Apapa gridlock

By Sesan Onileimo

DESPITE having the most robust port infrastructure in the sub-region, Nigerian port users continue to struggle with huge economic costs due to inefficiencies arising from unpropitious export and import processes.

As landlord, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) over the years has made several interventions to resolve the incidence of heavy vehicular and human congestion around the country’s seaports and off-dock terminals, especially those within the Lagos axis where no less than 70 percent of nation’s external trade is processed.

Having experimented with a manual truck scheduling arrangement for over a year, the NPA came up with an electronic truck call-up system in February, to deal a mortal blow to the perennial traffic gridlock responsible for the delay along the access roads leading to the country’s two busiest ports.

The truck call-up system, dubbed “Eto” (which means “to schedule” in Yoruba language) is now the only authorized pathway for cargo trucks to access the port, including transfer of empty containers by shipping companies.

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In a public notice signed by NPA’s Assistant General Manager Corporate and Strategic Communications, Ibrahim Nasiru, the NPA insisted that, “henceforth, all trucks doing business at the ports in Lagos would be required to park at approved truck parks until they are called-up into the port through a new app called “Eto”. The “Eto” application will be responsible for the scheduling, entry and exit of all trucks into the port with effect from 27th February 2021”, the statement reads. 

ETO: A Game Changer

With the deployment of “Eto”, truck companies, terminal operators and freight agents are required to download the app, and then proceed to create an account to monitor the schedule and movement of their trucks in and out of the port. According to the managers of the e-call up system; Messrs Trucks Transit Parks Ltd (TTP), benefits to subscribers of “Eto” include: increase returns on logistics investment while maximizing time per trip; ease truck traffic congestion and streamlining cargo movement activities; smart parking for trucks; information navigation options for truck owners/drivers on available parking spaces; as well as convenience and safety for drivers at designated truck transit parks.   

The roll-out of the electronic truck call-up platform proved to be a game-changer with its instant positive impact on the carriage cost of goods at the two Lagos ports. The haulage fee imposed on fully laden containers from the Lagos Ports Complex Apapa to a destination within the Lagos area fell by as much as 100 percent in the week when the Eto app was formally launched.  Similarly, carriage cost from Tin-Can Island Port to warehouses within Lagos State dropped progressively from over N1million in December 2020 to as low as N210,000 for a 20 TEU container by the second quarter of 2021. 

Shaky Compliance

However, like every innovation, the taste of the pudding is in the eating. Notwithstanding the firm directive by the NPA that “non-compliance to the use of “Eto” and its guidelines will result in denial of access into the ports, impounding of trucks and withdrawal of registration or operating license”, some unscrupulous truck drivers and their collaborators in uniform were bent on derailing the system.

Whilst the responsible trucking companies continue to follow due process, the actions of some desperate truck drivers have become a big worry to the NPA. After the tranquility witnessed in the early weeks following the launch of the Eto app, those vested interests responsible for the sorry traffic situation around the port began to push with a vengeance. 

Truck owners in collusion with corrupt state agents including NPA security staff, began to willingly circumvent the process. Allegations of forgery of transit e-tickets or and selling of tags to truck drivers by unscrupulous TTP employees were rife, the cries of extortion by security operatives assigned to monitor traffic along the port corridor became increasingly strident. Those benefiting from the existing disorder seem determined to preserve the status quo.

However, operator of TTP and the manager of the Eto platform says the challenges being experienced are being addressed frontally.

  In a recent interview, Chief Operating Officer of TTP, Temidayo Adeboye described the Eto technology as the right solution to resolve the chaos and corruption around the movement of trucks, especially to the Lagos ports. “We deployed the right technology to drive the process and it was a very reliable system, it was organized and guaranteed easy control of traffic. But as they say, when you fight corruption, it will fight back. They were lots of money that were changing hands and people were profiting from the chaos and weren’t happy when TTP came onboard”, he explained.

A New Broom

Determined to restore port users’ confidence in the electronic truck call-up system as witnessed in the early days of its roll-out, Acting Managing Director of the NPA, Malam Mohammed Bello-Koko’s first public action when he assumed office in early May was a visit to the Lilypond Terminal described as the theatre of operations for “Eto”, to re-assess the quality of infrastructure and operational framework deployed by the system manager.

