In Nigeria, when political leaders and government functionaries are not exhibiting tribal sentiments, they must be busy lying, deceiving and being hypocritical, giving the impression that all is well even in a messy situation.
Nowhere and at no time had this been better demonstrated than in Apapa, Lagos, when the nation’s commercial capital prepared for the visit of Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria’s president and the presidential candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), who came to the state to canvass for votes.
All the trailers and tankers which had taken over every route to Apapa were made to vacate those routes. The enforcement was comprehensive and the compliance was total, raising questions as to where the trucks ‘disappeared’ into and who or what made the disappearance happen.
What the government and its security agencies did that day simply showed that they had been deceiving and deliberately punishing not just the residents and business owners in Apapa, but also anybody who has anything to do with Apapa as motorist, trader, office worker, port worker, clearing agent, or even factory worker.
Freeing all roads and bridges in Apapa of the rampaging trucks simply underscored government’s wickedness. What that demonstrated too was that the comfort of one Nigerian citizen, that is, the president, is more important than the lives of millions of Nigerians who are suffering on daily basis because of the unwholesome activities of these trucks which seemed to have defied solution.
President Buhari, his campaign entourage of which Yemi Osinbajo, the vice president, was a part of, as well as chieftains and members of the ruling APC were coming into Lagos, and the roads had to be cleared for them as ‘special breeds’ to have unhindered movement.
That, unfortunately, is the treatment that the political class gets in Nigeria, different from the pain, anguish and harrowing experiences that millions of ordinary citizens of Lagos, especially those in Apapa, had been subjected to over the years.
Several times, the Apapa GRA Residents Association (AGRA) had cried out and even embarked on peaceful protests to draw the attention of the federal and Lagos State governments to their plight, but to no avail as the roads have remained occupied and blocked by the trucks.
“What happened at the weekend simply shows that all these years, we have been suffering from government’s wickedness and apathy. This shows you that the solution to the Apapa problem is possible and it is in the hands of the government and its agencies,” said Uche Chiejina, an estate manager who has been in property business in Apapa in the past 20 years.
Apapa today represents a dead or dysfunctional system where people’s investments in property and other assets are in ruins, yet government is not concerned. Businesses are dying or relocating; residents who invested in these assets are living in poverty because rental income on their property has stopped. They cannot even go out of their residences because they may not be able to come back.
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo must have been bewildered by what happened at the weekend – how the long stretch of Ikorodu road, Western Avenue, linking up Costain Roundabout inward Eko Bridge, and indeed Apapa, was completely free when the presidential campaign train arrived Teslim Balogun Stadium, venue of the APC presidential rally that brought Buhari to Lagos.
Twice Osinbajo had visited Apapa and held meetings with ‘stakeholders’ at the Naval Dockyard. Twice he issued what could be termed ‘lame-duck directives’ to the petroleum tankers and container-laden trucks to vacate the roads leading in and out of Apapa. And, in perpetuity, those directives have been ignored and treated with utmost disdain as the tankers and trailers had maintained their stronghold on the roads in Lagos.
It must have shocked the vice president that the roads in Apapa and around Surulere, Lagos, were free on Saturday. Osinbajo must have been wondering how it happened. But it was the same people that Osinbajo met again and again and directed to clear the roads but they ignored him that got to work on Friday and Saturday, meaning that the Apapa suffering is deliberately inflicted on people and their businesses.
For the ruling class, ordinary Nigerians do not deserve free roads and free movement. What they deserve is gridlock that keeps them on the roads and bridges for hours. In the eyes of the political ‘rulers’, businesses within Apapa, from where the Federal Government rakes in trillions of naira revenue annually, do not deserve roads free from gridlock and congestion.
This is the mentality that had driven and still drives governance in Africa’s most populous nation. It is the mentality that the political class has over the years foisted on hapless Nigerians: that the president, governors, ministers and other elected public office holders who live at public expense deserve the best as was reflected on Friday and Saturday in Lagos.
Ayo Shola-Vaughan, chairman of Apapa GRA Residents Association (AGRA), says what is happening in Apapa is deliberate on the part of the government and is meant to punish the people.
