The Executive Vice Chairman ,(EVC) of the Presidential Task Team on Decongestion of Lagos Ports Access Roads , Comrade KAYODE OPEIFA, in this interview with SHOLA FADEYI , says that the Team has utilized the resources available to it, effectively, in fulfilling the purpose for which it was set up by President Muhammadu Buhari:Excerpts:-
Comrade Kayode Opeifa, EVC , Presidential Task Force on Decongestion of Lagos Ports Access Roads.
If we can recollect, when The Presidential Task Team began its work in May , this year, the bridges and roads , namely Eko Bridge , Marine Bridge ,Apapa Road, Ikorodu Road, Constain, Ijora Bridge among other places were occupied by articulated vehicles , to such an extent that they created Gridlock which became a nightmarish situation.
Consequently, other smaller vehicles along with commuters were always stuck in traffic to the extent that , it turned to a near crisis situation , which of course called for a special intervention which President Mohammadu Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo directed us to come over to provide.
The seriousness and the professional nature with which the Team, had approached its assignment , was demonstrated by the fact that it had to apprehend more than 120 trucks for non compliance, before truckers adhered to Government directive, that all trucks must vacate the Apapa Wharf road and its environs.
Lillypond Terminal as Holding Bay
The Team also had to source for emergency truck parks and holding bays where the trucks have to be kept, so that they would not continue to pose nuisance on the roads. In fact, it was through the activities of the Team that the Federal Government directed the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) to turn the Lillypond Terminal , which was erstwhile used as a Terminal , for stacking containers , to an holding bay for trucks .
We have to totally cleared the approaches and under the Bridge ,that lead to the Lillypond Terminal , where the trucks usually park indiscriminately and block access to the Facility , and the result now is that trucks can move freely out of it, into the ports, as well as into it ,for parking purposes, never mind the activities of some touts that disrupted the operations of the place recently.
While the use of the Lillypond Terminal as an holding bay, and the effective utilization of others have gone a long way to ease the traffic congestion on the highway and the bridges, the extent of work that the Team has done so far and the relief , which it has given to commuters, in terms of movements of vehicles on the road, the stoppage of extortion , has made it to have a successive outing so far.
If freight forwarders and truckers unions would continue to direct trucks and drivers to the approved private parks for a call up ,to the Port via, Lillypond Truck Terminal, there would not be any need for trucks to congest the bridges and the roads again.
Delivery on Mandates
One thing that is clear, is that the Presidential Task Team, has been able to restore sanity and normalcy to the chaotic traffic situation within and around the Lagos Seaports Access Roads especially in Apapa since it started its operations.
So, the Task Team has to a very large extent , delivered on its mandate which include the development of an efficient and effective management plan for the entire port area traffic, including the cargo, fuel distribution and business district traffic; enforcing the permanent removal of all stationary trucks on the highway, and the development of an effective manual truck call-up system. pending the introduction of the electronic truck call-up system as well as the implementation of a workable empty container return and export container truck handling policy.
This is because , with proper planning and management of the traffic situation by our Team and the positive change ,we were able to bring to the manual call up system of NPA , the traffic situation has since then been ameliorated.
In fact , we had thought that the problem can be solved within 30 days ,and we actually did that, to an extent , within the period , but we discovered that we had to return because part of the problem really has been that , the traffic situation has been man- made , particularly by those who have been benefitting from the system and who never wanted the situation to abate. This is because , if there is no traffic, there is no crime .This is also why it is said that traffic is a criminological agent.
Also, the situation has not been fully redeemed for the fact that the truck drivers have been used to flouting traffic rules and not been orderly because , they had avenue in the past , where they could always get their ways through the back doors to have access to the ports and in the process , created the congestion , which has characterized the Apapa Road and other places.
So, most of the truck drivers and some traffic operatives who have been used to some form of compromise belief that the work of the Task Team is not sustainable, though they have started to adjust, and this is why there is a need for the Team to do its work continuously for a period of six months, so that the traffic situation on the Lagos Ports Access roads would be much more better.
By the time , the truck drivers and even some of the traffic personnel on the roads get used to the presence of the Task Team for a relatively long period of time , following which the electronic call system must have commenced , then the traffic issue would have been fully solved.
Every morning before 7, am I used to be on the road with my team monitoring the traffic and whenever the truck drivers see me , they are always orderly and usually what I do is that after doing that till about 11, am I call on an operation leader to come and take over so that there would not be any gap.
When we assumed duties, the truckers complained seriously of being extorted in the past but what our Team has done is to put measures in place which have stopped any form of extortion of the truckers, in line with part of our mandate , which is to stop all forms of extortions.
