Executive Vice Chairman of the Presidential Task Team, PTT, Kayode Opeifa, recently visited the Corporate Head Office of Vanguard Newspapers, where he spoke with GODFREY BIVBERE & PROVIDENCE ADEYINKA on why the PTT is still involved in Apapa traffic management despite government’s directive, accusations of extortion, the cause of the gridlock at the port in Lagos, contribution of truckers, terminal operators and shipping lines to the traffic snarl and more. Excerpts:
LET’s start with the infamous issue of extortion
I am not going to start with extortion, let me start first by explaining that the job of the Presidential Task Team, PTT, is not to come and solve all the problems at the port. The PTT was an ad-hoc committee, it is an intervention idea to restore law and order so that the appropriate things that would follow up can have a better place to stay. One is the construction of the road, the contractor cannot construct when there is no proper traffic management, when there is no law and order in a place like Apapa.
Two, to develop a traffic management plan for trucks going in and out of the port, in such a way that trucks going in and out of the ports would not be unnecessarily hindered and also so that they will not affect the traffic situation of the other people.
Three, to develop and deploy empty containers handling policy for use of both Apapa and Tin-Can ports, because it was observed that many of the trucks on the road were carrying empty containers for days and block the road, turning it to their holding bay, depriving other citizens and other port users access to the road.
Four, to remove all stationary trucks on Lagos roads especially roads on the approach to the port. The intention here is referring to empty containers and trucks.
Why are the empty containers on the road?
When you ship a container to Nigeria, from the day you take it out of the ports, there is a moratorium for which you must return it. After that moratorium, you start paying about N10,000 to N20,000 for 20-foot, N14,000 to N30,000 for 40-foot container on a daily basis. There is a deposit you are paying in lieu of any failure on your part.
Most shippers want to get their money back or at worst want to pay more. They are supposed to take their container to the holding bay of the shipping line that brought it. At the time of clearing, the shipping line already told them where to return it; that is their holding bay. If you don’t take it to their holding bay, or you take it there, they don’t take it from you, they keep charging you. So people struggle to bring it to the port.
We have developed a traffic management plan and the centerpiece of the PTT traffic management plan is that there would be a transit park for which NPA provided— Lilipond and Tin-can transit truck pack built by the Federal Ministry of Works. The traffic management plan also says that there are other parks that can hold between three and five thousand trucks on a daily basis. Trucks should come from those parks or remain in those parks and from there NPA call up system will call the trucks into Lilipond, and from there they come into the port.
Even if you stay for weeks, you should remain in those places. By the time we put them into those places, you would have created a law and order regime. When you have a law and order regime, the system would become more efficient; that is what the PTT did within the first one month.
The empty container handling policy was done and concluded within the first 60 days, the removal of stationary trucks from on Lagos road was done within the first two weeks. The PTT delivered on those three basic responsibilities with immediate effect. After a while, you now have a situation where people who are displaced began to cause confusion: few people— not up to one percent— and those who are benefitting from the confusion.
We have those causing and those benefitting from it and those who never wanted the new system to work. They started coalescing, and the first thing they attacked was the operation of the call-up system.
The PTT is not involved in it. It is purely an NPA issue. They were implementing it in Apapa port, but they were not implementing it in Tin-can port. The Tin-can port was a difficult situation because the transit park is opposite the port and the entire road to where the transit is situated, is under construction.
What about the accusation of extortion?
There was no extortion issue in our terms of reference, but because we knew that it was a major issue before we came. We added the term of reference ourselves to remove the prospect of extortion. One of the prospects of extortion to be removed is to make sure that there is a call-up system; there is a nominated and transit park and trucks are not allowed into the port if they don’t pass through the transit park except truck that is exempted.
The stakeholders held a meeting and agreed on operational guidelines that a particular category of trucks go to Lilipond and another category comes at midnight and the stakeholders obeyed after a while. But the PTT now discovered that there are some documents in circulation talking of priority. That was burst and we said all priority must be stopped.
Only manufacturing trucks come at night or those who are working for manufacturing or those required by their terminal operators as being exigency that they need to move something out very urgent. If you follow those rules, you have removed the prospects for extortion.
What about companies like Dangote, BUA, Olams, among others?
Dangote, BUA, Olams, Flour Mills are to move at night. If they cannot move at night for any reason, they would inform them and they would be allowed during the day. But Dangote would move about 300 trucks, Flour Mills 200 trucks, Honeywell about 50, BUA about 150. If you look at it, it is about 600 and they always move within three hours.
