BY SEGUN AYOBOLU
BOS: APAPA, OKADA, RAIL
When he spoke on the then appalling Apapa traffic gridlock that hitherto defied all attempts at an enduring solution at the formal handing over of three new improved traffic-prone junctions along the Lagos-Expressway over a year ago, Governor Babajide Olusola Sanwo-Olu (BOS) of Lagos State sounded tentative and somewhat hesitant. In his words on that occasion, “What we are seeing is the beginning of the lasting solution we have brought to Apapa. Our appeal is that we are not out of the problem yet. Our citizens can now see that a journey that took three hours can, indeed, take between 15 and 20 minutes to commute. Everyone can now see that when we work together, indeed we can solve our problems internally. We have taken some troublesome people who are benefitting from the gridlock out of the way. We know they will want to fight back. We will not stop at anything to ensure that anybody that tries to retract the progress or wants to take us back to gridlock in Apapa will be fought against”.
Answering a question from Seun Okinbaloye in his recent interview on Channels Television, however, BOS sounded a more confident, upbeat and optimistic note as he enthused on his administration’s record in resolving one of the most notorious and intractable neighbourhood traffic, environmental, public health and urban planning conundrums in Lagos State. According to the governor on that programme, “I am looking straight into the camera and I can boldly say that I have fixed Apapa gridlock. NPA has written letters to commend us. All of the major businesses in Apapa have equally written. I get daily video recording of what is happening in Apapa. I have gotten one for today and I am sure I will get more between seven o’clock and nine o’clock, between one o’clock and three o’clock on a daily basis”.
Incidentally, having personally been held up in the horrendous Apapa traffic gridlock for hours a number of times I had avoided the area like a plague for years. Extensive enquiries however revealed that the governor is right and sanity has been restored on the highways in huge swathes of the area particularly the approaches to the ports.
On assumption of office, BOS had approached the Federal Government for the disbandment of the Presidential Task force on Apapa gridlock set up to find a lasting solution to the protracted challenge. The state government then set up a Special Traffic Management Team to take over the responsibility of restoring normalcy in Apapa. BOS is honest and modest enough to readily admit that the success recorded on the issue thus far is not a solo effort of his administration but a function of collaboration with several stakeholders including the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA), Federal Ministry of Transportation, Maritime operators, seaport unions and security agencies.
A key factor in this collaborative effort at finding solutions was the inauguration by the NPA of its Electronic Truck Call-Up system, operated by Truck Transit Park Limited (TTP), which has largely eliminated manual management of truck movement and access to and from the Lagos ports by employing technology to ease the traffic gridlock in the axis.
In a recent interview, the Special Adviser to the governor on Transportation and Chairman of Apapa Traffic Management and Enforcement Committee, Mr. Oluwatoyin Fayinka, said “Before now, for you to move a truck during the TTP time people pay as much as N150,000 to N200,000 to move a truck from Ijora-Olopa to Apapa Port because it was based on manual operations and anything that is manual has human interference”.
An official of the company responsible for operating the Electronic Truck Call-Up system, estimated that the cost of moving containers from Apapa Port to warehouses has drastically reduced by over 62.5% depending on the location of the importers’ warehouses. But has the Apapa traffic gridlock been completely solved? BOS does not pretend so. As he told Okinbaloye, “What used to take two hours, three hours, now takes 15 to 20 minutes. But what is the remainder of the problem? The Federal Government is doing the route from Sunrise in MTN from Mile 2 end and going towards Apapa. That is the portion that has not been completed. I think it is a stretch less than a kilometer. That stretch needs to be completed for you to have a complete cleanup of it”.
BOS also noted that there are still trailers on some of these roads because of some internal sabotage of the NPA’s Electronic Truck Call-Up system although the initiative has worked reasonably well. To assist the NPA with additional trailer parks to take trucks off the roads, he said the state government is building a trailer park for the agency in Orile to accommodate about 2000 trucks “and with an effective call-up system in place, trucks that have not been called up would have no business coming to Apapa”. According to the governor, “There are the little glitches we have to finalize with them, but in terms of blockages to citizens, we have done a good job”.
Indeed, the achievement of the administration in Apapa is no less momentous than the much applauded success of the Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola administration in salvaging, upgrading and transforming Oshodi from the veritable urban jungle it used to be.
As the BOS administration sustains and improves on its salvage efforts in Apapa, scores of residents and businesses that had relocated from the axis will no doubt gradually begin to return, the quality of the environment will be elevated, property values will be enhanced, new enterprises will spring up creating jobs and boosting prosperity while Apapa will once again begin to realize its hitherto trapped economic potentials to the benefit of Lagos State and Nigeria.
