstruction of the road.
The touts and some military personnel are taking advantage of the situation to exploit the truckers heading for the port.
One of their extortion points is the popular Coconut Under Bridge.
One of our correspondents who visited Apapa on Monday reported that construction work was ongoing from the Creek Road to the Tin Can Island First Gate.
However, on climbing the Liverpool Bridge heading to the Second Gate, it was observed that a man in military uniform and two others donning lemon vests had mounted a barricade at the lower end of the bridge to stop trucks descending to turn under the bridge.
The truck drivers were also made to part with some money before they could be allowed to descend the bridge.
Bribe takers in uniforms are impersonators —Opeifa
But the Executive Vice-Chairman of the task force, Kayode Opeifa, said the group had reduced the rate of extortion in the area considerably with the help of the Apapa Local Government, the police and the military authorities.
He claimed those occasionally found extorting desperate truckers were hoodlums that had earlier been removed from the area by the presidential panel.
Opeifa, who said it was an issue of corruption fighting back, absolved personnel from about six military formations in the Apapa area of involvement in extortion.
Opeifa said, “Anyone who claims to be military personnel found extorting in that area is impersonating. They claim to be military personnel in order to perpetuate their act of extortion. They don’t control traffic.
“Beneficiaries of the old order do not want to give up. They try to short-change the system by coming out in the dead of the night to perpetuate the act of corruption.”
Provide bribery evidence against our boys —Navy
Also, the Nigerian Navy has denied claims that its personnel are involved in bribe taking from tanker drivers at Apapa, adding that it has “complied fully with the Presidential directive.”
The Navy Director of Information, Commodore Suleman Dahun, told one of our correspondents that the public should come forward with evidence if such existed.
He said, “I have to tell you this; we have complied fully with the Federal Government’s directive that we should withdraw from traffic management in the Apapa area. It (bribery) is not true and if you have evidence of our boys engaging in any illegal activity, please forward it to us. It is not good for anyone to wake up and concoct lies against the Navy.
“I have spoken with the Western Naval Command and they confirmed to me that we have complied fully with the government’s directive. It is a false allegation.”
Our members don’t offer anyone bribe – NUPENG
Also, the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers has denied the bribe allegation, saying that its members do not offer anyone bribe to allow them park their vehicles or move on the road.
The union, which spoke through the Chairman, NUPENG, Lagos Zone, Mr Tayo Aboyeji, said, “The allegation that our members bribe law enforcement agents with N150,000 to N200,000 is not true. Where do we get such money to bribe?
“The NUPENG tanker drivers or owners do not give bribe to anybody to allow their tankers block the highway. Any tanker you see on the Apapa axis is on its way to load. And due to the activities of other trucks laden with containers on that road, our members’ vehicles usually get stuck too.”
The Director, Consumer Affairs, Nigerian Shippers’ Council, Mr Cajetan Agu, said the challenge was between the Tin Can Island and Mile 2 end of the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway.
He said because the road was under construction, it had been affecting vehicular movement.
Agu, who is representing the NSC on the presidential panel, said, “Sometimes the two-lane road will merge into one and trucks that cannot maneouvre through will just wait until they can find enough space to pass. That is why it appears as if they are parked on the road.”
He told The PUNCH that the truck parks at Lilypond and Apapa were already being used by truck drivers until they could be called up to go to the port.
Work ongoing at a slow pace — Residents
However, a member of the Joint Council of Seaport Truck Operators, Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria, Mr Godwin Ikeji, confirmed that work was going on around the Tin Can Coconut axis of the port but at a ‘slow pace.’
Ikeji, who has his office on the Tin Can Island, said, “The work is going on but it is very slow. Liverpool to Apapa is better but the road between Coconut and Mile 2 has completely broken down. Between Berger Cement and Otto Wharf, you cannot drive your car on gear 2, the movement is very slow.”
He however explained that trucks were not parked on the road but were in the queue moving slowly.
We’re in talks with truck drivers – Works Controller
Meanwhile, the Federal Controller of Works in Lagos, Mr Adedamola Kuti, said the panel had met with the truck drivers and told them that some of their activities had been frustrating construction work.
He added that the panel had appealed to them to move their vehicles so that construction work could go on.
According to him, the truck drivers during the meeting assured the task force members of their cooperation.
Kuti, however, said the reconstruction of the 32-kilometre road Apapa-Oshodi-Oworoshoki-Ojota Expressway, linking the Apapa port to other parts of Lagos, had commenced.
He said, “The only thing is that it is a road that concerns majority of Lagos residents because it passes through major areas of the state and it is very busy too, coming from the only operational port in the country and a built-up area.
“The activities of truck drivers are mainly on section one of the road from the port but then they have assured us of their cooperation and we are hoping it will go the way they promised.
“It is a dual carriage way so when we are working on one section of the road they can move to another part of the road and leave the lane for us to do our work.”
He explained that the truck owners were supposed to have their own park, adding that what the government was doing was supposed to complement the efforts of the port.
According to him, the park being built will be for the transit of trucks cleared to move into the port and has reached 98 per cent completion.
“What is left is electrical work with the shoreline,” he added.
Kuti said trucks that had not been cleared by the Nigerian Ports Authority to go into the port had no reason to be on the road.
Speaking on measures to ease traffic in the area, Opeifa urged the contractor handling the road project to patch the bad portions of the road and provide its work plan as well as the traffic flow plan for motorists.
He said among several fresh efforts, a crane from the LASEMA (Lagos) Response Unit had been dedicated to the area to remove any broken down truck to ensure the little space provided for movement was made free all the time.