By Kenneth Jukpor
Mrs. Funmilayo Olotu is the Port Manager, Lagos Port Complex (LPC), Apapa, Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA). At a recent port stakeholders’ meeting, she harped on the numerous challenges at Lagos port access roads, NPA’s challenges with armed men and terminal operators, highlighted the nonchalance of AP Moller Terminal in eradicating traffic gridlock, among other pertinent issues.
The issue of Apapa traffic gridlock is one that NPA has been committed to resolving. Last week, we had a critical stakeholders meeting at the LPC on the traffic menace. Permit meet to say a big thank you to Comrade Kayode Opeifa for the work he has done with the Presidential Task Team and I am also going to single out ACP Suleiman because when he is on the road there is sanity and the moment he leaves there is chaos.
Before I proceed, I want us to realize that there is always a black sheep among all agencies, groups or operators. There is always a Judas seeking to circumvent the system and until we are willing to name and shame such individuals, we wouldn’t make any meaningful progress. NPA management has had to redeploy certain people who were found to be accomplices in sharp practices around Lilypond.
Haphazard truck movement
We are talking about the bridges not built to hold trucks. Why are the trucks on the bridges? It is because there are armed men on those bridges controlling the movement of the trucks. These armed men allow some trucks stay on the bridges. It is time to get these armed personnel off the bridges because we know where to stop the trucks.
We have also insisted that Transit Truck Parks (TTPs) aren’t garages. We have not invited anyone to Lilypond or Tin Can to park trucks. The vessels you intend to pick containers from, have they been cleared? If your vessels aren’t at the ports or they haven’t discharged, why are you asking for NPA call-up? Call-up to where? Call-up to pick what? We want to have that synergy between terminal operators and other stakeholders.
We have the mandate and resources to control some things from our end, so we can turn you at the ports. We are appealing with uniformed men to stop illegal trucks from approaching the ports. We have also had instances where uniformed men are either driving the trucks or escorting the illegal trucks into the ports. NPA security men are unarmed. So, when you send an unarmed man to go take up an armed man, aren’t you only sending him to an early grave?
Casualties (I was pelted with stones)
Comrade Opeifa mentioned that one police officer and two LASTMA officials passed on because of this traffic menace. I want to say that for the families of those people it is highly regrettable, but it is not only these officers that died. It is not only police vehicles that were attacked. I went on Creek road to check illegal vehicles and I was pelted with stones. Truck drivers also died and they are also human beings, so there should be a collective concern. Every Nigerian life should mean a lot to all of us.
Apapa Gridlock Realities
Until we begin to see a collective resolve to end this menace, it will not end. I also make bold to say that there is gridlock in Apapa. We can’t deny that. All through the Christmas season and even before that period, I was going to my office using boats. I park my vehicle at Marina and use boats to come over. If there was no gridlock I wouldn’t have to do that, I would drive straight to my office. The same thing applies for my colleagues in Apapa and Tin Can Island Ports.
Another major issue we must all address here is flying of trucks. Some of you will be wondering how trucks can fly but I want you to know that trucks can fly in Apapa. We have observed that during the day everyone complies with the call-up system. However, between 12am and 5am, trucks fly. Most truck drivers match brakes for N20,000 to allow others behind them gain access. This is popular among manufacturers’ truck drivers. I have pictorial evidence, videos and documents to back this up. I will present it if anyone challenges me to do so.
Since manufacturers have been given that priority to move around that period, your drivers allow people get ahead of them for N20,000. So he matches break and the trucks overtakes him. If he does that for 5 trucks, how much are we talking about? That will be N100,000 for a driver. The diver doesn’t even know the implication of what he is doing. Please tell your drivers that anytime they are been cleared and we see other trucks in front of them, we will black list them. I have started making a compilation of all the pictures, phone numbers and that’s what we might even give to the press. These people are not worthy Nigerians, they are the ones disgracing us.
NPA didn’t license any illegal jetty. We know the jetties that we licensed and there is a list that we can make available to the public. When this news of illegal jetties came up, we went round undercover and we got pictures and reported it. We found that every building which had a waterfront was being converted to a jetty and this isn’t healthy for us. Barges are beautiful solutions to the Apapa gridlock and we need to commend all the barge operators who have been able to give us a bit of respite from the trucks coming into Apapa. We also have barges with ramps so the trucks can drive in.
However, APMT has not keyed into the development to use barges. I would continue to put APMT on the spot until we are able to get them to behave rightly in Nigeria. There is sanity where this company is coming from and we expect them to maintain such sanity in Nigeria.
