Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, is to set up a special team to take over traffic management in Apapa from the disbanded Presidential Task Team (PTT) on the road.
The plan is to adopt a new approach in easing gridlock on the port area and its environs.
Sanwo-Olu said a stakeholders’ meeting, involving representatives of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) haulage transport unions, port operators, among others, would be convened next week to work out means of solving the protracted gridlock in Apapa, as well as having a more efficient, effective port operations in the general interest of the public.
The governor, while inspecting the Apapa port road to assess traffic situation in Apapa ports and environs, said the aim is to restore sanity to the area.
The inspection, which took him to Lilypond truck terminal, Wharf Road, Apapa Port, and Tincan Port,Truck Park, followed the disbandment of PTT by the federal government as well as outcry by the public over the perennial gridlock.
Hoodlums and traffic armed robbers have always cashed in on the gridlock to extort and dispossess people of their valuables.
The gridlock has defied all previous efforts at easing the congestion, including the setting up of the PTT, chaired by Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, which appointed a former Lagos State Commissioner for Transport, Mr. Kayode Opeifa, as the vice chairman, with a mandate to restore law and order to Apapa ports and environs.
However, during the governor’s assessment, a blame game ensued between stakeholders operating within and around the Apapa seaports.
While the Committee of Freight Forwarders and Maritime Truckers (COFFAMAT) blamed the Nigerian Port Authority (NPA) officials, Presidential Task Force on Port Decongestion and the police for the corruption that allowed truck drivers to park indiscriminately on the road, the Council of Maritime Transport Union and Association (COMTUA) absolved the police and the task force.
Rather, COMTUA accused COFFAMAT, truck drivers and other stakeholders of not playing by the rules.
A customs licensed clearing and forwarding agent, Mr. Boniface Okoye, also blamed the Customs for not giving undue access to the shippers’ council to leave empty containers to the port areas and the police for looking away after allegedly collecting kickbacks.
Following the recriminations, Sanwo-Olu informed the stakeholders of the state government’s moves to tackle the gridlock by taking over traffic management in the area.
Sanwo-Olu decried the indiscipline among port players with the promise to tackle head-on and eliminate the cabal behind the alleged extortion being perpetrated by some officials and security personnel.
According to him, as part of efforts to ease the gridlock, a stakeholders’ meeting has been slated for next week.
He said: “This is not the first time; certainly not the second, and in fact this is about the third or the fourth time in my government that we are trying to see how we bring better solution to Apapa gridlock.
“On all of the time we have come, we knew that we are having a road construction but you can see now that inside Apapa, there is significant progress in this area, particularly on the road construction site. A lot of road has been done.
“Today (Monday) even being the public holiday, it is even difficult for us to say that we have achieved a 100 per cent traffic free flow into Apapa.
“And we have all heard all the complaints from the various stakeholders, the unions, freight forwarders, drivers, everyone has said their own side of the story and you can see that it is multifaceted.
“There have been accusations around cabal collecting money from operators and accusations around being hijacked by some people and there has also been counter accusations.
“What are we solving at the end of the day? We are trying to bring about a cohesive metrics where all the stakeholders in Apapa understand and appreciate the various roles that everybody needs to play and let everybody identify and solve it.
“You are aware that since last year, the PTT had been working. Now, there is a process that is starting in which the state government needs to take over that task force. One of the reasons for this trip is to start that process, to see things for myself.
“The state government is to set up a seamless operation to have a team of Lagos State Traffic Management Authority, LASTMA, about 400 to 500, dedicated to Apapa gridlock; have a team of police men from Area B dedicated to the same gridlock. We understand what the port police command is doing because they are also part of the problem.
“More importantly, to be able to speak to all the big men in the office, the ship owners, the port terminal operators, freight forwarders, who are not here with the port drivers who we see that they are the one carrying the brunt.
“So, when somebody is supposed to deliver a container and he is being charged a demurrage, that cannot be a working operation, it’s not fair.
“When it takes eight to 10 hours for operation to hand over to another team.
For that whole eight to 10 hours, the ports are locked; the trucks cannot come in because someone is just trying to take over.
“I have seen it again and will go back to see and plot a template.”
Sanwo-Olu gave assurance to escalate some of the issues to the Inspector General of Police (IG), Mohammed Adamu, meet with the Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi and get the NPA to understand what their roles are.
“As a government, we don’t own the port, but we have a responsibility to our citizens. The turn around here is the most expensive turn around port that you have.
“I am hoping that this trip will give us another opportunity to resolve this issue, identify the roadblocks,” he added.
On extortion allegations against the police, Sanwo-Olu said: “I have said to them, give me the evidence of those people that are collecting money from you. That is also important.
“We are determined to make people scapegoats. It is part of ensuring that we reduce the ease of doing process of businesses.
“It is a process and we cannot say we have all the solutions but we have seen the process again. We have seen that we can improve this process and we have identified the stakeholders.
“We need to also go back and see how we can normalise those things and understand that we have a problem here and we have to solve the problem.”