On the allegation of extortion against the Task Team, I don’t normally respond to it .But I must as the EVC of the Team say categorically that , we are not corrupt. I can vouch for my Commissioner of Police, Mr Odumosu , Mr Sulaimon and others that they cannot be guilty of such allegation .
Apart from this, the other operatives of the Police , and the Lagos State Traffic Management Agency(LASTMA) know that extortion carries heavy penalty, but as humans , some of them may misbehave and when they do , they are appropriately punished.
This is why the Commissioner of Police has had reasons to lock up any of the police operatives for three days at times when they misbehave .Consequently, The Task Team has already removed control from such places such as Ijora Olopa and Sifax among others where they could exhibit such behavior.
Measures Adopted to Check Inducements
There have been indeed situations that called for inducements in the ports areas.Part of our work as a Task Team is to ensure that such situations of inducements are no longer in existence .and they include that the Police operatives on the Team should no longer check particulars of vehicles ,and that all the trucks should move to the Lillypond Terminal for call up by NPA , while we focus on giving access.
We have also had to direct that Police, Federal Road Safety Corps(FRSC) and the Lagos State Traffic Management (LASTMA) operatives that worked with the Navy , when it was the lead agency were changed. For such, at that that time , there were stakeholders who were ready to induce them with any amount just to have their way .If some of them are still part of us , there was no way they would still not want to continue with such habits.
Cancellation of Tents
This is also why , we had to specially bring people like Odumosu , Sulaimon among others including most of the police operatives from Taraba State, Abuja and Lagos .It would not be easy for you to compromise , these officers in the management cadre.We know that the lower rank officers can be tempted , but we have , as a Task Team eliminated situations through which they can easily be compromised.
In fact the Task Team has done a lot of things to eliminate possibility of extortion by the Traffic operatives but ,we cannot start going to Press with that.Not too long , we have stopped them from staying under tents because we belief , it is when they are ‘comfortable’ under tents that people can start approaching them with a view to compromising them.
So, when rain falls , they use rain coat.It is not as if we want to suffer them deliberately, but these are just some of the series of measures , we have adopted to ensure that the possibilities of corruption are eliminated , to make sure that they do their work conscientiously so that the roads would be free.
Apart from giving them allowances, we give them uniforms, boots and other tools , which they need to do their work as well as fuel their patrol vans .So, having catered for all their official needs , they don’t really have any cogent reason to be corrupt.
Currently, we have close to 200 LASTMA personnel who are managing Traffic and who are part of the Task Team’s work.So ,the situation is such that , you can hardly keep your eyes on all of them , because of the numbers.
As for the Policemen on the bridges , I will say whosoever alleges that they are collecting money should come and prove it , because I cannot be there on the bridges with them 24 hours.But the thing again is that why would they be collecting money , just for passing trucks .?
Investigations that have been carried out by the Team on some of the complaints of extortions have been unfounded, while some of them were meant to discredit the work of the team particularly by those who have been benefitting from the sleaze that took place in the past.
Those , who make use of the Apapa Port and its environs on a daily basis can make comparisons as to what the situation is now, with traffic as against when the Task Team was not in place.So I would say , the allegation of corruption is tantamount to corruption fighting back as usual.
Responsibility for Call up
The issue really is that, it is the NPA that is responsible for calling trucks into the ports and it is the vehicles they call , that the traffic personnel on roads work on to ensure smooth access to the Ports . But I ,as the head of the Team, also reserves the right a to act, if the NPA calls trucks that is not suppose to .So all of us need to work together to ameliorate the situation.
But isolated incidents that some people have refer to ,that the Team is being compromised may be due to complaints by truck owners at times, that they have been on queue for upward of 15 days or more, and they have not been called .What I do is to investigate such, and if I discover that their complaints are genuine , I can attend to any of such complaint , just on its own merit ,for purpose of equity with no strings attached .
Lillypond Truck Transit Park
But, we have now directed that all the trucks must enter the Lillypond Truck Transit Parks and from there they must ensure that they apply for call up , that will enable the NPA to send message to them to come into the seaports so that the Task Team can give them Access into the port.
If that is done, anybody who now says that , he has not been called must show prove that he has applied for call up and it was not approved .So such interventions should not at all, be misconstrued as having being compromised to act in any way.
It is a good thing that the contracts for the repairs of all the bad roads, namely Creek Road , Wharf Road , Apapa Oshodi Expressway , that are worsening the congestion have already been awarded by the Government while work is ongoing on them. So, as some of these bad roads are repaired , the good work that the Team has been doing for some time now , would be appreciated the more, because the roads would be better , for purpose of movement.