Ending ports’ access roads’ gridlock, others | The Nation

The Management of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) has met with Lagos State Governor, Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu on how to end the intractable gridlock on the access roads leading to the nation’s two busiest ports in Apapa, and develop new strategies that will remove the pain from port users, residents and stakeholders by the security operatives operating at the ports. OLUWAKEMI DAUDA reports.

Two issues topped discussions when the management of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), led by its Acting Managing Director (MD), Mr. Muhammed Bello-Koko, few days ago, visited the Lagos State Governor, Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu: how to end the intractable gridlock on the access roads leading to the nation’s two busiest ports in Apapa and boost their business. The NPA Acting MD said there was the need to strengthen the enforcement of traffic laws along the Apapa and Tin Can Ports roads to boost businesses at the port.

Bello-Koko added that the NPA has been inundated with complaints of extortions from truckers, especially by security operatives, including the Military, the Police and NPA Security staff members, demanding bribes from drivers before accessing the ports. He described the practice as a disincentive to the smooth implementation of the electronic truck call-up system, popularly known as ETO, introduced by the agency.  30 illegal toll-points

Bello-Koko said no less than 30 toll-points had allegedly sprung up around the Apapa and Tin Can Ports, where bribes were being collected before trucks were allowed into the port. “One of the complaints of the truckers has to do with extortion by security operatives, the Army, the Police, the Nigerian Navy and even NPA Security staff. This is one of the areas we require the intervention of government, in this case the Lagos State Government because we have Police officers deployed from the state Command who are allegedly involved in this.

“We, at the NPA, have resolved to take the right punitive measures against any of our staff involved in this. We have moved some of them out of Port locations, and we will do further reviews, whoever is found involved, would be appropriately sanctioned. “Because of the involvement of several security units, many checkpoints have been created, we believe there are over thirty checkpoints within the Apapa and Tin Can Port axis, and we believe that this is a major issue causing delays and a whole lot of problems.

This was one of the concerns we raised at our meeting with His Excellency,” he said. The NPA boss acknowledged that the state government had been an ally, especially in providing security operatives and monitoring of the call-up system. He however said called for more collaboration.

Effects of the gridlock Experts say the gridlock is affecting the maritime sector. Apart from adding to the cost of doing business in the area, it has made the ports unattractive, hurting the trade facilitation programme of the Federal Government.

It also ridicules the status of Lagos as Nigeria’s commercial nerve centre. The deplorable state of access roads to the ports, they added, had exposed the complacency of successive administrations in resolving a major issue and wondered why the administration had not considered it expedient to fix the access roads to the ports six years after mounting the saddle. They, therefore, called on President Muhammadu Buhari, the Federal Executive Council (FEC) and the governor to fix the roads within Apapa area of the state.

For instance, one of the residents of Apapa, Mr. Francis Adeyemo, a lawyer, bemoaned the deplorable state of the roads. His words: “The situation on the two major roads leading to the Lagos ports is so bad that motorists accessing the ports and adjoining areas get trapped in the traffic congestion for over four and five  hours.

“Workers, residents, importers, port users and other stakeholders going to and from work or businesses at the ports and its environ lose vital main hours translating to huge financial losses. “It is appalling that the Federal Government allowed the traffic crises on the roads leading to the Lagos ports to degenerate to this shameful stage. This has eroded the competitiveness of the two ports compared to the neighbouring countries.”

Access to the ports paralysed When The Nation visited the ports last week access to the two Lagos ports was non-existent. Road and rail transit to and from the ports remained paralysed.

This was despite the efforts of NPA to collaborate with the private sector to salvage the situation. ADVERTISEMENT Manufacturers’woes

Clearing agents of some manufacturing firms said they were finding it tough at the Lagos ports to clear their consignments. Some of them told The Nation that their goods had been trapped because of the traffic gridlock on the roads and that they suffer unnecessary delay in moving their goods out of the ports “To move a container from Apapa to Ikeja, Agege and Iyana-Ipaja costs as much as N500,000 if not more because of the extortion and the gridlock on the road.This explains why goods from the seaports are some of the most expensive in the world because of the difficulties we face in clearing and moving them out,” Mr Kayode Ogunsanu said.

Ogunsanu said goods worth billions of naira belonging to some firms were trapped at the Tin Can Island and Apapa ports.The delay, he said, had serious implication for the firms’ production, if the government failed to address the issue. “Already, the delay has led to the payment of huge demurrage to shipping companies and rent to terminal operators. It is also affecting their targets for the last quarter of the year.

