Following the unveiling of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for the Nigerian haulage industry, truck owners, drivers, freight forwarders and transport professionals have expressed conflicting views on the new initiative expected to transform trucking business in the country.
While truck owners describe the development as a misplaced priority, transport academia have commended the initiative and freight forwarders defer as they highlight other more pressing needs at the nation’s ports.
After an elaborate meeting with relevant trucking associations, companies and other port stakeholders, the Federal Government via the nation’s port economic regulator, Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC), developed an SOP aimed at sanitizing the haulage subsector which has become an all-comers’ affair without regards for ethics in business.
According to the Executive Secretary of NSC, Barr. Hassan Bello, some of the conditions for operating a haulage company contained in the SOP include; a minimum of six trucks for each trucking company, a company have a registered office, have an insurance for goods on transit, have a tracking device, among others.
From the foregoing, any company that does not have the capacity to own six trucks will not be allowed to operate and the companies would also be able to cater for the insurance of goods in transit.
Hassan Bello said: “We need the trucking system to be organized. We are expecting that in three years time everything would have taken shape. Besides, the trucks are going to have competition from the rail. For now, to take a truck from Lagos to Yola, it costs N1million. By rail will give you may be N300,000. People have started having issues with rail now but we are telling them to be calm.”
However, the Chairman of the Association of Maritime Truck Owners (AMATO) Chief Remi Ogungbemi has described the move as a misplaced priority on the part of the Federal Government.
According to Chief Remi, the government should be more concerned about the state of the port access roads and provision of truck parks in order to alleviate the sufferings of truck drivers.
“This move by the Federal Government can best be described as a misplaced priority. At this point in time, the government should be more concerned about fixing the port access roads. They should talk about providing truck parks to rid the port access roads of trucks that have no immediate business at the ports” he said.
He also stressed that the issue of automation and utilization of electronic truck call-up system would be a more worthy venture for the government if it really intends to sanitize the truck haulage business.
“We have been pleading with the Federal Government and Lagos State Government to make provision for truck parks so that we can have an alternative place to park trucks other than the roads. Have they provided this? This issue is more important than the call of merging of trucking companies to own at least six trucks or the issue of insurance” he argued.
He lamented that truck drivers have been subjected to terrible and serious challenge, noting that the owners and drivers queue on the road for several days without the luxury of time to rest.
“They undergo serious fatigue day and night as they wouldn’t eat proper diets or take their bath or sleep. This is one of the major reasons why we see drivers getting angry easily irritated as a result of the harsh and volatile environment” he added.
Meanwhile, the President of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT) Nigeria, Alhaji Ibrahim Jibril commended the new truck regime as a move in the right direction, stating that the country lacked good logistics planning necessary for the efficient use and deployment of haulage trucks.
Jibril noted that the country’s reliance on trucks for more than 85% of its physical distribution system remains a challenge to the Federal Government’s Ease of Doing Business initiative and the overall nation’s economic development.
He expressed dissatisfaction that it took an average of 336 hours for a truck driver to drop and pick containers from the ports.
Jibril blamed the various government agencies at the ports and traffic personnel deployed to manage the Apapa gridlock of working at cross purposes; also stressing that the quality of trucks used by operators were below standards, a development he attributed to the increased carnage on the roads.
According to him, “Our biggest concern is that the trucking business is virtually unregulated, it comes with a lot of mishaps, inefficiencies and a lot of wastage that we believe can be addressed. The situation has been so precarious that the wastage in man-hour has been unprecedented.
“The situation where Nigeria finds itself in the freight logistics equation can simply be described as unfortunate and unhealthy economically. It is a concern for a change in policy that the institute decided to discuss the place of trucks in our freight logistics system and to find a way for its improvement.
“Investors in this sector are complaining, just as the crews of these trucks are complaining. To the investor, their expected returns are not being met. To the crews, they do longer work than the expected hours, as they are held up on the queue around Lagos for upwards of 168 hours in just going to deliver empty containers.
“Trucking business is a sub-sector of the transport sector of the economy that creates a lot of employment, generate wealth that we have not seen before but if we are not organized we cannot achieve that” he said.
Also expressing his views on this issue, the Founder of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Dr. Boniface Aniebonam admonished the government to give a listening ear to the plight of the truckers.
According to him, the regulation of trucking should be an all-inclusive agenda that would see the various trucking groups make input in order to have a holistic approach to solving the problems.
“The government has the mandate through agencies like the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), NSC, among others, to regulate the way we go about doing business at the ports and trucking is a very critical aspect of port business. However, they must not infringe on the rights of the people while they carry out that mandate”, he said.
While he appreciated the need to have SOPs for trucking in the country, he advised the government to address the root causes of the port problems which escalated to trucking services in the country.
“Almost fifteen years ago, NAGAFF wrote to the Federal Government on the need to establish truck terminals to service the ports and utilize an efficient truck call-up system. Look at the industry and you would realize that this is one of the major problems and it is sad that fifteen years later no one has addressed that problem” Aniebonam said.
The NAGAFF Founder expressed worry that after the Vice-President’s visit to the ports twice no change has been effected.
“Do we need Mr. President to come to the ports before we know that after several decades the port access roads should have been expanded to about eight lanes? The Vice President who came to Apapa, came in a helicopter; how would he understand the pains of the people when he only flew in and flew out” Aniebonam queried.
Meanwhile, Mr. Ojo Akintoye, a member of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) at Tin Can Island Port told MMS Plus that the introduction of such SOPs would be unrealistic except the Lagos port roads observe massive transformation.
Ojo maintained that the development wasn’t part of the solutions to the multiple problems facing the nation’s ports.
“How do we expect insurance of any kind on the Apapa and Tin Can Port roads? Which insurance company would be able to insure trucks with such dilapidated roads? Such insurance company should be ready to die of deficits. The government should fix the port access roads first. The initiative isn’t a bad one but there are more pertinent issues at the ports today”
“Sometimes I wonder if the people who live and work in Apapa are part of this country because I don’t know the sin we have committed that made the government allow the road infrastructure to degenerate to this extent. It is no longer a story that we lose lives in Apapa and Tin Can on daily basis. The last time a motorcyclist died at Tin Can, people gathered and I was shocked at the response of a man who said; ‘E don happen again, another person don die’. So death is now a usual thing in this environment” he said.