Isaac Omoefe, a commercial motorcyclist, lives in fear of dying a horrible death daily. He goes out every day hoping it won’t be his last. He works along Mile 2 – Apapa Port route, transporting passengers through a section of the route along the Oshodi/Apapa Expressway. That section of the road, from Berger Yard to First Gate bus stop, is currently in such a bad condition that only motorcycles, popularly known as ‘okada’, and trucks, which ferry heavy containers to and from the port, are able to ply the road. Normal vehicles, including commercial buses, are not using the road at the moment.
According to PUNCH: Omoefe highlighted the perilous nature of movement on that route after our correspondent, who was heading to Apapa, admonished him to drive carefully as the motorcycle skidded and lurched on the uneven, potholes and ditches-infested, muddy, flooded ground.
“Any okada rider can die at any moment on this road; our passengers could also suffer the same fate. I’m afraid every day, knowing death can come anytime on this road. These trucks that are carrying containers can fall anytime, without notice, and if you are unlucky, it could land on you. If the truck or the container falls on you, you are not likely to survive it,” he said.
“Many okada riders and passengers have died after a truck or a container fell on them on this road. Even yesterday (Monday, July 1, 2019), a truck and the container it was carrying fell on an okada rider and his passenger – both of them died on the spot. Trucks and their containers fall on this road every day.”
“There is no other work for me to do, and if I stay at home, who will give me money? When you have responsibilities you have to work no matter the risks involved. Any human being will die when it is time, and besides, some people sit at home and death still meet them there,” the okada man added when our correspondent asked why so many okada riders plied the road, despite the apparent risks involved.
According to Omoefe, thousands of okada riders are operating on the route, which stretches all the way from Kirikiri to Apapa Wharf. Our correspondent could not confirm the veracity of the figure, but hundreds of aggressive, determined commercial motorcyclists could be seen traversing the area like a swarm of bees.
Omoefe, with PUNCH correspondent on board, was still talking as he navigated the treacherous route when, without any notice, the horde of advancing okada riders – who were coming from the two opposite directions, from Mile 2 to Apapa, and from Apapa to Mile 2 – and their pensive passengers suddenly stopped on their tracks as, all of a sudden, one of the numerous container-laden trucks on the dilapidated road fell off with a heavy thud on the flooded, pot-hole filled ground. Dirty, muddy, smelly water splashed in all directions, drenching the okada riders and their passengers, most of who let out loud gasps of despair, fear and excitement. It was a close shave – the truck and its container did not fall on anybody. Some passengers, annoyed that muddy shower had soiled their clothes yet again, vented their frustration with angry, indignant outbursts. But they were all lucky – the truck and the container it was carrying could have crushed anyone of them at that moment.
Scenarios like this have become normal for okada riders, and their passengers, on the Berger Yard to First Gate section of the Mile 2 – Apapa Road, leading to Apapa Port. Had it been that the road was in a good condition, it would have been a very short, convenient route to the port. But, due to the deplorable state of the road, the distance, which, ordinarily, should not be more than a 10-minute drive, cannot be covered in less than 30 minutes, with motorcycles. With a larger vehicle, motorists could spend the whole day there. Parts of the road have broken down completely, with ditches and potholes – some as large as ponds – littered at several points along the route. To make matters worse, the motorcycles practically drove on heavy, sharp stones, which were scattered inside the water-filled holes. Unable to decipher the nature of the ground beneath the flooded potholes, the okadas bumped and ground, wobbling and fumbling, as they went on their way. And besides the ditches and potholes, large portions of the road were submerged in dirty, flowing mud.
Alas, the okadas had to share the road with container-laden trucks, which, despite the deplorable conditions, still made use of the road to and fro the Apapa Port.
