Apapa: Any link between Usman’s suspension and worsening gridlock?
Apapa gridlock has taken a turn for the worse and, once again, the port city has become impenetrable with the unfortunate consequences of keeping commuters on one spot for hours.
People who live outside but work in Apapa are back to the dark days when they were left with the hard choice of driving and wasting their productive hours on the road or working from home and incurring extra costs on energy and data. Either way, it is a sad experience for them.
Many are keeping away from work and apart from reduced productivity, it is also taking a toll on the health of their businesses. Those who choose to commute to work by public transport are not any better as they have to pay more, spend long hours in traffic, and endure all the stress and sweat with serious health implications.
All these are happening barely three months into the implementation of an electronic call-up system introduced by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) to control trucks’ movement into the ports.
And painfully, in the midst of the confusion as to whether the call-up system has collapsed or NPA and its partnering Lagos State government were overwhelmed by the traffic congestion, NPA started boiling from within.
There has been an allegation of deep-seated fraud and corruption in the ports authority which is a major money-spinning agency for the federal government that is shamelessly interested in the lush revenue from the ports, but not in how to improve the lot of the port city.
The rumbling in the NPA has led to the suspension of its managing director, the soft-spoken Hadiza Bala-Usman who has been asked to step aside to enable a probe into the fraud allegations against her office.
Usman was suspended a week ago and, curiously, the Apapa gridlock has, within that period, gone up a step higher, raising the question as to whether there is a nexus between her suspension and the worsening congestion on Apapa roads and bridges.
This may be difficult to establish. However, there is a remote correlation that finds explanation in Kayode Opeifa’s assertion that besides corruption, a major cause of the gridlock on Apapa roads is inefficiency in port operation which he blames NPA for.
Opeifa says the NPA has failed to control the terminal operators whose operational model encourages congestion at the ports with spill-over effects on the roads. He believes that the call-up system is working but that the trucks that are on call cannot enter the premises of the terminal operators.
Austin Olikeze is a port worker who doubles as a clearing and forwarding agent. “Though the gridlock was already bad, it has become worse with Usman’s suspension,” he reasoned in an interview with our correspondent.
Olikeze explained that the call-up system stands on a tripod. First is the NPA, secondly, the Lagos State government, and the third leg is the transport unions which, he said, were not so strong.
He added that, of the three, only NPA was effective as the Lagos State government was a passive partner only interested in taking glory in the success of the call-up system within the first five days of its implementation.
“You could see how Sanwo-Olu, the state governor, went about telling the whole world that they had ended the Apapa gridlock. Today, the gridlock is back fully, and I don’t think he knows or cares that everything has collapsed. His task team is not seen anywhere on the road,” he noted.
“I think Usman’s suspension is a factor, but don’t forget that corruption which is the root cause of the problem is still thriving in spite of the call-up system; it is endemic,” he added.
For Apapa residents and businesses, the present situation is not only frustrating but also confusing. That is however understandable for people who just stopped short of rolling out drums to celebrate the success of the Eto App and the return of sanity to their domain.
“If you have been to Apapa in the past you will know what I am talking about. Our businesses went down, property lost value, and people were dying,” an elated resident, Chukwuma Vincent, said.
Continuing, he said, “we are on a mountain of prayers now, telling God that any evil fashioned against our governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, Madam Hadiza Bala Usman, the NPA managing director, Apapa Local government chairman, and the current Apapa traffic task force members will not prosper. God bless Apapa local government, God bless Lagos State, God bless Nigeria. Kudos to the team.”
Another resident who did not disclose his name noted that “what has happened is really “tear-inducing….it has been quite a psychological and physical ordeal…APAPA! I am almost scared to believe….. it’s been that terrible to my everyday mental state …”
That was the hilarious mood now turned into disillusionment, nostalgia, and despondency.
But Bode Karunmi, another resident, differed. He warned that it was too early to clap, insisting that the whole arrangement was too cosmetic to survive the test of time. To him, the solution to the Apapa problem is not in task teams or call-up systems.
“Anywhere in the world, no port operates without a good rail system which can do the work of 1000 trucks in less than an hour. As much as I know, Apapa is the only port without a rail system and so, all these quick-fix solutions are not sustainable, Karunmi emphasized.