Vessels are getting bigger and APMT has just four berths but with the sizes of ships we have now the berths can only comfortably take three vessels at a time. We have barge operators who come in through Eco-Support and ENL Consortium. We have been appealing to APMT to give us a barge space within their terminal. These containers are going to end up in APMT so why aren’t they willing to provide a barge space.
We opened a back gate and gave APMT an approval to utilize it but APMT turned around to start collecting monies for it. We opened the back gate so that as those vessels are offloading, instead of taking the 1.6km road to make a u-turn to access the APMT, you just go straight. We gave APMT this access for free because we wanted it to be a solution to the port access gridlock. It wasn’t a commercial venture, but APMT started charging for this access that was given to them for free. They forget that the charges trickle down to the average Nigerian as importers would factor the additional charges in the selling price of such goods and services. When I get to the market, nobody cares that I’m a port manager, so I’m also paying for these costs.
We are still appealing to APMT to provide a barge space to be able to bring trucks and containers into the ports. I’m not at Tin Can Island Port; however, I think it is pertinent to praise the Tin Can Island Container Terminal (TICT) for the additional plant they acquired. APMT promised to acquire two additional cranes in the first quarter of 2020. However, we are also appealing to APMT to allow ships that have crane to use their cranes to compliment the APMT cranes.
Let me digress, it isn’t just about terminal operators. On the role of Customs, I recall that the Managing Director of NPA once succeeded in bringing the Comptroller-General of Customs Col. Hammed Ali (Rtd.) to a meeting in Apapa. One thing is puzzling to us; goods are moved from the ports and as the trucks move out only to be intercepted by Customs almost immediately after the port gate. I was told that the Federal Operating Unit (FOU) is allowed to intervene anywhere to scrutinize the released goods. However, as a port right activist, the issue I have is that when Customs apprehend anyone with compromised documents and detain them, they should also identify those officers who signed the documents and equally discipline them.
You shouldn’t only punish the consignee and truck drivers who have brought in contraband; you should also punish the Customs officers who aided the process. NPA has deployed such strategy and removed several people in what we call name and shame system. As I discuss with you some other compromised NPA officials are being sanctioned. This system would make the officers at the port sit up and do the right thing because they would also be punished.
Somebody said the officers are no longer there and I smiled because I have been in the port up to 10pm several times. I have come to Apapa at midnight with an unmarked car. I have one advantage which is this small body, so I can disguise and go undercover.
The Role of Media
The media may not always fair and sometimes when you invite them, you tell them the discussions that were held behind closed doors. That’s why we invite them for press releases so that they will say what we want them to say. But something happened in the past and I learnt and held onto it.
If your child is getting married and you want all media houses to come and cover it. They will cover it and the wedding becomes a topical issue because of the elaborate media coverage. When that marriage breaks down some months later and the same media wants to report it and you go against it, then you are not been fair to them.
In my opinion, the media delivers the scorecard. Today, I have read something unpleasant about NPA but I’m not going to argue with them or quarrel with them. It is for us to go back home, look at what they have identified and begin to work towards correcting it. Some of my colleagues and I will soon be retiring and we are not planning to go into truck business or barge operations, so we can speak and be clinical in our appraisal.
It would take the collective effort of all stakeholders here to make this system work. There is no need for trucks to be accompanied by military personnel. Stop using intimidation to compel NPA traffic managers to allow trucks pass. No Baale should call our traffic managers to compel them allow trucks to pass. I can assure you that if you deploy these tricks to find your way to the ports, where it matters most is the port access gate and we would turn you back. We will continue doing this until everyone learns to do things the right way.
Going forward, the manual call-up is still there and the corridors are given. On the issue of demmurage, free rent period, among others, we would need to agree on these issues.
To make this system work, let us agree that it only when your vessel has berthed and you have been accredited to come into the ports that you send your trucks to the ports or place them on the port access roads.
Conflict Among Police Commands
Can we have unity among the various police commands because we have conflict of commands at the moment? We have the Commissioner of Police (CP) Ports Authority Command, Area B Command and Ijora Command; meanwhile, when there is crisis at Lilypond you find police officers say that they’re not obliged to respond. The day there was crisis at Lilypond, a police officer was beaten mercilessly and no officer came to his rescue.
Why is Lilypond not working? It is because some people have set out to ensure that it doesn’t work. Trucks leave Lilypond but they are frustrated at Area B Police axis. You find that the officers at Area B Command aren’t under the jurisdiction of the CP Ports Authority or the Ijora Command. So, there is serious conflict among the police and this has affected the ease of port operations. There has to be unity and they all have to work as a team and see port operations as ‘Project Nigeria’.