While on the road, our correspondent observed hundreds of okada riders ferrying passengers on the route. It was a rainy day and many of the motorcyclists and passengers were wearing raincoats made from nylon materials. The raincoats, which came in different colours and shades, added to the unusually large congregation of okada riders and passengers on the road, were indeed a spectacular sight. Apart from trucks and okadas, no other form of automobile was present on that section of the road. Motorists, including commercial buses, went through a longer, irregular route that traversed several bus stops to get to Apapa Port. But passengers, particularly businessmen, who would not want to be delayed, preferred the shorter, direct trip with the okadas. Most of the passengers would take commercial buses to Berger Yard – the end point of the ‘good’ section of the road from the Mile 2 end – from where they would then board okada to Apapa. The distance between Berger Yard and First Gate – the worst section of the road – was completely monopolised by okadas and trucks.
Some vehicles, including commercial buses and private cars, were seen on the section from First Gate to the Apapa end of the route – which was in a relatively better condition. Our correspondent observed that okada passengers coming from Mile 2 usually disembarked at any point from First Gate to Apapa Port, while those going from Apapa Port to Mile 2 mostly got down around Berger Yard. Also, vehicles were seen plying the section of the road between First Gate and Liverpool Bridge, which is located around the port. However, despite the relatively better condition of the road on that section, vehicles using the route still ran the risk of container-laden trucks falling on them. In the latest incident on that section, on Saturday, June 15, 2019, a 40-foot container fell on two vehicles. Fortunately, no life was lost in that incident as the there were no occupants in the two cars. Needless to say, the cars were totally destroyed.
Riding dangerously on Mile 2 – Apapa Road
Commuting with okada between Mile 2 and Apapa Port is indeed a very perilous undertaking, as our correspondent found out during the round trip from Mile 2 to Apapa, and from Apapa back to Mile 2.
On both legs of the journey, container-carrying trucks fell on the road, a development which caused severe panic, and also delayed movement for several minutes, as the okadas plotted and navigated ways to wriggle through the limited space. It was not unusual for passengers to get down from the okada at some really bad spots – so that the okada rider could physically lift the motorcycle over the location, for the journey to continue. Generally, the okadas drove through the narrow gaps between moving, and stationary, trucks. The competitive nature of the movement of the okadas, due to the limited space, heightened the risk. But the biggest risk was posed by the container-laden trucks.
Pointing out a truck, which was lying on its side alongside the container it was carrying, Omoefe observed, “This one just fell down – it was not here when I passed this place some minutes ago.” Few metres away, another truck swayed and steadied intermittently as the container it was carrying appeared to be shift to one side. “That truck will fall any moment from now, you can see that it is already shaking,” Omoefe observed as he increased speed while driving past the vehicle. According to him, due to the crowded nature of the route – so many okadas have to make do with the limited space in between so many trucks – and the bad state of the road, motorcycles are unable to move fast enough and there is nothing to do but to hope that a container will not fall while you are within range.
“I know of so many okada riders who have died on this road after trucks fell on them. Even my friend, who used to be my roommate at Monkey village, around Kirikiri, was killed when a container fell on him about three months ago,” Omoefe further disclosed.
Interestingly, while driving past some policemen who were stationed around Trinity Police Station, which is located along the route, the okada rider, said, “Our work is even riskier than police work or the work of the military. They (police, army) have guns for protection but we are not protected in any way at all even though we face death every day. But the government does not even know that people like us exist. For me, every day I come out, it feels like going into a battle – you don’t know if you will come back home in one piece but it is only God that keeps us safe.”
It was not difficult to understand the okada rider’s grouse with men of the uniformed security agencies, particularly the police. Prodded by our correspondent, Omoefe revealed that policemen usually collected money from okada riders on the route. “They collect a lot of money from us, but they don’t bother okada people too much when there are many trucks around. They make more money from the truck drivers. Drivers of the trucks are made to pay as much as N25,000 or more before they are allowed to enter the queue to the port,” he said.
Considering the risky nature of the route, our correspondent was surprised at the large number of commercial motorcycle riders, and passengers, on the road.
Another okada rider, who identified himself as Stephen Yakubu, informed our correspondent that the route was more lucrative than most other roads.
“Normally, going by the distance, the fare for Mile 2 to Apapa Port should be N100 or so but because of the condition of the road and the risks involved, we charge N400. But when traffic is much, due to so many trucks or when it rains, the fare will go up to N500 or even as much as N700 or N800. When the situation is very bad and you see a desperate passenger, you can charge as high as N1,000,” Yakubu said.
