“It is not easy for anyone to stay on the road for so long and not have time for his family, no time for any social or other activity,” says Sulaimon, a truck driver whose vehicle has been stuck on queue on the road to Apapa, Nigeria’s premier port.
“So, it’s very difficult for us, but no one knows this. We don’t have time to live like normal human beings. Where you are in traffic is where you live, bathe, eat, and pee. Majority of the drivers may have a bad health because of the environment. So they are exposed to diseases. But there’s nothing we can do as we must feed our families,” he says.
Despite the reconstruction and opening of portions of the Apapa-Wharf Road, which was expected to ease vehicle movement into and out of the port, the constant gridlock which has been a troubling narrative to commuters on the road has not eased up. Rather, there seem to be more tankers and articulated trucks on the roads, impeding traffic flow and posing security threats as usual.
Aside from insufficient holding bays, a new policy by the management of Nigeria Port Authority (NPA) which orders all trucks to first go to a shipping company’s loading bay from where they would be called into the port adds to the list of problems.
In spite of efforts by the Lagos State government to find palliatives to the situation, and in spite of the intervention of the Federal Government, no commendable improvement has been seen.
In the end, road users bear the brunt. Even the truck drivers are also not spared the pain felt by other road users. Yet, the truck drivers usually bear the blame as they are accused of being responsible for the bitter gridlock.
Tayo Aboyeji, zonal chairman, National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), Lagos Zone, however, said in an interview with a national daily that it was unfair for Nigerians to hold tanker drivers responsible when the blame should go to NPA. The tanker drivers are victims as well.
BDSUNDAY findings show that the life of an articulated truck driver cannot be envied at all as he tries to find his way into and out of the port. For tanker drivers, the situation is unbearable because they spend the most part of their lives on the road, cut off from their families and every other activity.
“We spend over one month in traffic. I live in Ibadan, and I hardly see my family members. Even if I want to see them, it’s once in a month, and I spend just two days with them because the truck will still be on the road most times,” says 28-year-old Dauda Rilwan, who has three years of experience on the job.
Rilwan, who is married with a three-year-old daughter, says he is still on the job because he has nothing else to do and does not want to be seen as idle.
“The suffering is too much, but you don’t want a situation where you’d just sit down and not do anything, that is why we are doing this job,” he says, squeezing a sachet of Chelsea gin down his throat and dragging on a stick of cigarette.
Personal hygiene is also a problem, according to some truck drivers who spoke to BDSUNDAY. They say that taking care of themselves – having their bath, eating, sleeping and going to toilet – is extremely difficult and those who manage to do these things do so at the risk of their trucks.
Behind the driver’s seat of Toheeb Afolabi’s truck is a bench-like structure. It is a makeshift bed. On it are three old and dirty oil paint buckets stacked on each other, a mosquito net covered in dust, and ragged clothes hanging on a loose rope tied from one end of the truck to the other. This is where Afolabi, 22, lives in traffic and tries to protect himself from the malignant elements that prowl day and night.
“There is nothing I can do because I don’t have a house in Lagos, so I sleep in my motor. I have everything I can use to take care of myself and cover myself because of mosquitoes,” says Afolabi, who hails from Ibadan.
“I have my bath at night because by then, there won’t be any movement. We bathe outside in the open and defecate in a nylon bag and throw it somewhere,” he says.
Not only Afolabi, but other truck drivers live the same way. They have the same bedlike structure, either constructed by them underneath the truck using a net or built inside the truck. Bathing is usually done in the deep of the night. Sometimes, bathing is skipped entirely depending on several factors.
Olushina Gbolahan, who is based in Osun State, says he goes home to his family only once in two months. The frail-looking 47-year-old says life as a truck driver is a very difficult one.
“There is no other place to sleep except in your truck or on top of the bonnet or inside the container. To bathe sometimes, we use a public toilet and pay ₦50. But you can’t leave your family without feeding them, that’s why we are doing this job,” he says.
It is not uncommon to see human excreta littering the roads and gutters where the trucks are parked. Also, the surroundings give off malodorous emissions owing to the excreting activities of these drivers.
“Forget about having your bath. I have my bath before coming to Lagos, because I know once I get to Lagos, I won’t bathe till I go back. This is a problem to me because when you look at it, I could stay for weeks without bathing,” says Sharibu Lawal from Katsina State.
“We sleep inside the motor and mosquitoes disturb us. Even to urinate is a problem. Sometimes, I stay three days without urinating because there is no space to do it, and sometimes we have to walk a kilometre in search of a place to do it because the security will disturb you if you urinate indiscriminately,” he adds.
Government should open other ports
Truck drivers say the government should do something about the traffic because of their daily ugly experiences. They say government should intervene by opening up other ports to ease the congestion in the Lagos ports.
“Please, if they can help us open other ports, then this hold-up will reduce. The Port Harcourt port, Calabar port are all closed, only Lagos is working, and everyone in Nigeria comes to Lagos,” says Gbolahan.
This plea is not the first. In fact, stakeholders have been encouraging government to think along this line, spreading all the economic benefits on the tables, but it seems to have been ignored.
Rilwan insists that government’s laxity to ameliorate the situation and ease their pain is politically motivated, saying he knows “they have a hand in what is happening”.
For Lawal, he can only hope and pray that things get better.
“We are praying to God to intervene through the leaders. Drivers have families. Some drivers have two wives and seven children, so it’s not good to spend months outside your home without seeing them. It’s not good,” he says.