It is when other people join them, that you create confusion or when Dangote moves before others. Because Dangote is going to Apapa while others are going to Tincan, Dangote could block them. Even at that, we have situations where some of the trucks get to their gate and their gate is not open for them. They don’t leave the road until 6a.m. There are instances like that, especially with one of them.
Then in the morning, the fish trucks would move. They are supposed to move from 5a.m to 8a.m., but if the manufacturing trucks do not enter their yard, which is not under the control of PTT, they are already in the port, then the fish trucks would not be able to come out. When the fish trucks could not move in early other people would be stuck or they struggle with the fish trucks. Regardless of that, the PTT has a responsibility.
Who are the members of PTT enforcement team?
The PTT enforcement team is made up of LASTMA, Police and FRSC. PTT itself is made up of representatives of NPA, Shippers Council, NUPENG, Truckers and PEDEK. Lagos State government has four representatives on the team. Out of the 15 members of the team, four are from Lagos, local government chairman is there, NUPENG has two, COMTUA, the truckers have two.
The trucker representative was one but we added one because the man causing most of the noise said he was not represented. We challenged him to bring a representative. He nominated the second representative of COMTUA, we thought he wanted himself but he nominated.
There were no issues, sometimes around December; there was a stakeholder meeting where everybody said Lilipond must be operational and the question was what was the magic we did six months before and why did we change the magic? We told them, the magic is still the same except that Lilipond is shut down and Lilipond was flung open.
By April Lilipond was shut down again up till now. When the fulcrum of a traffic management system, call up system, efficient traffic management system is affected, you will see the consequences.
Why was Lilipond shut down?
The understanding we had was that they have concessioned the place to the person that would deploy electronic call-up. I think that was the right thing to do. But when it was shut down, there was the construction of railway line through that corridor. There should have remained skeletal operations. From April till now trucks are coming from their various yards, which is Apapa axis. So people complained about trucks checkpoint.
When you are operating a call-up system, be it manual or electronic, there must be checks. If it is electronic there would be electronic details. In lieu of the electronic, there must be a place to check those who should not come. You have at Ijora and waterworks, Sifax. Every point where people can shunt, you must put a check anywhere the road divides into two. They complained of total collection point, you need it if you are operating manual call up system.
If it is not electronic, there must be a manual control. Those who are shouting know that once they pass through that place, nobody would be able to stop them. Sifax has a lot of bonded terminals, you need to stop trucks coming anyhow that is the essence of those points. Anybody who beats the system is turned back and any check from Eleganza is the port police.
Because of construction, there are many diversions along the Tin-can axis, the contractor needed 100 percent truck-free road to work, he is doing concrete and the machine is very sensitive and the concrete must set and all the debris must be removed. PTT works with the contractor to do the outbound from Coconut to Sunrise. Because they are doing the inbound, trucks cannot come in, all trucks inbound are directed to the outbound, which is what people are referring to as one way.
It is not one way, it is the new road, all trucks leaving the Tin Can port can now leave through Apapa. We all allow them go in barges because the contractor is still constructing, his trucks are passing through the same road and carrying concrete that set within 15 to 30 minutes, he needs unhindered movement. Whenever the contractors are moving, all roads are shut, no trucks would be on the road, when the contractor has made substantial movement, then we open the road.
This extortion thing, they have been raising it and there was a time they said the head of the police team was making N300 million a day. It came from Ogungbemi, he apologised after a while, we survived that and nobody was talking about extortion anymore. Extortion came up when the media started promoting it.
Whether they collect money or extort, to the best of my knowledge, some have been reported to us, every time they import we investigate, if an officer either LASTMA, Police, FRSC, is suspected, they are immediately taken out but there has not been any case of proven extortion, but that they raise your name that they suspect you, the commissioner of police and the various have removed them.
I can give you some that were reported and were dealt with, in most cases, what we hear is that I was told. At a meeting with freight forwarders we have challenged them but they just can’t get to the bottom of it. We have a group of people called movers, they are middle men, they are more than any other person in this business. They hide under the name agent; the real people that should carry agent are the custom licenced agents.
These movers are not customs agent, not freight forwarders, not truckers, they are facilitators for business, they make their money by facilitating when under a chaotic situation. Under a restored law and order regime, they find it difficult, so they started finding a common interest. They filed that the call up system is not working that more vehicles are staying in Lilipond. Trucks would stay if the terminal is ready, if truck goes into the terminal it is dependent on the efficiency and capacity and business in the terminal. I was told and NPA, shippers council took action to stop it.
