By Oboh Agbonkhese

Sharing roads with container-laden trucks is a constant source of worry to motorists. In Lagos, where Oshodi-Apapa Expressway leads to the ports, truckers constitute authorities unto themselves, and chaos is the result. So when Chief Chris Orode talks of rebranding the trucking business, everyone should listen and hope. In 2005, when the Maritime Organisation of West and Central Africa, MOWCA, decided to set up a specialised bank for the sub-sector, Orode headed the team that toured 17 of the 25 MOWCA countries.

The chartered accountant’s 19 years experience in the Maritime Shippers’ Council came to bear. His team’s feasibility study  impressed the organisation. The headquarters was to be located in Nigeria and former President Umaru Yar’Adua ordered the then Transport Minister, Dr. Abiye Sekibo, to ensure the bank takes off.  That was in February 2009. The bank has remained on paper only, due to what Orode says is “the Nigerian factor,” while billions of naira the United Nations Trade and Development, UNTAD, Code assures on such a venture is lost to capital flight. And he has been consulting for Association of Maritime Truck Owners, AMATO, since February 4, 2011.

It looks like the Federal and Lagos State governments have given up on regulating truckers.

General traffic rules still apply. The Federal Government, through the Ministry of Transport, is thinking of giving the mandate to a body to restore sanity at the ports. For now, it is an all-comers’ affair. We all travel abroad and see the orderliness in ports. Here, it is terrible.

*Chris Orode
*Chris Orode

Who is guilty?

The authorities, over the years, have not deemed it fit to regulate trucking. This should not be so. For instance, if you send Vehicle Inspection Officers, VIO, after these trucks, virtually all of them will be impounded. Over 80 percent of the trucks are in bad shape. Nobody seems bordered.

This sub-sector is peculiarly private sector-driven. But most of these truckers do not have the financial backing to acquire good trucks. A trucker should have a comfort zone, but since he is not sure of how many trips he can make in a week with the bad truck, he cannot prepare a business plan that can convince a banker to invest.

Who takes the blame for these bad trucks getting into Nigeria?

It is just the way we do business in Nigeria; bribery and corruption. The money that would have gone into improving the business is used for under-the-table transactions.  Before a trucker gets to the loading point, he has spent about half of the profit he is going to make.

Now, for how long will trucking continue in this format?

For a little while more. AMATO is rebranding the business.

Rebranding? That word. How?

In February this year, the Minister of Transport organised a meeting with stakeholders in the business. The purpose was for all to table their challenges, and then he gave one month for everyone to come up with what the government can do to solve these problems. In March we reconvened. But before the meeting started, an investor, Multi Trade Ltd., approached AMATO with a wonderful proposal: provision of a 5,000-capacity truck park and 2,000 new Mack trucks for AMATO members on a long term hire purchase plan. 2,000 to start with.

When the proposal was presented at the meeting, it was applauded and all interested truckers were to register with AMATO as the platform from accessing the facility. Part of the decisions reached at that meeting was that truckers should professionalise and consolidate.

The next day, I, as AMATO’s consultant, went to see things for myself. I saw the documents and the site. Aulic Ltd. holds the concession to Trade Fair Complex, but was thinking of what to do with an expanse of land until Multi Trade came into the picture. So MultiAulic manages the space.

How far has development gone on the land and truck deal?

Ninety percent on both. Right now, 120 new trucks are ready to roll out. What we are doing is to discuss with the Federal and Lagos state governments on how work on the Lagos-Badagry Expressway, at least to the Complex’s point, can be fast tracked. Secondly, the present entry and exit points in the complex cannot be used by trucks. New ones will be created.

As soon as these are taken care of, we will kick off. AMATO has sent messages to all stakeholders, intimating them of the details of the coming rebranding of trucking business in Nigeria.

Now, what are the indices of this rebranding?

Everything will be e-transaction. This will render the man that collects N5,000 before allowing a truck into the ports irrelevant.  A call up system between the ports and Multi-Aulic truck terminal will be used to determine the number of trucks that moves at any given time. Apart from regulating movement between the terminal and the ports, movement from the ports to destinations will also be regulated.

Furthermore, the Federal Government is building a transit terminal. Again, drivers will be given reorientation, and any truck under this scheme will carry a Multi Trade-AMATO sticker and tracker. The trucks will be arriving in batches of 200 and owners of very old trucks will be the first beneficiaries of the new ones. Gradually, we will arrive at the point where only road-worthy trucks will ply our roads.

AMATO is working with the Federal Road Safety Commission, FRSC; Lagos State Traffic Management Authority, LASTMA, the Police and VIO. So one day you will wake up to see the chaos occasioned by trucks gone. Even the Minister of Transport, Idris Umar, was overwhelmed with what he saw on ground.

With this kind of layout, the ports will be the real transit base it ought to be and not warehouses. Goods should not exceed one week at the ports. There are other companies in Apapa whose logistics are impeccable. So we can do it.

But there seem to be dissenting tunes from some transport unions.

If you mean the Joint Council of Seaport Truckers, JCOST, it is a body that is convened by all truckers’ associations when there is an issue to address.  AMATO carried members of Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria, RTEAN, and National Association of Road Transport Owners, NARTO, along. At least, those that ply the ports. In fact, there was a Memorandum of Understanding, MoU. There was also a joint press conference.

The responses were good until some “big boys” outside Lagos felt left out. That was when the “crisis” began. Right now, the MoU is not worth the paper it was written on. It has been jettisoned.  Whoever wants to benefit from the rebranding process must register with AMATO.

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