But despite the ‘high profit’ involved, Yakubu noted that not all okada riders were willing to ply the route. According to him, it takes guts to operate on the road.
He added, “I know so many okada riders that will not get near this place, no matter the amount you offer them. It is too risky and it is not everybody that will be willing to risk their lives. Whenever you are on the road, there is a big chance that a container will fall on you. Some of our colleagues have fallen victim in the past to this so some would rather operate on different routes that are not so risky.”
Continuing, Yakubu admitted that desire for more money motivated him to operate on the road.
“On the other side of the road, you will see many okada riders that take passengers from Mile 2/Durbar junction to different parts of FESTAC. They go longer distances for N100 or N200. I used to be one of them but even then I kept thinking of the bigger fares charged on the Mile 2 to Apapa route. But then I also know of the risks involved so I was afraid. But I finally made up my mind when I observed that my colleagues on the Mile 2 to Apapa route are doing better financially than those of us playing only Mile 2/Durbar to FESTAC. At the beginning it was not easy for me but with time, I got used to it,” he said.
Another okada rider, Sunday Agu, also told our correspondent that the higher chances of making money on the Mile 2 to Apapa route attracted him to the road.
Our correspondent observed that Agu had fresh looking scars on his face and hands. He disclosed that they were from a recent injury, when he fell while dodging a falling container.
Narrating what happened, he said, “From experience, you will have an idea that a truck is going to fall because it will sway or lurch a bit before going down so that day, I was just about riding past the truck when I noticed it was about to fall. There were stationary trucks parked by the other side, I was riding between some moving trucks and when I noticed that the truck beside me was swaying, I moved to wriggle through a small space. Unfortunately, I hit my face on the side of one of the moving truck before falling down. The wounds on my hands are from stones on the floor, which were covered by mud. My passenger also sustained injuries but it would have been worse if the truck had fallen on us.”
Asked if he was not discouraged by that close shave, Agu smiled, and said, “Life is full of risks, you can’t make it if you don’t take risks.” “It is only God that protects us on this road,” he added.
Even as he was bent on continuing to risk life and limb on the treacherous route, Agu was quick to stress that the relatively ‘exorbitant’ fares charged by okada riders had nothing to do with greed.
“We are not greedy at all. Apart from the high risk, this road damages motorcycles all the time. You can’t go five trips on this road without taking your motorcycle to a mechanic to fix one problem or the other. Another thing to consider is that movement is not smooth, you can get stuck in a bad spot for a long time, a truck can fall and there will not be any way to get through, or a truck can be coming from the opposite side and you will be forced to make way for it even when there is no space for that,” Agu argued.
While our correspondent was on the road, movement was held up for over 20 minutes at a point as the okada riders waited for a truck to drive out of a cargo clearing facility by Trinity. Some other trucks were coming down from the opposite direction at the same moment, and policemen and other uniformed personnel at Trinity laboured and sweated to find a way for the truck to get through. Immediately the truck from Trinity entered the road, the okada riders dashed through a narrow gap that appeared in front of the oncoming trucks, which were also moving at the same time in order to make up for the time lost during the long delay. A passenger who is witnessing the scanario for the first time would feel the situation was a close shave – it appeared that the okadas just missed being crushed by the oncoming trucks, or smashing into each other, by the whiskers but the motorcyclists noted that what just took place was nothing out of the ordinary.
Checks by our correspondent at Trinity Police Station, and at the Apapa Port, suggested that there was no available record of the number of trucks that had fallen on the road. Also, a record of the number of deaths recorded on the road could not be obtained from the police station.
Nnamdi Emezie, a passenger who disclosed that he was used to plying the route, explained, during a chat with our correspondent, that such situations were ‘normal’.
“I no dey fear o. This is normal naa! No shaking,” Emezie retorted in pidgin English in response to observations by our correspondent.
While some passengers take the route only when necessary – maybe due to one engagement or the other – some people have no choice but to board the okadas regularly.
‘Our stressful life Apapa route to work’
Vivian Kelechi works in a financial institution which has an office along the road, just by Trinity. As her house is around Okota, Vivian has no choice but to take an okada on the route each working day.