The firms’ agents are shuttling from office to office, in and outside the ports, to speed up clearing. ”Importers and clearing agents are also in the same boat because banks are on their neck to service their loans and that is why we  are urging the Federal Government to exercise its power under Section 152 of CEMA to waive demurrage and other charges on the affected goods.,” Ogunsanu added. He lamented, for instance, that banks have been pursuing his principals for part payments, which was due last month and the demurrage is huge.

Sanwo-Olu assures Sanwo-Olu assured that the government would work with the NPA in ensuring that that truck call-up system is successful. He called on port users to be alert to their responsibilities in ending the gridlock in Apapa.

He said there was the need for port service providers, security agencies and NPA to adhere to their Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) as well as invest in the needed infrastructure which would galvanise the ETO system to heightened performance. He assured that the government would commence engagements with the stakeholders to ensure that they were factored into the ETO call-up system. The National President, National Council of Managing Director of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA), Lucky Amiwero, said the neighbouring ports have  positioned their ports as millennium ports, preferred, transshipment or load center, adding that most West African ports built their ports to accommodate Nigerian- bound cargo, knowing about the country’s poor infrastructure.

He cited Cotonou, Benin Republic, Lome, Togo, Accra, Ghana and Cameroun ports, urging the Federal Government to design a deep-sea/transshipment centre to accommodate large E-Class vessels/mega-ships of 8000-20000 TEUs, that are demanded regionally and globally, which is the only solution to the diversion of goods to neighbouring ports. He said with international best practices, Nigeria must design the National Guarantee system to cover the payment of import duty taxes at the time of transit; Custom seal that ensures the physical integrity of the goods while in transit, making sure that the goods start and exit the transit in its original state; implement electronic tracking system enabling Customs to track and locate transit vehicles and guide intervention force including Customs staff; a document system to enable transit document issued at the start of transit journey to be accepted by transport and Custom authority along with transit. Truck drivers’ concern

Truck owners across various unions and associations have also called on the Federal Government to restore the disbanded Presidential Task Team (PTT) on Apapa gridlock. The distraught truck owners, who are reeling under the agony of resurgent traffic gridlock, lamented that the much-vaunted ETO platform has been compromised and riddled with corruption which has made it fail to address the vexed traffic logjam. They, theerfore, appealed to the government to recall Kayode Opeifa-led task team to come to their rescue.

They affirmed that the system was effective within the first two weeks of operations before it collapsed, leading to the clamour for the return of the disbanded PTT. The Coordinator, Committee of Maritime Truck Unions and Associations (COMTUA),Olaleye Thompson, bemoaned the harrowing experience of members of the union over the traffic in Apapa after the disbandment of PTT. He added that as a result of the failure of the e-call-up system and lack of solution, the group has issued a 21-day ultimatum to the government to either solve the problems or the members would embark on industrial action.

Olaleye said members of the group from various unions and associations that make up the body have started approaching the leadership of the union to prevail on the federal government to bring back the Opeifa-led task team. According to him, the team was already getting it right before it was asked to quit. He accused the government of not allowing the operators of ETO to learn from the team before it was disbanded.

Terminal operators Also, the Managing Director of Port and Terminal Multi-Services Limited (PTML), Ascanio Russo, has called on the Federal Government to address insecurity and bad roads causing impediments to 24-hour port operations in the country. Russo, who made the call in Lagos, said insecurity and deplorable port access roads were the major obstacles to operations at the ports.

According to him, PTML provides 24-hour service, but that insecurity had discouraged other agencies involved in cargo clearance to work at night, adding that freight forwarders could not work at night for the fears of being attacked by armed robbers or exposed to other threats around the ports. However, he appealed to the government to address the insecurity and take action on the construction of the port access roads. Reduction in haulage prices

Investigations have shown that the charge for taking cargoes from ports has dropped drastically from the N1million being collected last December to as low as N210,000 this month. But when NPA launched ETO, there were criticisms and skepticisms about its workability. Stakeholders, however, agreed that it had been effective in trucking haulage prices.

Other factors that have led to the decrease in truck haulage fee is the ongoing construction of the port access roads and the recent speed in the pace of construction. A clearing agent, Mr Felix Mba, confirmed that that transportation of cargoes that crashed to N250,000 and N210,000 were going up. He however lamented that due to down time of ETO Call up system portal, the fees were now  N300,000 and moving to N400,000.

“It came down to as low as N210,000 and I loaded so many trucks.

But by yesterday, the ETO Call-Up system had not been running for three days and this caused the fee to rise again to N450,000.

“The reduction in price was necessitated by the increase in the pace of the road construction, as well as the ETO electronic call-up system by the NPA working effectively,” he added.