…Identify concession of ports as root of the problem
…Original plan of the port tampered with
…We’re helpless — NPA
WHILE the Mile Two/Berger/Tin Can axis of the Oshodi-Apapa Expressway still remains a no-go-area for motorists and other road users on account of the continued invasion of tankers and other articulated trucks, accusing fingers are being pointed at those perceived as being responsible for the problem.
Though many have chosen to blame truck drivers for the development due to their penchant for parking indiscriminately on roads and bridges, other sources perceived as being equally culpable have been identified as the blame game goes on.
In the fore-front of this blame game are stakeholders in the maritime industry who said both the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, and the Bureau of Public Enterprise, BPE, are majorly culpable for the chaotic traffic situation which they said is a fall out of the concessioning of the nation’s terminals to private operators in 2006.
Reaping from traffic congestion
Curiously the NPA is also accused of reaping from the chaotic traffic around the ports as it collects berthing dues from the owners all ships coming into the nation’s ports. Due to the corresponding delay in discharging the affected vessels, they are forced to stay longer at the ports and also anchor outside the waters. And the longer they stay the more the traffic congestion in the ports area and beyond.
In the same vein, Vanguard gathered some shipping companies as well as terminal operators smile to the bank daily by slamming demurrages on importers and their agents as the traffic log-jam continues. Unfortunately, port users continue to bear the brunt of the resulting traffic congestion around the port area for no fault of theirs.
A remarkable case in point is a container shipped into the country on June 17, 2018 by Hapag Lloyd Shipping with all charges and duties paid for, including fee for the transfer of the containers to SCOA terminal at Kirikiri town. When Vanguard visited the port penultimate week, the consignment was yet to be transferred while demurrages from both sides have continued to grow.
An agent, Nicholas Uzodima, told Vanguard that his container was brought in over a month ago with all the charges and duties paid, yet he cannot take delivery of the consignment. According to him, three days after the arrival of a consignment, the importer is expected to start paying N3,500 and after seven days it graduates to N7,000 and then N10,000 after 14 days.
But responding on behalf of NPA, Assistant General Manager, AGM, in charge of Corporate Communications, Isa Suwaid, that it is true that they collect berthing charges for as long as each vessel stays at its berth but they do not deliberately delay ships in order to collect more charges.
On whether they give concession to affected ship owners, Suwaid said he was not aware, noting thus: “Of course, if a vessel berths at our port we have to collect our berthing charges, but I can assure you that delay on berthing or discharge of vessels is never deliberate. As a responsible corporate citizen we should not be seen to be deliberately delaying a ship that berths because we want to collect more revenue.”
Concession of ports
Most stakeholders are also of the view that the concession of the ports in 2006 contributed significantly to the present problem. For this reason they are blaming the NPA and the Bureau of Public Enterprises, BPE, for being directly involved in the process leading to the concession of the terminals and for not advising government appropriately on operations of the ports. They explained that before the concession, there was a space made available for truck drivers to park within the ports in Apapa which had a capacity to hold between 2,000 and 3,000 trucks.
Era of port reforms
This, they explained, kept trucks off the roads. But after the exercise, truckers were left to their own devises and were forced to use whatever available spaces they found convenient for parking until they were allowed into the ports. In an interview with Vanguard on the issue, Chairman of Association of Maritime Truck Owners, AMATO, Remi Ogungbemi, affirmed that the problem of trucks congesting the port gate started during the era of port reforms. He said that in clear disregard to the importance of trucks in the port activities, most spaces that served as truck terminals were taken away and given to concessionaires.
In his words: “From my point of view, the gridlock started years ago from the ports. It only became noticeable in recent time and has since affected almost every sector of human endeavour, a situation that has nearly grounded most businesses within the ports and environ.
“One of the causes of Apapa gridlock is the fact that the original plan of the port was tampered with in the sense that the designated places that were provided for trucks have been cancelled for reasons best known to the government and truck drivers were chased to various uncomfortable locations.
Meeting of all stakeholders
“The designated places were converted to other business uses; also, cargo ships that were to bring goods to Nigeria were diverted to neighbouring countries. That is, the goods meant for Nigeria were being diverted to neighbouring countries. Thank God for the military era when former Head of State, General Olusegun Obasanjo, directed the ports management that on no condition should cargoes be diverted and that they should provide space for the cargoes. He called for a meeting of all stakeholders to remedy the situation; unfortunately that was the genesis of the gridlock as enough space was not provided for berthing.
“Another important factor is that the concessionaires fenced all the available spaces, making it difficult for trucks to park and the only option is to make use of the access roads against the interest of the trucks, tankers and their owners. Concessioning compounded everything. Concessionaires barricaded everywhere and trucks could no longer maneouvre 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.
Way out: The electronic call-up system
On the possible way out of the problem, he said: “The trucks come from all parts of the country and it is the responsibility of the ports management to provide truck terminals so that the trucks are completely off the road. Apart from this, modern technologies should be introduced to the ports. An example is electronic call-up system to inform individual truck owners, drivers and clearing agents about the date and time of loading. This will regulate the loading order to know how many trucks are to be attended to at any given time.
“On our own part, we have done a presentation to the Shippers Council, the Lagos State government, NPA and other relevant authorities. We have acquired and sand-filled a space at Ilu-Eri in Ijora to host 600 trucks; unfortunately this was converted to a low-cost housing estate. When the Ijora project flopped, we acquired another space at Orile to host 1,000 trucks. It is a former bonded terminal but the owners want to sell it outrightly but we don’t have the funding capacity. The government can acquire this and give us on hire purchase”.
In the same vein, the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, NUPENG, also has reason to blame the NPA for the persistent gridlock. 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 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 others 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 roads 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.
NPA’s response: But while the management of the NPA has been hesitant 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 order which was contained in a statement signed by Abdullahi Goje, the Authority’s General Manager, Corporate and Strategic Communication, 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.
Effective call-up system
The statement added thus: “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”.
The NPA recently reiterated this position. And not too long ago, it had reportedly issued a seven-day 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.
Speaking on the alleged culpability of the NPA with regards 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.