By Kenneth Jukpor
The efficiency of port operation is a major driver of trade and economic activities across countries. Unfortunately, over the years, users and operators at the Nigerian Ports have been facing lingering challenges and bottlenecks namely, infrastructure shortcomings, policy and regulatory inconsistencies, overlapping functions and duplication of roles, among the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) operating at Nigerian ports, high incidence of corruption and infractions of the MDAs. However, one factor which has become central to all stakeholders at the ports is the traffic congestion in and around the Lagos ports.
Lagos ports which process more than 70% of Nigeria’s non-oil exports are located in populous urban areas and as such, constitute a major strain on key roads which cause congestion and environmental issues. This is compounded by the absence of a functional rail transport system to compliment the over used and dilapidated road network.
To say the roads linking the Lagos Ports Complex are regularly congested would be a subtle use of euphemism. The mix of cargo trucks, buses, cars, and other users stretches the capacity of the roads. Faulty and parked cargo trucks awaiting access to and from the ports do exacerbate the already bad situation.
The Nigerian trade imbalance appears to be very evident on the ratios of laden and empty container flow at its ports. In 2014, record shows an empty and laden container ratio of 85% and 15% respectively at the Nigerian port. Only port reform and improved ease of doing business at the ports are needed to reverse this imbalance and one system tipped to correct the anomaly is the electronic truck call-up system.
The electronic truck call-up system is one that aims to sanitize the movement of trucks and tankers operating in the Lagos ports. It was popularized by Chief Chris Orode, Chairman of FT Logistics Global Services Ltd., a platform for electronic call-up solution.
Orode told MMS Plus that a potential truck holding bay had been pointed out to the Lagos State Government and NPA in order to create the template for the truck call-up system which he said was developed with the peculiarities of doing logistics business in Nigeria to eliminate clogging of trucks in and around the ports and increase efficiency in port activities.
“We are waiting for the next line of action which is the acquisition of the property we showed the Lagos State government and NPA. The location of the holding bay is in Lagos. When operational, this will resolve the perennial gridlock problem emanating from trucks and tankers that obstruct the roads leading into Apapa and spill over to adjoining roads in the metropolis”, he said.
Despite the Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC), Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and other stakeholders buying into this innovative initiative, the system is yet to kick-off and one of the challenges has been the truck park to house the take-off of trucks.
However, following the recent Apapa pandemonium which saw a police officer kill a tanker driver and resulted to the burning down of two commercial banks by aggrieved tanker drivers, the Lagos State Government and NPA have intensified efforts to find a lasting solution to the Apapa traffic jam.
After attending series of meetings with the state and NPA representatives, the Chairman of the Association of Maritime Truck Owners, Chief Remi Ogungbemi expressed satisfaction with the recent developments when he spoke to MMS Plus.
“The Port Manager Apapa, Hajia Aisha Ali-Ibrahim, initiated an operational team and we have started plans to have a truck park and utilize an electronic call-up system. However, the process has to be holistic because it involves the Customs, NPA, truckers, agents and other port stakeholders. We have pictured a truck park that is big enough to accommodate a minimum of 1000 trucks. I actually believe that if the facility is properly harnessed it can accommodate 1500 trucks” Chief Remi said.
He also revealed that the owner of the property was demanding an exorbitant fee to release the land.
“The property would have to be purchased and we don’t have the amount the owners are demanding. The place I am talking about is between Apapa and Orile. It is about 2-3km to the Apapa and Tin Can ports. We are looking up to the Federal Government to use their might to acquire the facility. I am impressed with the kind of synergy that is between the Lagos State government and NPA on this issue. The last meeting we held had the General Manager of the Western Ports present” he added.
Meanwhile, the Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC), Mr. Hassan Bello has said the Truck Transit Park (TTP) proposed at Ogere in Ogun State can reduce the traffic gridlock in Lagos ports.
Hassan Bello made this assertion when he led the Shippers’ Council’s management team on a working visit to Ogere Truck Park in Ogun.
According to the Shippers Council boss, “There must be proper management of the facility we intend to have here. This is just a regular park; what we need is a truck transit park. A TTP should have a chain of restaurants, hotels, petrol stations such as Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) retail outlets, etc. That is why we are currently talking to the investment section of the NNPC in partnership with the Nigerian Export-Import (NEXIM) bank to make them have interest in a standard TTP project.”
He also expressed readiness of the Council to partner with the Ogun State government in developing the truck park at Ogere into a modern state-of-the-art Truck Transit Park.
“We will have to talk with the Ogun State government to see what arrangement can be made to make it fit into what we want. We will have to involve the private sector because we are looking at a Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) arrangement for the Truck Transit Parks, so that we can involve the private sector and because of the proximity to Lagos, it can be a staging area for port operations.
A study of the Apapa gridlock by the International Finance Corporation (IFC), an affiliate of the World Bank, revealed that trucks move within the port in a haphazard manner.
The IFC study had revealed that the port has been accommodating more than 4,000 trucks in Apapa, instead of 1,300 trucks. Hence it would take a deliberate effort to have an electronic call-up system to ensure that only trucks that have business to do at the ports are found on the port corridors.
Nigerian ports already faces congestion associated with delays, queuing and extra time of voyage and dwell of ships and cargo at the port, which always occur with unpleasant consequences on Logistics and supply chain. These often translate into extra costs, loss of trade and disruption of trade and transport agreement; so the nation should at least be free from the traffic congestion on the port access roads. The state of the roads is another issue with pot holes (ditches big enough to swallow trucks) but we can start to correct the ills today, not tomorrow.