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Apapa gridlock and FG’s endless experiment on solution

For the umpteenth time, the Federal Government of Nigeria, in its endless blind search for solution to the suffocating congestion and intractable traffic gridlock in Apapa, has come up with a committee known as Ministerial Implementation Committee (MIC) on traffic management.

The clear message from this committee, coming on the heels of the disbandment of the Presidential Task Team (PTT) which had Vice President Yemi Osinbajo as chairman and Kayode Opeifa, former Transport Commissioner in Lagos State, as the Executive Vice Chairman, is that the government is simply experimenting on the solution to Apapa problem.

PTT had several committees and taskforces before it, yet no solution has been found. Expectation was high on the PTT because, Apapa stakeholders particularly banked on the presidency’s interest and presence in the team. It was thought that its assignment was fait accompli.

The stakeholders also expected the very best of outcomes given that the new team was coming from an All Progressives Congress (APC) government which, during its campaign for power, boasted that ending the Apapa gridlock was not rocket science.

But so far, it has all turned out to be reflections of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. APC’s six years in power and PTT’s three years of controlling and managing traffic in Apapa have left the port city worse off with the two Tin Can Island ports gates now venues of macabre dance by rampaging truck drivers.

Though Opeifa would easily beat his chest at any given opportunity for work well done, the Team’s best was not good enough for Apapa as it remains to be seen what legacy the Team has left behind.

An objective assessment of its performance would show that the team failed woefully and left Apapa worse than it met it. The reputational damage on some of its members, arising from allegations of corruption and extortion of truck owners/drivers, is too deep to rise from.

It, therefore, remains to be known how far the new committee headed by the Permanent Secretary in the ministry of transportation can go. The committee draws its membership from the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Nigerian Shippers Council, Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN), Federal Roads Safety Corps (FRSC) and the Lagos State government.

The Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, disclosed at a meeting with maritime workers in Lagos that plans had been completed to deploy 200 security officers to Apapa and Tin-Can Ports to clear the gridlock on the routes. That, in our view, is an ambitious plan and we join the maritime workers to welcome that plan.

The minister was reported to have noted that “the issue of traffic on these routes is because in Nigeria we don’t discipline people. People do whatever they like even when it’s wrong because there is no consequence for our actions. We need security officers to enforce compliance on truck blocking the road.

“We need to talk to shippers and traders, especially those around Warri to see how they can be using Warri port so that Lagos Ports will be decongested. We can get security to follow the cargoes to that area so that traders from Aba, and Onitsha that are ready to use that port can go there.”

Our heart is gladdened by these apparently honest observations by the minister. We see an admittance of leadership failure. We also see a consciousness that Lagos is and should not be the only imported cargo destination in the country. But, be that as it may, these same observations, in our thinking, betray government’s shallow understanding of the underlying causes of the crisis in Apapa.

When Vice President Osinbajo visited Apapa in 2017, what he saw as the problem of Apapa was road infrastructure. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, the governor of Lagos, shares this view. Today, many of the access roads in Apapa have been upgraded, yet the problem persists, meaning that there’s more to Apapa crisis than bad road infrastructure.

We advise that government, as it continues with its endless experiment on solution with one taskforce, task team or committee after another, should look beyond roads infrastructure, though important too.

Corruption has been identified as being at the core of the mess that Apapa has become. Over the years, there has been brazen extortion going on in and around the port city and this has been sustained by vested interest that have constituted themselves into a cabal that ensures Apapa never works.

Some stakeholders say, and we share their view, that the Apapa problem could be solved if the vested interests, including government agencies, want to get it solved. They dismiss any taskforce by whatever name called, contending that any new taskforce for traffic control means increase in the cost and level of bribery on the roads to the ports.

Governor Sanwo-Olu has assured that government’s plan is to bring about cohesive system where all stakeholders would understand their roles and resolve challenges being encountered. Good idea, but we have our reservations.

This is a new year and we believe that what Apapa needs to resolve its crisis, besides identifying and dealing with the vested interests, is evolving a solid and sustainable traffic management system that will bring order and sanity in truck movement.

Time is now for NPA to double-action in installing its planned and long overdue electronic call-up system. It is our hope that this will, to a very large extent, reduce human inter-face which breeds corruption in the port city.

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