“I have been using this road for a long time but I am still not used to the wahala (stress). There is always one issue or the other, every time. There was a day the okada carrying me fell down inside a pothole, I had bruises but what annoyed me the most was that my new suit got spoilt – I had just bought it and had not even used it before that day. But I thank God I have been safe, I have seen so many accidents, so many trucks falling and all that,” she said.
Kelechi’s colleague, who simply identified himself as Richard, said he always parked his vehicle at a friend’s place, around Mile 2 Durbar, from where he would board a commercial motorcycle to the office. Observations by our correspondent showed that many other people adopted a similar strategy.
PUNCH correspondent observed that work was going on at various sections on the road, in line with ongoing efforts by the Federal Government to clear Apapa Port and the access roads.
However, heavy equipment, such as caterpillars, deployed by the contractors at various points along the road, seem to have further compounded the situation – at such points, the okada riders even found it more difficult to get through between the trucks and heavy equipment.
Amid all the confusion, workers from the port and some transportation agencies were seen battling to remove fallen trucks and containers. One of the workers, who did not wish to be named, told our correspondent that they were also exposed to serious risks on the job. “Sometimes the vehicles burst into flames while we are evacuating them, and there have been instances where another truck will fall down even while we are still trying to remove the one that fell down earlier,” he said.
Team leader of the presidential committee on clearing of Apapa Port and access roads, Kayode Opeifa, admitted that trucks fall on the road on a daily basis. He disclosed that, on average, about four container-laden trucks fall each day.
Shedding light on challenges being encountered in ongoing moves to clear the road, Opeifa, who spoke with our correspondent, noted that the major problem with the Mile 2 – Apapa Road were the potholes at some sections. He added, “Those potholes are critical because once a truck falls down, it can take one day to remove it. You can’t push a truck that is carrying container, even if you can push the truck, you can’t carry the container. In the last one week, each rescue has taken us about four hours and we see like four trucks falling each day at different sections. Sometimes, we had to use cranes or other equipment to remove the trucks. Sometimes, we had to bring down equipment in the port to be able to move the container; and sometimes, the vehicle would cut into two. Sometimes, the tyre would deflate because of the heavy loads the vehicles are hauling as they are not road worthy.”
Indeed, from observations made by our correspondent, most of the trucks plying the road appear to be in a poor shape – they are mostly old and worn-out vehicles, a development which, added to the dilapidated nature of the road, increases the risk of breaking down.
A port worker, Muyiwa Abiodun, who told PUNCH correspondent that he usually plied the route, said ‘rickety trucks’ were largely to blame for the dilapidated condition of the road. “Even before the road became this bad, trucks were falling on the road because most of them are rickety vehicles that are in a very bad shape. When they fall, they damage the road and due to poor maintenance and other issues, over time, the road became so bad. But the truth is that a lot of the trucks that move containers to the port are very old vehicles,” Abiodun told PUNCH correspondent during a chat around First Gate.
Opeifa said plans were underway to find a solution to the issue of non-road worthy vehicles. Asked what the committee was doing to address the problem, he said, “It is part of the holistic plan, an announcement will be made as to how to address it. The Nigeria Ports Authority has done it before but out of a wish to avoid causing public disorder a lot of things were relaxed. We are going to meet with the unions and very soon an announcement will be made that certain vehicles would not be allowed beyond a certain part of the road.”
While some of the trucks may not be road worthy, okada riders, and passengers, cannot wait for the road to be finally fixed.
PUNCH correspondent was surprised to discover that the okada riders were eager to see the road fixed, despite the fact that the absence of commercial buses and other vehicles, which was occasioned by the poor state of the road, was what made the route more lucrative than most others.
“It is true that we make more money now because the road is bad but if it is fixed nobody will suffer on this road again – both okada riders and passengers – and the danger of falling trucks and containers would be reduced. Besides, the distance from Mile 2 to Apapa is not that long; if the road is good, we will take a shorter time getting there instead of all the delays we encounter now because of the bad state of the road. We want the government to fix the road. Nobody wants to die on this route,” one of the motorcyclists said.