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Persistent Apapa gridlock: Stakeholders blame NPA, BPE

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We’re helpless — NPA

By Godwin Oritse and Godfrey Bivbere

THE prevailing chaos engendered by the continued invasion of the Mile Two/Berger/Tin Can axis of the Oshodi-Apapa Expressway by tankers, trailers and other articulated trucks has  completely crippled  traffic in the area. With the situation becoming worse by the day, questions have been raised why it persists and what the relevant authorities are doing to restore traffic sanity in the area.

A failed section of the road at Berger Cement

But while many have chosen to blame truck drivers for the development on account of their perchance to  park indiscriminately on roads and bridges, accusing fingers have also been pointed at other sources perceived as also contributing to the problem.

In the fore front of this blame game are stakeholders in the maritime industry who said both the Nigerian Ports Authroity, NPA and the Bureau of Public Enterprise, BPE, are culpable for the traffic situation which they said is a fall out of the concesioning of the nation’s terminals to private operators in 2006.

The stakeholders are of the view that both government agencies were directly involved in the process leading to the concession of the terminal and therefore should have advised government appropriately on the operations of the ports. They explained that before the concession, there was a space made available for truck drivers to park within the port in Apapa port, with the capacity to hold between 2,000 and 3,000 trucks.

This, they explained, kept trucks off the roads. But after the exercise, truckers were left to their fate and were forced to use whatever available space they see for parking until they are allowed into the ports.

In an interview with Vanguard on the issue, Chairman of Association of Maritime Truck Owners, AMATO, Remi Ogungbemi, said the problem of truck congesting the port gate started during the era of port reforms. In clear disregard to the importance of trucks in the port activities, most spaces that served as truck terminals were taken and given to concessionaires.

According to him: “Concession compounded everything. Concessionaires barricaded everywhere and trucks could no longer maneuver when going to load or discharge consignments.”

Lamenting the dearth of modern truck terminals in the country, Ogungbemi said trucks play a vital role in the logistics chain and deserve adequate consideration as they must have a place from where truckers could be called to load cargo at the port.

In the same vein,  the Nigeria  Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, NUPENG,  has reason to blame the  NPA for the persistent gridlock, while accusing  the management of the Authority of showing indifference to the gridlock which has shut down traffic in the area.  According to the Lagos zonal Chairman of NUPENG, Mr. Tayo  Aboyeji,  NPA knew what to do to ease the gridlock, both temporarily and permanently, but had refused to  do the needful for reason best known to it.

“We are tired of saying the same thing over and over again without action.  I have told you before and I still maintain that tankers you see on that road are trapped on their way to the tank farms. Gone are those days when tanker drivers came from the far North or South-South to Lagos to lift products. Today, most depots outside Lagos are working, so tanker drivers outside Lagos have no reason to come to Lagos to lift fuel.

“But those you see in the gridlock are simply trapped. The management of NPA is solely responsible for the gridlock. It has little to do with road construction or bad road. I can tell you that  even if the road construction is finished today, the gridlock will not ease. If you like, construct 10 lanes, it will not solve anything. The NPA knows what to do. The Lagos Ports are congested. Until they are decongested, we will continue to live with it.

“Why has NPA failed to ensure the maximum use of other ports  like Warri, Calabar, Onne, and Port Harcourt? Why has NPA refused to ensure that shipping companies and other have holding bays to take in used containers? Why has NPA refused to sanction shipping companies flouting directives on holding bays? What about the terminal operators, what has NPA done to ensure that they take-in used containers?  Most of the trucks you see on the road are carrying used containers they are returning to the ports. NPA does not care about the suffering those living and doing businesses on that road are passing through daily.  It is very sad and unfortunate. Nigeria should hold NPA responsible,” Aboyeji said.

But while the management of the NPA has not been forthcoming in explaining the true position of things, it will be recalled that the Authority had last year declared that effective  November 23, 2017, all shipping companies must house their empty trucks at their holding bays outside of the port location pending the time for vessel loading.

The ordered which was contained in a statement signed by Abdullahi Goje, the Authority’s General Manager, Corporate and Strategic Corporation, also demanded that  trucks called up to access the port must maintain a single lane profile as designated by the new traffic management and enforcement team, comprising the Police, Federal Road Safety Corps, FRSC, Lagos State Transport Management Agency, LASTMA, the Nigerian Navy, the National Civil and Security Defence Corps, NSCDC and NPA security officials.

The statement added further: “Tramping trucks milling around in search of customers within the port area will be impounded by the inter-agency traffic management and enforcement team and dealt with in accordance with the law. The Authority, as part of its commitment to the decongestion of traffic in the Apapa area, will advertise for the licensing of trailer parks as a way of creating holding bay facilities for truckers.

“In addition, the NPA will deploy an effective call-up system which will link the port gate with the trailer parks facility and as such, trucks will only be called up at the appropriate time. The Authority reiterates its commitment to the Federal Government policy on ease of doing business and will employ every legal means to ensure that there is sanity on the roads leading to the ports”.

Also, not too long ago, the NPA had reportedly issued a seven days ultimatum to shipping companies and terminal operators to provide holding bays for their empty containers. It was an order the stakeholders refused to comply with, thus worsening the traffic gridlock in the area.

But while efforts to speak with the Managing Director of NPA, Hadiza Bala Usman, proved abortive, the Assistant General Manager, Corporate and Strategic Communications, Ibrahim Suwaid, had responded. He told Vanguard that it is not true that NPA gave an ultimatum to the shipping companies and terminal operators to provide holding bays but only advised them to do so.

Terminal  operators

According to him: “It was not an ultimatum, they were only advised to use their own holding bay. I remember there was the issue about Measkline then, when it was reported that they have been given an ultimatum to leave the country. We said no, they were only encouraged to use their holding bay.”

On what they are doing concerning the disregard for the directive to the shipping companies and terminal operators to use their own holding bays, Suwaid said he was going to connect Executive Director Marine and Operations whether they have a response to that.

Speaking on the alleged culpability of the NPA to the traffic gridlock in Apapa and environs, the Executive Director, Maritime Industry Advocacy Initiative, MAIN, Mr. Sesan Onileimo told Vanguard that to the best of his knowledge, the Nigerian Ports Authority has no direct involvement in road traffic into the ports anywhere in the country, Lagos ports inclusive.

“I, however, know that the Agency is aware that any disruption of free flow of traffic along the Apapa corridors, will invariably affect outflow of cargoes already cleared from the ports. It is for this reason that the Nigerian Ports Authority is facilitating the rehabilitation of the roads leading into the ports.

“I am aware that as recent as last week the Managing Director, Hadiza Bala Usman, met with the Nigerian Association of Road Transport Owners where she updated the association on the activities of a Task Team which comprises of the Navy, NPA, the Police and others, towards clearing the two arteries into Apapa of vehicular traffic.

The essence of the task team which is obvious on the two approaches to Lagos ports,    is to ensure that, while the various palliatives and reconstructions are going on, there is minimal disruption of inflow and outflow of traffic into and out of Apapa. You will agree that approaching Apapa from Western Avenue is now hitch-free.

We can also see that the Task Team is working on clearing articulated vehicles from the Mile2 axis of the approach to Tin Can port.

Statutorily, neither the NPA, nor the  Federal Ministry of Transportation nor any of the agencies under the ministry is directly involved in road traffic management. The involvement of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council is to the extent of its responsibility as the economic regulator of the ports.

Statutorily, issues of road construction or maintenance are in the purview of the Ministry of Works, Housing and Power.

The various road  haulage service providers are under the various unions; mainly NARTO and NUPENG.

 

 

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