It was a moment of joy for businesses and residents of Apapa, Nigeria’s premier port city, as they celebrated the milestone achieved at the weekend by the introduction of an electronic call-up system that has ensured trucks are no longer littering their environment, thus bring back sanity to the troubled city.
After years of untold hardship and deaths, sanity returned to Apapa, a once-thriving port city brought to its knees by protracted gridlock. Apapa had in the past several years defied effort to solve its traffic problem. The efforts, including a presidential task team, were blighted by corruption.
The take-off of the electronic call-up system (Eto App) introduced by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) has done what could pass easily as magic and residents and businesses in the port city are in high spirit as they celebrate this uncommon feat.
“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.
“We call on NPA to sustain this. I drove through to my house for the first time in many years and I cried. I thought we had no government in Nigeria again. This is worth celebrating and I can only hope it lasts,” Vincent said.
To underscore their appreciation of what has happened, Vincent said they were on a mountain of prayers now, telling God that “any evil fashioned against our governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, 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 want the local government authorities to come and clean the road that had been made dirty by the rampaging trucks now that they are out of the way.
According to this resident, what has happened is really is “tear-inducing… it really 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 …”
In a spirit of ecstasy, another resident exclaimed, “Wow; please, has anyone property to sell? Swimming pool and all that? I am now interested!”
Ayo Vaughan, chairman of the Apapa GRA residents association, had expressed optimism in the electronic call-up system, appealing to the NPA authorities and the Lagos State government to ensure that it was free from human influence and manipulation.
On Saturday, when BusinessDay monitored the commencement of the new call-up system, it was a tale of two worlds at the two major routes to the ports. Whereas the Western-Avenue-Ijora Bridge-Wharf Road axis was a success story with the whole stretch free of trucks, the same story could not be told of the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway, which still had a heavy presence of trucks, especially between Coconut Bus Stop and Tin Can Port First Gate.
However, there was a significant improvement on Sunday. Driving into Apapa from the Ijora end of the Iganmu axis was a pleasure on Sunday as the trucks that usually lined up the roads and bridges had gone.
BusinessDay observed that the stretch of Ijora-Apapa Bridge connecting the Area B’ Police Command was free of trucks, thus allowing easy and seamless movement into Apapa.
A security operative who spoke with our correspondent said they had been working hard since Saturday, February 27 when the e-call up became effective, to maintain order and ensure that only trucks with valid permit get through to the port.
“Only trucks with a valid permit are allowed. In fact, none is even allowed to leave their park without being called up. The directive from the government of Lagos State and the NPA is very simple, no valid permit, no entry. Any violation of this order means impoundment of such truck,” said the security operatives.
“This is the beginning of a better journey time for our citizens within the Apapa seaports and environ. This electronic system has a limited interface with security operatives and unions, which usually cause the gridlock problem. It will be a simple case of possessing electronic clearance. If you don’t have it, you don’t have any reason to be around the seaports,” Sanwo-Olu assured.
BusinessDay’s assessment of the mood around the port reveals that people were open and even hopeful about the effect of the newly introduced electronic call-up system in the long run. But the immediate impact did not sit well with importers and agents.
According to Onyekachukwu Emechebe, chairman of Maritime Container Haulage Association, the system is expected to favour members and cut off the overbearing extortion from security officers. Members expend N100,000 to N400,000 to move goods.
But, in spite of this, concerns and doubts remain over efficient implementation and sustainability of the new system.
“Before you introduce a thing, all stakeholders should come together, but with what they are trying to do it seems the lesser evil will be out of the way while the mighty ones high-jack it,” Emechebe.
“It will restore sanity if they will comply with it. Something like this has been introduced before but was not upheld. There was a time all trucks were led to Lilypond Transit Truck Park before heading to the main port. But while others queue at Lilypond for weeks, you will see officials flying trucks directly to the port. That the discouraged people.”