By Kenneth Jukpor
Despite the high expectations placed on the reconstructed Apapa-Wharf road, the Concrete road has been completed but the gruesome traffic occasioned by long queues is yet to dissipate and the situation at the sister port in Tin Can is becoming worse by the day.
Nigerian truck owners have cried out over the incessant death of their drivers in the Apapa traffic gridlock following the distorted system, other port operators, stakeholders and residents at port areas aren’t left out in the gruesome pangs from the road situation.
The Nigerian Ports Authority’s (NPA) genuine moves to address the situation via strict policies demanding that shipping companies direct their empty containers to holding bays rather than the ports, have also been counterproductive, yet truckers remain resolute in the pursuit of a lasting solution.
Worried by this dilemma, the Maritime Journalists Association of Nigeria (MAJAN) held a one-day seminar where trucking veterans were summoned to deliberate the headway.
During the summit, the President of Corporate Truck Fleet Owners Association, Mrs. Folake Soji-George revealed that an ultimatum had been given to the shipping companies to waive additional charges for demurrage on the return of empty containers until the traffic situation changes.
She also disclosed that a joint committee of truckers and other government agencies had postulated the idea of moving empty containers to the ports at the weekends.
According to her, the implementation of these new suggestions could diminish the traffic gridlock at port access roads.
Speaking further, Soji-George said; “If the Ijora bridge can be opened and the task force continue the good work they have been doing, the roads should be in good condition by December. This is very important because the yuletide season brings about a rush in import of items to be utilized during the season.
She advised truckers to make certain sacrifices even as she expressed dissatisfaction that a large number of trucks along the port access roads clog the roads when they have no business at the ports.
“Since these trucks are on the port access roads when they aren’t needed, they worsen the gridlock because the trucks behind them which may have genuine businesses at the ports can’t have access to the ports. Discipline is needed on the part of truckers to move Apapa and the nation’s economy forward. This problem is no longer Apapa problem, it’s a national disaster” she said.
Although most operators have agreed that for trucking businesses to perform optimally, the efficient use of holding bays and call-up system would be relevant, there has been no effort by the relevant regulatory agencies to provide holding bays and truck call-up systems where trucks are called electronically when they are needed at the ports.
Recall that when the Nigerian government initially proposed the electronic card readers and the new voting systems, most citizens argued that the system would be unrealistic, while others boldly said that they didn’t want it. Nevertheless, the procedure has come to stay and it is widely accepted as an upgrade on the past.
Also speaking at conference, the Vice Chairman, Nigerian Association of Road Transport Owners (NARTO), Dry Cargo wing, Alhaji Inuwa Abdullahi, regretted that this year alone the group had lost ten drivers on the Apapa gridlock.
He lamented that the traumatic situation was draining their investments, even as they were being coerced to part between N90,000 and N100,000 as fine tickets, which were not accounted for.
“There are no provisions for empty containers’ holding bays by shipping companies outside the ports; this has invariably affected the nation’s economy. Many businesses have closed down, the members of staff thrown out to the streets and our trucks have become the shipping companies’ holding bays as they are parked all over the two major roads, Apapa-Ijora-Ikorodu and Tin Can-Mile 2-Oshodi Expressway. Our drivers are facing multiple challenges such as; stress due to loss of man-hours, intimidation, incessant harassment, which result to the death of about 10 of our drivers on queue this year alone”, Alhaji Inuwa bewailed.
On the way forward, he charged the NPA and the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) to muster the political will to compel shipping companies that had no functional holding bays to among others utilize Lilypond terminal and Kirikiri Phase 1 for that purpose.
While pointing out that “NPA management cannot in any way shy away from the blame of this terrible situation of traffic gridlock”, the NARTO chieftain alleged that there used to be a taskforce that managed the traffic before it was latter compromised by shipping companies.
He informed that the taskforce was made up of NPA, shipping firms, transport associations and unions that went about ensuring that holding bays were functional but regretted that the arrangement collapsed when shipping companies started manipulating the process.
“As they abandoned the use of the holding bays under the watchful eyes of the regulatory agencies out of greed for more profit…., that marked the beginning of congestion that led to constant traffic bottleneck” all over the place, he said.
According to Inuwa, haulage business had collapsed as eight months ago a container delivery within Lagos that used to take one week at the cost of N60,000 now took three months to deliver and return the empty boxes thereby compelling truckers to charge N350,000 presently.
He disclosed that the chaotic situation had resulted in some truckers bribing their ways into the ports with as much as between N100,000 and N120,000 to drop empty containers.
Also speaking on this problem recently, the Terminal Coordinator of Bollore Transport and Logistics Nigeria Limited, Mr. Leonard Anyanwu highlighted the bad port access roads as the major problem associated with port business in the country.
“The road situation is our biggest problem now Nigeria. It has increased the cost of doing business at the ports. Agents pay more for trucking; they lose time in returning containers and pay more for demurrage. All these cost ends up on the prices of goods and services because the importers must make profit at the end of the day” he said.
He admonished the government to tackle the issue of bad port access roads headlong and speedily complete the ongoing rehabilitation.
“We know that some contractors have been given the contract to fix the roads but the government must be firm on the timelines. There has to be free flow of transport because businesses suffer while the contractors hardly show the urgency that the road deserves. It is unfortunate that the masterplan for the Apapa port didn’t consider future prospects. It didn’t consider that in the next ten or twenty years the volume of activities at the ports would have increased significantly. Otherwise, the roads should have been constructed with the future in mind.
“There should have been provision for road expansion following increased activities at the ports. All those tank farms in Apapa are occupying space that could easily have been used to expand the roads but the government wasn’t futuristic in the initial plans and it isn’t showing any signs that it has learnt from that mistake. There should also have been plans to expand the ports. Tin Can Island Port for instance, has reached a point where it can’t be stretched further” he opined.