They were bringing in containers, the one that should be bringing in container is TICT and Port and Cargo. Port and Cargo brings in container by barging to their own port, TICT. I understand they don’t do it for reasons best known to them. These other ones are now doing it, so when the trucks come they have to go to the common user road; they now litter the whole place because they have brought in more trucks.
In this situation they have also called the task team, they went there, as soon as they cleared the thing and said those blocking the outside should leave, they stoned the task team and nearly burnt the vehicle. The men barely escaped death from the truckers shortly after #EndSARS.
It was because the task team refused to go and help that the situation became worse. NPA issued a statement to stop barging at Tincan, task team did not issue that statement. The reason NPA issued that statement is that NPA knew that, that act though desirable, as at that moment was compounding the situation. NPA stopped stripping; stripping also is part of port process where people can discharge their container but not on the access road.
Four things are happening on the port access road; there is Customs check; NPA security checks; Stripping processes going on and too many trucks coming in and struggling to enter their allotted terminal. When all these get to a point, it chokes up the system, there is also barging operation ongoing at Creek Road illegally. When those ones come they drive against traffic because they come at midnight, supported by security people not police. They come against traffic and block trucks coming from Tincan loaded.
Right now, all trucks from Tincan loaded go through Apapa because of the road construction. When they block them, trucks can’t come out, new trucks can’t come in. Trucks are supposed to go in through the underground to the transit park. The man handling the transit park has shut it down temporarily because they hardly pass thirty trucks into the park because trucks coming in illegally through the waters have taken over the business, those are the issues. When you have those kinds of issues, the people doing those illegal things would now be promoting extortions, that is their business.
What is the way out for Tin-can congestion?
What we have in Tin-can is a temporary issue caused by bad port operations; all they need do is stop that port operation. In fairness to the system, NPA has put in place everything to stop it, all the stakeholder need to do is to cooperate with NPA port management, stop the barging for containers except for the manufacturing for now. Let all the containers inside the port be cleared and law and order restored.
Stripping is desirable, find a suitable location for stripping or temporarily stop it. But now that they have stopped it, they are doing it on the major road. The freight forwarders need to come together and I know ANLCA is doing a great job on that. What ANLCA, NPA, is doing should be supported and those who own those containers and trucks should work with them within one week.
What is the solution?
There is already a solution there is no problem at the port. Law and order has been restored. Allow the next phase of the restoration process which is the electronic call-up system. The transit parks are there, the electronic call-up system is there, then customs is bringing in the scanner.
If we are using manual why can’t we allow the manual to work normal? Must we scatter the system, Customs said it has ordered for scanner, before the scanner comes, let’s continue to do what we are doing in a more efficient manner. The terminal operators must improve on their efficiency. There is an efficiency gap, barging operation should be regulated in such a way that not too many trucks come onto the port terminals more than the port facilities can cope with.
Importers and exporters should follow rules. The government must ensure the issue of demurrage on empty containers is stopped. There is a shortage of containers all over the world. Nigeria was regarded as a dumping ground; this is time for us to push out all those containers. The port system needs a complete overhaul by the government.
Is Opeifa still the Vice-Chairman PTT?
Opeifa has requested to be excused since August 2019 but the government felt since the electronic system is not in place yet and many of the stakeholders are not ready to take it up, keep doing it. The responsibility for traffic management is Lagos State government by law. I was once a commissioner in Lagos State, special adviser transport and it is we, Lagos State government who managed it.
That is why the presidential directive clearly states that LASTMA, Opeifa is to coordinate everybody; LASTMA, FRSC has done a great job. The rescue operation you see on this road, is more than five a day. Give it to LASTMA, FRSC and LASEMA. As of February, he was supposed to have left, based on the discussion with the government, COVID-19 came, they said wait. After COVID-19, the discussion continues.
On August 7, Opeifa had informed the government through his report called ‘Exit report’ that it was time for Lagos State government to take full responsibility. But unfortunately, the governor was not at the meeting. There is still discussion. Within the next ten weeks, the appropriate thing would be done. The task team is waiting for the proper announcement.
Do you feel comfortable, when other members of the task team say they are pulling out?
Nobody pulled out. The instruction was hand over to the governor. But you cannot hand over in his absence. The process is on.