Bello-Koko while interacting with haulage operators and drivers during his visit assured them of NPA’s commitment to speedily resolve all teething challenges against the smooth implementation of the call-up system. He promised that both the online scheduling process and truck transit arrangement would be fine-tuned to check manipulation and other vices associated with the new arrangement.

“We will ensure that the entire process is fully automated and secured to prevent counterfeiting, while priority will be given to export cargoes in line with the economic diversification agenda of the Federal Government. I have directed that actions be taken immediately to improve the overall efficiency of the truck scheduling system for the benefit of its subscribers” the NPA helmsman stressed.

The improvements he demanded from TTP include: immediate deployment of physical infrastructure such as bollards, spikes and automated barriers; installation of CCTVs at the port gates (entry/exit points); hiring of quality and experienced human resources; improved response time to customers’ demands; and better information sharing with other designated transit park operators, among others. 

And in keeping with his promise to ensure that the goal of “Eto” is not derailed, the Acting Managing Director met with the Lagos State Governor; Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu to fine-tune strategies to curb indiscriminate parking and alleged extortion of truck drivers by traffic and security operatives on the access roads leading to the ports.

The NPA and Lagos State Government (LASG) resolved to collaborate more on enforcement of traffic rules by rejigging the security architecture on the port access roads which has been fingered as a major contributor to the delays and extortions along the corridors.

Arising from the meeting, it was agreed that henceforth, monitoring and traffic enforcement within the port corridors will now be a 24hours operation. Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu equally promised to engage owners of oil tank farms and representatives of the petroleum workers’ unions in the State, to key into the “Eto” platform, to put an end to the indiscriminate parking of oil and gas trucks on the port access roads.

  The Governor said private operators in the port must play their part at ensuring that the ports in Lagos are transformed into logistics centers of excellence.

Eto Re-loaded

Having re-evaluated the implementation of the call-up system along with a thorough review of the feedbacks from industry stakeholders and users of the app, the Acting Managing Director recently endorsed the implementation of additional measures designed to correct the deficiencies that have so far been identified.

Henceforth, a daily manifest will be generated by TTP for all trucks approved to access the port. This manifest will be shared with all customers (subscribers), while truck owners would inform the drivers of trucks on the list/manifest to proceed to their various port destinations according to their allotted time as stated in the manifest.

The manifest for each day’s movement will be circulated by 10pm of the previous day and all movements will be done strictly in accordance with approved time belt for each truck category. The trucks that will be on the manifest are those that emanate (i.e. pre-gated out) from truck parks approved by NPA/LASG, the status must show “left Pre-gate” on the “Eto” dashboard.

Furthermore, all trucks must physically be situated in their respective truck park or pre-gates before being called out or pre-gated out, as applicable. Any truck or truck park found not complying will be blacklisted or shut down.  

Vehicles not verified from such truck parks but are on the manifest shall not be allowed into the port. The responsibility for ensuring all trucks reflected in the manifest physically emerged from the truck parks shall be that of the truck parks and TTP. At the port end, TTP would ensure only trucks on the manifest gain access into the port while NPA provides security. 

To affirm seriousness, some truck parks were recently suspended for some infarctions.

After a ticket has been duly issued, it is the responsibility of the truck owner/driver to secure it. Law enforcement agents such as LASTMA, Nigeria Police, NPA Security etc., are not authorized to check driver’s call-up tickets. 

The truck status can be validated by law enforcement officials using the manifest as published and the trucks registered plate number. The LASG/LASTMA shall impound all trucks not on the manifest but hanging around port locations at any-time, without additional notice.

Too Good To Fail

The socio-economic impact of the Apapa traffic situation has been enormous.  As someone who played a major role during the conceptualization and eventual roll-out of the electronic truck call-up system while serving as NPA’s Executive Director, Finance and Administration, Bello-Koko has proven his conviction that the “Eto” initiative if effectively deployed, would bring an end to the intractable vehicular gridlock on the access roads leading to the country’s two busiest seaports. 

However, securing the buy-in of the port community remains a critical success factor.

“Eto” must be made to keep the Nigerian port economy on the path of efficiency and growth; it is an intervention too good to fail.

Sesan Onileimo is Executive Director, Maritime Industry Advocacy Initiative

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