By Shola Fadeyi
Executive Vice Chairman(EVC) , Presidential Task Team(PTT) on Restoration of Law and Order on Lagos Ports Access Roads, Mr Kayode Opeifa.
Undoubtedly, the Federal Government has been able to restore a high level of normalcy on the Lagos Ports Access Roads , sequel to the perennial Gridlock which had before now , characterized Apapa and its environs for over a decade and has taken a toll on vehicular traffic, made commuters to spend valuable man hours on the road, as well as affected cargo clearing at the Lagos Seaports.
It is gratifying that the respite, was achieved through the Presidential Task Team on the Restoration of Law and Order (PTT-RLO) on the Lagos Ports Access Roads, headed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo as the Executive Chairman(EV) and Comrade Kayode Opeifa as the Executive Vice Chairman(EVC), which government set up to decongest the roads and bridges occupied by trucks and sanitize the environment among other functions.
The Team’s terms of Reference 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.
This also includes the implementation of a workable empty container return and export container truck handling policy, amongst others as well as the stoppage of all prospects of extortion.
The Task Team when it was set up comprises , the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority(LASTMA) representatives of a Unit of the Police , headed by a Commissioner of Police , the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) , the Nigerian Shippers Council, The Nigerian Ports Authority , Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC) and the Transport Unions.
The Presidency had given a 72 hours deadline to the owners of articulated vehicles in May 2019 , to remove them from the roads and bridges in Apapa , Lagos and its environs , while it has charged the Task Team with the onerous responsibility of decongesting the roads, and ensuring that , there was a free flow of traffic.
Opeifa as the leader of the Team , had relied on his expertise and experience as a former Special Assistant, then later Commissioner of Transport to the then Lagos State Governor , now Works and Housing Minister, Raji Fashola, and later, Secretary of Transport, to ensure that he carried out the assignment in a professional manner, that has made the Apapa Roads and its environs to be devoid of gridlock to a large extent.
Thus in adherence , to government directive ,Opeifa had on May 23, 2019 moved to Lagos, with the then representative of the Police in the Team , Commissioner Akeem Odumosu , now the Lagos State Police Commissioner , to hold series of stakeholders engagements with the NPA , Shippers’ Council , the Navy , Customs, the Transport Unions and Freight forwarding groups among others to brief them and seek support for its mission .
Efforts of PTT
To appreciate the extent of work that was done by the Task Team, before it came on Board, the Gridlock was such that articulated vehicles took over almost the whole of the access roads leading to the Lagos Port Complex and Tin Can Port, the Marine Beach , Eko Bridge ,Costain Bridge ,Point Road, Ikorodu Road among other places, to the extent that the situation affected vehicular movement in most parts of Lagos.
In fact , it was after the Lagos State Economy was almost experiencing a lockdown , the Ports became inaccessible and sequel to the failure of most of the Task Forces that have been set up in the past, headed by the Navy and para- military bodies to arrest the gridlock that , President Muhammadu Buhari had to direct the Vice President to have the Task Team in place.
Removal of Articulated Vehicles
So, the first major task the Team undertook ,for which it deserved commendation was the removal , with the assistance of the leaders of the Transport Unions ,NPA and Shippers’ Council ,of about 200 trucks and tankers that took over the roads and bridges in Apapa and its environs to some designated truck parks and holding bays , thus making space available for other vehicles to use the roads .
Following the removal of the first set of the trucks blocking the roads and the bridges , the PTT in conjunction with the truckers and the towing van outfits , has also since then been confronted with the towing away of at least two trucks, on a weekly basis, which have broken down on the Lagos Ports Access Roads , thus assisting in managing the effect of the gridlock
It is however pertinent to say that the Standard Operating Procedures, that was adopted by the Task Team , which incorporated traffic management and enforcement direction and strategy,team management principles and system and an initial call up system among others, assisted it greatly in the discharge of its duties.
PTT’s Support on Lillypond TTP
Also , the technical assistance rendered by the PTT to NPA , when it was to commence the use of Lilypond as a Truck Transit terminal, as directed by the government made it possible for the facility to take off as it initially suffered infrastructure challenges such as ,access roads, de-flooding and security lightning, management capacity, inadequate staffing and security.
The PTT had thus made it possible for the NPA through the Terminal operators to manage Call ups from the initially identified truck parks ,combined with the deployed Traffic Management Systems which was critical to the permanent removal of Trucks from the roads and the Restoration of law and order.
In fact , it was the PTT that cleared the approaches under the Bridge to the Lillypond Terminal , where the trucks usually park indiscriminately and block access to the Facility , and its efforts made it possible for trucks to move freely out of it, into the ports, as well as into it ,for parking purpose, while it also lent its support to ensure that the place was functional when touts vandalized its facilities in October .
Call Up System
It was able to design a workable call up system which it dully tested for weeks, used and discovered that it made the roads to be free to a large extent as at October 11 , 2019 before it submitted the package to the NPA .The PTT has however argued that , if the model of the Call- UP system , it submitted had not been tinkered with or comprehensively reviewed by NPA, it would have worked better than the current one in use.
This has made Opeifa to insist that the current Call up System in use and being controlled by the Terminal operators is not working , while he has also called the federal government to audit the Concessionaires for the fact that their failure – inadequate cargo handling equipment , lack of data for the PTT to use for its work have slowed down the pace of its work.
But in its quest for solutions to all measures that will make the roads to be free, the PTT participated at ensuring the successful clearing of the trucks occupying Tin Can – Warehouse axis preparatory to the rehabilitation of that section of the Apapa- Mile 2, Oshodi Oworonshoki Expressway which is expected to be concluded this year .