During the week, the BOS administration had the opportunity to appraise the impact so far of the total ban announced by the governor on 18th May, 2022, of Okada motorcycle operations in six Local Government Councils and the respective nine Local Council Development Areas under them at a Stakeholders’ Forum organized by the Ministry of Information and Strategy as well as the Ministry of Transportation with the theme: ‘Okada Ban – What Next’. This ban being enforced by the Lagos State Anti-Okada Squad in collaboration with the police and the military was in response to rampant violation of traffic regulations by the Okada riders, the high injury and death rates caused by the frequent accidents of the motorcycles on the highways as well as the widespread implication of the Okadas in criminal activities across the state.
Speaking on the effects of the Okada ban in the affected areas on the Channels Television interview referred to earlier, BOS had said: “Not only are we seeing a drop in issues around security, traffic, robberies and so on, we do not see people maimed or limbs being cut in hospitals again. These were things that terminated people’s lives unexpectedly. Therefore, we have seen tremendous improvements in that area. In terms of rate of mortality in the last two months, at the peak of it, we were seeing about 550 Okada related accidents per month in January-February. Now, it is down to 100 direct accidents that we have seen from our hospitals. It has significantly gone down”. Participants at the Stakeholders’ Forum, which included traditional rulers, residents and Community Development Associations among others, unanimously agreed that the ban had been positive and beneficial and urged that it should be extended to other parts of the state.
A communique issued at the end of the event stated that “The enforcement of the ban should be sustained to ensure that the gains of the ban are not reversed. The pockets of riders still found operating on forbidden routes, especially highways, should be arrested and made to face the consequences of their actions. The Lagos State Government should enforce a total ban on Okada to further improve safety and security in Lagos”. It was obviously in accordance with the public mood and sentiments that the government has extended the ban to additional four Local Government Areas and six Local Development Areas in the State.
Speaking on television this week, the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr.Gbenga Omotosho, said the former Okada riders were being encouraged to undergo training in various trades in the 19 Skills Acquisition and Vocational Training Centres across the state after which they will be empowered and equipped to set up small businesses as part of alternative means for them to earn a living.
It will be recalled that last year BOS had launched 500 units of locally assembled First and Last Mile seven and eleven- Seater buses (FLM) for deployment to 286 community routes in the state as alternative means of transportation to Okada. The fleet which comes with a premium insurance cover on the lives of passengers and drivers is to be gradually increased to 5000 buses ultimately. And according to the Managing Director of the Lagos State Ferry Services (LAGFERRY), Mr. Abdoulbaq Ladi Balogun, the BOS administration has invested heavily in water transportation over the last three years in accordance with the modal transportation component of its THEMES agenda.
Its efforts in this regard include the procurement of 15 state-of-art boats to enhance water transportation in the state bringing the total fleet to 20 operating daily across 14 routes in all divisions within the state, aggressive dredging of the waterways, removal of wreckages along the coastline, construction and rehabilitation of terminals/jetties to open new areas to water transportation and investment in security and safety equipment through the construction of Real-Time Command and Control Centres to safeguard the waterways and ensure quick emergency response. Of course, this is work in progress as so much still needs to be done to eliminate incidences of boats capsizing and lives being lost on the state’s waterways.
Also this week, BOS personally flagged off the laying of the last track beam (T-beam), which signals the final phase of the journey towards the actualization of the 27km Lagos Blue Line Rail Mass Transit at the Marina station of the rail project. The governor announced that the Blue Line, which will run from Lagos Marina-Orile Iganmu-Mile 2 – Okokomaiko and ultimately down to Badagry will commence commercial shuttles in January 2023 while the Red Line started from scratch by the BOS administration and which will run from Agbado to Lagos Marina will come on stream later in the first quarter of next year. The governor also said that the state government would soon reveal feasibility studies on four new rail lines that are already in the rail master plan that produced the Blue and Rail Lines.
As the Commissioner for The Environment noted in his contribution on an online platform recently, “Asiwaju Tinubu designed seven rail lines for Lagos in 2005 and I was a member of his cabinet as well as a member of the committee that designed it including the present governor. First was a cabinet team sent to three South American countries that came back and we decided through modifications that Lagos needed what we saw. Out of our committee came seven rail lines out of which Fashola who succeeded him and a member of the team at that time started the Blue Line. And Sanwo-Olu who was also a member of the team started the Red Line. The Green Line is for Lekki corridor all the way to Epe and from Epe to connect the Purple Line to Ikorodu”. Surely, under BOS, Lagos continues her steady and steadfast match towards her rendezvous with her historic destiny as a model, smart African megacity.