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Apapa Logjam: Testing The Potency Of NPA’s Latest Policy

Apapa Logjam: Testing The Potency Of NPA’s Latest PolicyBy Oyeniyi Iwakun

“eeeeeeeh…..! Mr. Man, what do you think you are doing? You think you can try rubbish with me because you are wearing military uniform? No way,” An averagely tall-dark skinned driver screamed as he alighted from his truck and raced towards a naval officer at Ijora Seven-up Bridge last week. One could see the obvious tiredness cum extreme anger on his face. MMS Plus keenly observing at the scene witnessed what almost led to a free- for- all- fight. The naval officer who was supposed to maintain orderliness had caused more havoc with his greed and dubious act when he aided a truck to shunt several others on the queue.  MMS Plus would later realize that Taju, the truck driver had been on the queue for six days without even having any idea on when he would arrive at the port. A similar experience had culminated in a massive protest by Truckers in Apapa, Thursday, last week when the truckers couldn’t bear the anomalies any longer.

Of course, this has become the culture in Lagos as the Apapa logjam has created easy money making pipe for some cabals.

The new policy introduced  by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) last week communicated in a statement signed by its General Manager, Corporate and Strategic Corporation, Abdullahi Goje that all shipping companies are mandated to house their empty trucks at their holding bays outside of the port location pending the time for vessel loading with effect from November 23, 2017 seems not to go well with so many stakeholders.  The policy further stated that NPA would 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 upon at the appropriate time to access the ports for their transactions. It also said NPA would advertise for the licensing of trailer parks as a way of creating holding bay facilities for truckers, among others, and most amazingly, 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 Defense Corps (NSCDC) and NPA security officials.

It is doubtless that the policy might be well conceived even as it is worrisome that the policy makers might have failed to critically look into the area of implementation. More worrisome is the short period of notification which might be technically utopian for shipping companies, truck owners, terminal operators and other concerned entities to meet up with. Another call of skepticism is the idea of advertisements of trailers Park licenses after this short deadline is given. One would expect that such proactive measure would have been more applicable earlier.

Again, the single filing system here is supposed to be the simplest of all but it has become clear that some appetitive personnel are taking advantage of it to extort the masses having realized that trailers and tankers struggle for space to quickly access the ports or tank farms.

These drivers pay as much as forty thousand (40,000) naira to hundred thousand (100,000) naira to be allowed to shunt the queue and head straight into the port for their businesses while others who fail to comply remain on the road for weeks. More often, this illicit act takes place at night when virtually everyone is asleep.

MMS Plus findings revealed that policies in most cases have its major constraints in timing and implementation in Nigeria as NPA management may have failed to put this into full consideration before making their pronouncements on a new policy aimed at solving the Apapa gridlock.

The Chairman, Shipping Association of Nigeria (SAN), Mr. Val Usifo, while speaking withMMS Plus posited that NPA didn’t make adequate consultation and analysis on its implementation process before arriving at the decision as it doesn’t reflect the reality of the situation even as he assured that shipping companies would cooperate with NPA and the authorities as much as possible. He explained that the policy could degenerate into a situation where ships will come to Nigeria, discharge cargoes and have difficulties with going back with empties which would mean there will be less available containers to bring in imports back to Nigeria.

He said “we have told them the challenges that the policy is going to face and if they are starting it on the 23rd of November 2017, as they have said. They will get all cooperation but that doesn’t even solve the problem. It would mean that a truck can only be called into the port to pick a full load of container “import” and when that truck discharges the cargoes it goes to the shipping companies holding bay and the container would wait there until NPA is ready to call for the empties to go back to the ports and you know that we don’t have sufficient trucks for import. So, if it is the same trucks that will do the double trip, you will now see it does even solve the problems but it compounds it.”

He hinted MMS plus that all the above observations on the possible implications of the policy had been tabled before NPA in writing but NPA had insisted that they would go on with their decision on the status quo. “We only read on the pages of the newspapers that they will inspect the shipping companies holding bays which they have done. The outcome of that we don’t know.” he said

The Executive Secretary, National Association of Transport Owners (NARTO), Mr. Aloga Ogbogo, opines that the policy might appear fine and good and could be given a trial to see if it would bring relief but he doubts that such policy could be the solution to the Apapa gridlock. According to him, containers are meant to leave the ports and return as well. Therefore, if the government wants a lasting solution, it must give priority to fixing the roads and provide a place as truck terminal for easy use of modern technology which is the call up system to call up trucks as per number required at any loading point.

“it is a mere cosmetic policy that cannot heal the wound and we have let them know the solution. In a situation where all the trucks are just coming from all the looks and crannies of the country to Apapa, there is no amount of rules and regulations that can bring about the expected sanity without putting the necessary infrastructure in place. For your information, we have identified a place that can conveniently accommodate a minimum of one thousand (1000) trucks. So, if government can acquire the place, all these problems will become a thing of the past.”

He also suggested that the phase 2 lighter terminal be converted into an empty container holding bay so that any empty container meant for the Apapa or Tin-can ports be diverted to the place so that it would serve as another way of restoring sanity and orderliness.

Mr. Achese acknowledged that the single lane profile system hadn’t been potent enough as it has its major challenge in the fact that the trucks aren’t going to the same destination. While some are going to pick up goods, others are going to drop empty containers at different shipping companies, terminals and even tank farms.

“The single filing system won’t help, that’s why you see most of the drivers are frustrated. If a driver is on the road for Seven (7) to Fifteen (15) days and he is neither eating well nor taking his bathe, how would you expect such person to behave normal? The task force use their uniform cum influence to bring out two (2) to three (3) trucks lined up to shunt. That also is having a serious effect and it is a situation that can cause commotion and collision because if somebody is on the queue for five (5) to ten (10) days and just see a truck from nowhere being brought to the front, he would be infuriated and it is not the best.

He advised that the NPA authorities should look for other ways round rather than setting up of a task force alone, which he said wouldn’t be a lasting solution to the menace.

“We have had several of the task force in the past comprising of all enforcement agencies. It is only prison warders and the customs, you will not see in the task force.” He said

The Chairman, Association of Maritime Truck Owners (AMARTO), Chief Remi Ogungbemi, shares the same view with the NARTO’s executive secretary on the NPA’s directive, that the movement of empty containers off the road to holding bays is only a temporary relief. While throwing support for the use of the call up system, he also identified the dilapidated port roads as the major challenge that has caused the Apapa gridlock.  He however suggested that the Task force officials be re-oriented to ensure crisis free engagements on the roads.

“The single filing system is not the best but it is just to enable other road users to have access to the road because all the trucks are not going to the same loading point. We have more than twenty different loading points and if they have to pile up on a single line, it is going to be a serious fatigue on the part of the driver. However, we have no choice than to experiment all these arrangements put in place by the authority.” He said.

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