The monitoring of the assignment by the PTT can also be said to be commendable, as the EVC himself was always on the road in Apapa before 7, am with his team ,coordinating the traffic to encourage the drivers to be orderly , while other Team leaders are always there, whenever he leaves for inspection, to continue the work , so that no gap would be created.
Restrictions on Truck Movement
The PTT was likewise able to achieve some level of success in its assignment for the fact that it was able to restrict the movement of the trucks coming from outside Lagos and tankers to say from about 8 pm when the peak evening time traffic must have been over till about 11 am after the morning peak period.
However , an issue that is undeniable, and to which most stakeholders have attested, is the high level of integrity , sincerity , commitment and patriotism , which Opeifa and particularly the high echelon of his team brought to bear on the assignment , as he assisted to expose most of the extortionist activities that have made the gridlock to fester.
Perhaps, in what could be described as paying the maximum price for a course, two Police Personnel and two LASTMA officers attached to the Team lost their lives, while on active duty , while Opeifa himself has his car battered in an incident, in the process of ensuring that the roads are free for vehicular traffic.
Little wonder that Opeifa and his team have been commended by the Federal Government for their efforts at tackling the gridlock , while the Lagos State Government has recognized the head of the PTT with a consultancy task, even as the Head of the Police Unit , Akeem Odumosu was later appointed as the Lagos State Commissioner of Police.
While the issue of extortion , has been a major factor that has contributed to the failure of the past Task Forces, as the truck drivers have complained bitterly that they had to pay bribes, to the personnel of those bodies then, before they could allow their trucks to access the Port, the development , made Government to ask the Team to ensure it nipped the challenge in the bud.
In its quest for solutions to all measures that will make the roads to be free, the PTT participated at ensuring the successful clearing of the trucks occupying Tin Can – Warehouse axis preparatory to the rehabilitation of that section of the Apapa- Mile 2, Oshodi Oworonshoki Expressway which is expected to be concluded this year .
What the Task Team , however did to tackle the issue of extortion, a trap it knows its lower level personnel can easily fall into , was to put series of measures in place to deter them , even as there have also been the same allegation against the Team itself by various stakeholders.
But Opeifa has continued to insist that the leadership of the Team is in no way corrupt and that no trucker should give any bribe to any of its personnel, but should rather ensure that they do the right thing , by registering for Call up and ensuring that they park their trucks in the Lillypond Truck Transit Park and be ready to go into the Port when the terminal operators call them.
The Task Team leadership has said that the operatives of the Police , and the Lagos State Traffic Management Agency(LASTMA) know that extortion carries heavy penalty, while they are aware that even as humans, when commit minor offences , they would be appropriately punished and risk being locked up for days .
Measures to Curb Compromise
To check complaints of extortion, the Team had to remove its operatives from places such as Ijora Olopa, Sifax among others where the personnel of the Team could exhibit such behavior.
It had likewise directed that the Police operatives on the Team should no longer check particulars of vehicles while it ensured that the 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 so that they would not infect others.
Not too long ,the PTT stopped the LASTMA and Police operatives from staying under tents , in the belief that , it is only when they are ‘comfortable’ under such an arrangement that people can start approaching them with a view to compromising them.So, they have been using raincoats , when rain falls
Apart from giving the operatives allowances, the PTT also gives them uniforms, boots and other tools , which they need to do their work as well as fuel their patrol vans , all to ensure that they do not have any cogent reason to be corrupt.
While the Team has more than 200 LASTMA personnel, who are part of the Task Team’s work, including the Police men manning the bridges , it has however admitted that with that large number including the Police operatives , it is indeed very difficult to keep an eye on them all , but it has asked those who have proof of extortion, to bring them forward to the Team leadership.
Many of the members of the Trucker Unions working with the Team have however described the allegations of extortion against the outfit , as being unfounded, saying they 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.
Absence of Gridlock
While Opeifa has continued to lay emphasis on the fact that most of the allegations of corruption against the Task Team have been false and tantamount to corruption fighting back against the Team , he had also insisted that those who make use of the Apapa Port and its environs on a daily basis, can vouch for the fact that the roads are relatively free now ,compared to when the Team started its work.
This is probably why the Task Team’s EVC has continued to insist that there is no longer Gridlock on the Lagos Ports Access roads , but that what exists now is the normal traffic congestion, caused by many factors including non adherence to traffic regulations, and the ongoing repairs of the roads in the Apapa environment , including the Apapa- Mile 2, Oshodi Oworonshoki Expressway among others.
Completion of Roads Repairs
However , just as some experts including the Executive Secretary/CEO of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council , Comrade Hassan Bello have said , the good works that the Task Team has been doing for some time now , would be better appreciated , when the ongoing repairs of the Apapa- Oshodi – Mile 2 Expressway is completed and by April 2021, after the Lagos Seaports must have been linked by rail.
But as suggested by stakeholders, for the Task Team to get better results from its work and completely vindicate itself against the allegation of corruption, it would need to set up a secret but trusted monitoring team that would comprise some of its operatives, who would secretly monitor the activities of its personnel and report back to the leadership , while those indicted for extortion must be punished publicly, to serve as deterrent to others.
However to achieve a freer Lagos Ports Access Roads, the Call up system , currently being operated by the Terminal Operators on behalf of the NPA, would also need to be improved upon, and subsequently upgraded to the electronic version , while there would be a need for the NPA with the support of the PTT, to ensure that Lillypond Truck Transit Park work at full capacity, to deter Trucks from parking on the roads.
Also , the work of the PTT would also be much more appreciated with better synergy between it , the NPA and Terminal Operators while the traffic congestion would also ease significantly if the NPA will acquire more Truck Transit Parks within and at the outskirts of Lagos , preferably Ogere in Ogun State for the parking purpose of Trucks coming to Lagos, and to complement that of Lillypond.