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Port Access Roads: From Presidential Order To Hypnosis As Operators Mourn

Port Access Roads: From Presidential Order To Hypnosis As Operators Mourn

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· How poor infrastructure affects farm produce export

By Kenneth Jukpor

Despite the numerous trending video clips of free flow of traffic in Apapa and the recent assurance by Nigeria’s Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo that the government is adopting short-term, mid-term and long-term measures to resolve the Apapa gridlock, port operators have warned the Presidency that the effects of the recent order of truck evacuation and the consequent changes are deceptive pills meant to put people to sleep on their demand for the road repairs.

Operators argue that the root causes of the problems at the port environment are not just decayed infrastructure but a gamut of challenges which haven’t been addressed by the presidential order.

Stakeholders have highlighted problems which include the absence of empty container holding bays on the part of shipping companies, lack of truck parks for the port environs, corruption, lack of electronic truck call-up system, truckers’ greed of gravitating to the ports to source businesses, among others, as germane to any sustainable traffic situation at the ports.

During an exclusive interview with MMS Plus last week, the Chairman of the Kirikiri Lighter Terminal (KLT) of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Comrade Goddy Sewa Soleji stated that the presidential order wasn’t working, noting that it would be misleading to say otherwise.

“It is not a case of people violating the order. The presidential order was doomed to fail naturally because of the prevailing circumstances. I’m shocked to hear people say there is free flow of traffic at Apapa. Can you stay on a queue for more than ten minutes and call such situation free flow of traffic? People still spend days on that road. The situation has only become better from the previous state of spending weeks on the road but there’s no free flow of traffic when people still spend three, four or five days on that road taking containers into the ports. Look at Tin Can, you can’t drive from Mile 2 through Tin Can to Apapa/ Wharf. So, what are we celebrating as gains of the Presidential order?” He queried.

Soleji admonished port stakeholders to tell the government the truth, expressing worry that some operators have been singing praises that the Apapa port environs have become safe haven.

“It is important that we begin to tell the government the truth. President Mohammadu Buhari and the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo aren’t spirits, they are humans. They are our leaders and they need the accurate information on the true state of things especially at the ports. The truth is that the presidential order isn’t working and it’s not because anyone is violating the order but as a result of the unaddressed challenges which led to the chaos at the ports initially,” he said.

However, he highlighted the problem of empty containers posed by the lack of holding bays and the issue of truck terminals as major problems, while noting that the drainage systems filled with dirt and the roads are also littered with dirt.

“When all these have been provided for, you can talk about presidential orders and give ultimatum for trucks to evacuate the roads. You can’t give orders and expect the desired results when the root problems have not been addressed,” he added.

The state of the access roads has also been an impediment to the activities of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) at the ports. The Tin Can Island Customs Command’s Public Relations Officer (PRO) Mr. Uche Ejisieme itemized this as the most problematic issues from the standpoint of Customs at Tin Can Island Port.

Expressing worry on the state of the Tin Can Port access roads recently, he told MMS Plus, “some of the facilities around the ports can be improved. We know that the federal government has awarded the contract for the road reconstruction and I’m sure that with the kind of listening government that we have, the problem would be addressed so that trade facilitation is real”

According to the Tin Can Customs spokesperson, there would be no realistic trade facilitation at the ports without good road infrastructure.

“You can’t talk about trade facilitation without the requisite infrastructure. Infrastructure is very critical. At Tin Can, aside the road challenge we have been working assiduously to meet up with our obligations”, he said.

Similarly, the Founder of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Dr. Boniface Aniebonam lamented that the Presidential taskforce saddled with the responsibility would continue to demand time extension because the problems are fundamental issues.

The NAGAFF Founder who was speaking withMMS Plus during an exclusive chat stressed that the core problems are things that should have been nipped in the bud several years ago.

“Fifteen years ago, NAGAFF wrote a special report on the need to develop a truck terminal to address the unregulated influx trucks at the ports. At that time the port was going into a second phase of development. Today, we have the likes of Dangote, Flour Mills and other big companies at the ports but no way to access the ports. Truckers are very critical to port operations. You can’t handle them stiffly because it would be calamitous,” he said.

Aniebonam expressed worry that the top Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) of government parastatals around the ports have been unable to escalate the chaotic state of activities to the necessary authorities or taken steps to address them.

“Look at the roads, the junction between Lagos and Apapa, that bridge is about to collapse, if that happens what next? It is more worrisome that those in authority pass through the road daily and they also see the state of the bridge. Is it President Mohammadu Buhari that should be held responsible for this, when his powers have been delegated to several Ministries and heads of parastatals? Why do we derive joy by sitting in the comfort of our homes to blame President Buhari? What have we done as individuals to make things better? I think we should declare state of emergency at our ports” he said.

However, the penultimate Saturday, Prof. Osinbajo reportedly went round the Apapa area to inspect progress of ongoing work to clear the gridlock and expressed satisfaction with his findings.

In another development, there are indications that the movement of products that require cold storage facilities would continue to suffer grossly as a result of infrastructural deficits and lack of attention from the government as well as private sector operators.

A research based group known as Sea Empowerment Research Centre revealed this on Friday , noting that most port concessionaires investment policy do not anticipate the full maximization of this aspect as a key investment opportunities in the maritime industry.

Nevertheless, the research group posited that cold logistics serves as stimulator tool for an overall industry development for logistics and supply chain.

Using a case study of the West Africa Container Terminal (WACT) in its findings, the report showed that WACT in Onne, topples other South/Eastern ports in container throughput, just like major ports in Lagos topple other ports in the Western zone in container throughput.

The report indicated that due to absence of effective cold logistics operations in the country, perishable produces such as fruits, vegetables, other farm produce of sustainable export quantities per annum, suffers wastages depriving the nation of employment opportunities and financial losses.

The group urged the Nigerian government to take a cue from the South Africa Cold Chain Logistics revolution of 2008, and empower WACT and other port operators across the nation to be better placed to tap into the immense opportunities in cold logistics, especially the wide range of job creation.

“Presently, WACT is willing and ready to handle as much volumes of Perishable produces available, provided they ascertain a realistic forecast from shipping lines so as to effectively manage planning capacity. WACT has enough standby energy generating sets and reefers plugs in use. Basically, if exports forecast increases, then the need for capacity boosting may consider” the report said.

Speaking on the opportunities for WACT in cold logistics, a veteran freight forwarder and consultant at the research firm, Dr. Eugene Nweke said, “As a professional Forwarder, I do know that, WACT and other port operators can actually open a new horizon for international trade and security supply chain in the country”

“It is unfortunate that specialized cold port logistics operations have remained under utilized in Nigeria for decades. This is a very essential aspect of logistics. It is also important to point out that this has the capacity to gradually decentralize imports and exports activities across the geopolitical zones” he said.

Nweke, who is a former President of NAGAFF, called for improved willingness and proper consultations with all the states chambers of commerce and collaborations with critical stakeholders in the bid to get cold logistics viable in Nigeria.

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