• Nigerian Navy’s 24-hour operation enters third week
By Tope Templer Olaiya, Assistant Lagos City Editor and Sunday Odita
After a long drawn battle between government and articulated truck drivers for the control of access roads to the Apapa and Tin Can ports, sanity has been momentarily restored to the once troubled Mile 2-Apapa-Wharf-Liverpool-Marine Beach-Ijora corridor.
This long-sought relief came after the Nigerian Navy midwifed a task force, with the combined commitments of all stakeholders operating in the area.
The taskforce codenamed Operation Gbale, a Yoruba word for sweeping, was instituted by the Flag Officer Commanding (FOC), Western Naval Command, Rear Admiral Ilesanmi Alade, to proffer lasting solution to the traffic gridlock that has kept Apapa on lockdown for weeks.
This was after the command had identified the traffic problem as a great risk to security agencies, particularly in the light of the recent twin explosions that rocked Creek Road in Apapa.
Rising to the challenge, Operation Gbale, a 24-hour daily operation was launched to decongest the area and minimize the risks for any acts of terror.
Deploying the Nigerian Navy Ship (NNS) Beecroft and Wey, led by Beecroft Commanding Officer, Commodore Ovenseri Uwadiae, to the flash points, the naval personnel immediately set about riding the area of recalcitrant tanker drivers without excessive use of force.
The operation, which started in July 10, has according to Alade, achieved its aim. “Operation Gbale was instituted for the purpose of clearing the traffic gridlock in Apapa and environs. Recently, a lot of people have attested to the fact that the operation is a huge success. You will recall Governor Babatunde Fashola visited thrice and attested to the fact that life is getting better at Apapa.
“The truth is we are not completely there yet, we have to continue what we are doing. With all the efforts and measure put in place now, we believe it will get better. What we are doing is to partner with stakeholders. As a matter of fact, my duty is not to clear roads, but because of the security implication of what is happening in Apapa, we had to take action.
“For now, we are on the road, the operation is still active and until we call it off, my men will still be on the road. We might not be there forever, but we are already inculcating the real sense of responsibility in the tanker drivers so that they can begin to do things the right way before we ultimately withdraw our men,” he said.
Attesting to the improved situation at Apapa, Lagos State Commissioner for Transport, Comrade Kayode Opeifa, told The Guardian: “We are happy the situation is improving daily, especially in relation to traffic management, which is our own responsibility.
“The truck and drivers are cooperating to the best of their ability. I was just told that it took a motorist 30 minutes from FESTAC to pass through Apapa to Victoria Island, even with the condition of the road, which is terribly bad. If the road is okay, the journey should not be more than 15 minutes.”
On Tuesday, the Minister of State for Defence, Senator Musiliu Obanikoro, went on an inspection tour of the area, which was cleared of articulated trucks.
Moving in company of the FOC, Real Admiral Alade and some stakeholders, which included Mr. Kayode Animashaun, representing Apapa residents; Ananie Anderson, Assistant Manager, Operations, Nigerian Association of Road Transport Owners (NARTO); and officials of the Road Transport Employees Association of Nigeria (RTEAN), the minister, who toured the entire stretch of the Apapa corridor, commended the FOC for the restoration efforts of Operation Gbale.
In a chat with newsmen, he said decongestion of the area is almost completely done. While work needs to be sped up on the road rehabilitation, plans are already underway to relocate tank farms away from Apapa-Oshodi expressway.
“For sometime now, we have been looking at the security implication of the road congestion here, and given the activities of Boko Haram and other elements within the society who may want to take advantage of the chaotic situation around the port, the Nigerian Navy moved in to clear the area and I am happy that so far, all the stationary trucks have been moved and a passageway have been created to pave way for smooth vehicular movement in and around the port.
“Though there is a significant socio-economic benefit from having a traffic free access in and out of the ports, but the security element is very key to us. I have been briefed by the FOC that the entire area has been broken into eight and officers have been assigned to ensure free flow of traffic, which has eased the situation here in the last two weeks.
“Decongestion is almost completely done, though we have issues with the road, which is affecting the movement of traffic; but I am aware Julius Berger is already working on some palliatives to bring relief to road users.
“This significant improvement in terms of vehicular movement in and out the port is largely due to the efforts of the Nigerian Navy. I am also happy with the way they have engaged all the stakeholders, because sometimes, when you do a solo effort, you run into a lot of difficulty and resistance from some quarters,” he noted.
The minister added that there is need for the Lagos State government to provide a permanent holding bay for trucks, as the previous one used by the truck drivers, which is the Asiwaju Bola Tinubu Truck Terminal, is no longer conducive due to the expansion on the Badagry express road.
“It is when we have that we can have a radio link between the port and the stakeholders, so that whenever the port is ready to have them, there will be a radio communication and they can now proceed to go in. That, we cannot afford not to do as quickly as possible,” he said.
For Animashaun, the lasting panacea to the suffocating traffic in Apapa is improvement of the infrastructure, particularly road network, understanding and synergy among agencies of government operating in Apapa. “Managing all these issues is key to a robust relationship among all the agencies because the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and other agencies cannot operate if the trucks cannot get here,” he noted.