“What we saw on Friday and Saturday clearly shows that the government knows the solution to the Apapa traffic congestion but has deliberately refused to implement it. It also shows that the so-called task force has compromised. The question is, where did the trucks disappear to? It means that we can have a free road into Apapa if the government is serious,” said Shola-Vaughan.
The retired army general also accused the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) of complicity in the failure to solve the Apapa debacle.
Bode Karunwi, vice chairman of AGRA, who also spoke on the issue, said the free road witnessed in Lagos on Friday and Saturday has exposed the hypocrisy of the government with respect to the Apapa situation.
The road and bridges were free on Friday and Saturday. The question to ask is, who did it? By whose order and interest was it done? It is clear that if the presidency wants the blockade cleared, it will happen. But with what we have seen so far, Mr President is not willing to act,” said Karunwi.
Ladi Lawanson, commissioner for transport in Lagos State, said the state government cannot alone remove the trucks from the roads as the task requires the collaboration of the Federal Government.
“I can write memos upon memos, but if the Federal Government does not come in, there is little that can be done. It’s beyond what Lagos State government alone can handle,” he added.
Reminded that the roads and bridges were free Friday and Saturday for the APC rally, Lawanson said it was carried out by the security (intelligence) operatives who felt that allowing the trucks to remain on the roads posed a security threat to Mr. President who was coming for the campaign.
“We also saw the roads free; it was security operatives that cleared the roads, and we were happy too. To keep the roads free requires a directive from the presidency,” said Lawanson.
Reacting, Taofeek Gani, publicity secretary of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in Lagos State, said that the manner the state government was handling the Apapa trailer gridlock was a sign of failure of the APC and its policies in the state.
Gani berated the state and federal governments for failing to find a lasting solution to the issue in spite of their promises.
“That is to tell you that they have failed. The way they are handling the trailers shows how they are taking Nigerians for granted. You can see now they are no more shouting change, because their change mantra is no more consistent with what they are doing. It is desperation, and it cuts across all APC states. Nigerians should reject the APC, vote out these leaders,” Gani said.
To port workers, it was a shock and disappointment.
“We felt disappointed with the Federal Government for the singular act of evacuating the trucks from the roads because the president was to come to Lagos, only for them to return afterwards,” Tony Anakebe, managing director of Gold Link Investment Ltd, said in reaction to the development.
According to Anakebe, traffic mangers and government authorities know what to do but have refused to do that, and this has continued to inflict hardship on port users, noting that security operatives currently make lots of money from the problem in Apapa.
“It is estimated that security operatives make as much as N150 million from truck owners if about 3,000 trucks visiting the port weekly pay as much as N50,000 to fast-track access into the port. There are more than 10 checkpoints from Western Avenue to Apapa Port and more than 15 checkpoints from Mile 2 to Tin-Can Island Port marked by security operatives,” Anakebe said.
“There is no way the gridlock will clear within the shortest possible time because of what they are benefitting. As we have been saying for years, the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) has also agreed with our views that Apapa gridlock can only be tackled if the oil tank farms are moved out of Apapa because their continued existence will mean no end in sight for the gridlock,” he said.
Remi Ogungbemi, chairman, Association of Maritime Truck Owners (AMATO), who described the government’s action as an ‘eye-service’, said he had decided not to talk about Apapa problem but to talk about the solutions to the problem.
“We are happy that the NPA is providing a means that would regulate the number of trucks that will be coming to Apapa with the introduction of manual call-up system. We, however, wait for the time when NPA will introduce the electronic call-up that is globally accepted. Sadly, people are fighting against this initiative of call-up and they do not want it to work,” Ogungbemi said.
“I want to state emphatically that about 85 percent of trucks operating in Apapa have garages or parks and that is where they park when orders to evacuate the roads are given. However, the existence of the garages enables only trucks with business to do to be on road while others are parked in the parks,” he said.
CHUKA UROKO, JOSHUA BASSEY, AMAKA ANAGOR-EWUZIE & INIOBONG IWOK