Chief Remi Ogungbemi is the Chairman of the Association of Maritime Truck Owners(AMATO). In this interview, he traces the origin of the traffic gridlock in the ports in Lagos and proffers immediate, medium and long term solutions to the crisis. Courtesy of Nigerian Ports Today. Excerpt:
Apapa has never experienced this type of gridlock before, how is it and what are the factors responsible for the present state?
It is in a serious mess that it has started claiming lives and properties in Apapa. About how it all began, it started about two decades ago when all places that were designed for trucks parks and terminals were taken away for other business activities. Before then, all trucks coming from different parts of the country normally use the facility as a Holding Bay/Park pending when they will be loaded and go back to the same place for necessary documentation before the exit of the truck from the park. But right from the era of port reform and coupled with concession agreement, these places that were being used before concession were barricaded. All the areas were not penetrable or accessible. So your truck movement has been restricted only to a place where they are assigned to load. That is why trucks occupy the access road trying to load in the port, thereby parking on the road which is not in the interest of the truck owner or driver. It is a terrible and serious challenge. The owner and driver queue on the road which exposes the truck to vandals day and night. Drivers do not have time to rest. They undergo serous fatigue day and night. They gather on the road for at least five days. They would not eat nor take their bath. This is one of the major reasons why we see drivers getting angry easily irritated as a result of the harsh and volatile environment. There are places called Trailer Park, ABCD at Apapa and Tin Can. We had a large space designated as Terminal but the concession arrangement has taken over all these facilities. That is why we are in this mess. Even the error made by the Bureau of Public Enterprise(BPE) has resulted in the problem we are facing at Apapa and Tin Can.
Have you informed the Regulatory body of the need for Terminal Operators to have a Holding Bay?
It has been our message come rain come shine. Anytime we have the opportunity, we have been making the regulators see that these errors will boomerang. But we have the limit to what to do. We do not have the political and financial power to make the difference because we are not at the helm of affairs and to do compound things up, we see tank farms springing up here and there. This was not the case before now. I cannot imagine why somebody will sit down and approve tank farms without even any consideration for trucks carrying fuel from those tank farms. It is like we are putting all our eggs in one basket and to get it right, it is day’s job. Something has to be done.
As a business man and stakeholder in the industry, the more tank farms the better for the truckers. What do you think?
In my lay man’s view and understanding, the Apapa area is chocked up. I see it as maladministration to put all tank farms together in the port environment. That is why we are in a mess. Agreed the tank farms use the truckers, but it could have been better if the rail system could take the products from the tank farms to other states and areas in Nigeria. In the alternative, I think the pipes can be linked to the vessels that bring the fuel to the country instead of relying on the tankers that come to lift the fuel. If a pipe is fixed to a vessel, they can transfer the fuel to other areas such as Epe, Ondo, Ekiti etc. instead of allowing tankers from all over to concentrate in Lagos. That is why we are having all these problems.
In as much as I agree with you on your point of transfer through pipeline, have you thought of the problem of vandalisation?
Do you know the numbers of pipelines in Nigeria, how many will the security operative watch?
There should be a device on how to protect pipelines without human contact. With the present technology in the world, there should be a device to scare people away from moving closer to such facilities. I am not saying the operatives should line up on the top of a pipe but there should be away out.it is a terrible situation under which people are passing through within the port environment, though it is not only the truckers that are suffering , the dwellers and other stakeholders are suffering as well. It is difficult for people to move into Apapa, it will take you hours. Surely something has to be done because we are sitting on a keg of gun powder.
Please, tell us more of the plans for the construction of truck terminals?
I am aware that the management of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) has started listening to our suggestion on the best way forward to have a place as truck terminal and will be easier to introduce the Electronic Trucking System through which we will be using to access the Port and Terminals, depending on the number required by a terminal.
It is not until we start such measure that we will have a relief in Apapa. If one is traveling out of the country for instance, there has to be a fulfillment of requirement before one is allowed into the aircraft. I am earnestly looking forward to the Electronic System by which only trucks that are ready to be attended to are allowed into the port. The question of trucks coming to queue will be a thing of the past. Trucks coming to load fuel or containers will remain where they are until they are called to come just as we receive text messages from different network.
What are your views of broken down rickety trucks along the port roads?
I agree with you that we have rickety trucks on our roads. The environment is volatile. What do I mean? There are so many areas by which the truck owners are missing their profits; the environment creates a lot of bottlenecks of corruption and extortion within the system. For instance, a truck owner before entering the port has to part with money which ends up somewhere. This is the money that the owner of the truck needs to maintain the trucks to a standard. So money is taken away direct or indirectly.
Apart from this, you know we rely on tokunbo trucks that have failed test in other countries. How do they want to pass test in Nigeria? However, we are trying our possible best which can only be achieved with the support of government. For instance, banks have approached us to come and get loans to face out rickety trucks. We said no because there are no spaces for us to park them. LASTMA will tow them away and make it difficult to pay such loans back. We insist on getting a safe place where even new trucks can be parked before such loans are collected. The rickety vehicles are not in the interest of the owner. The environment is taking away over profit that ought to be used for maintenance.
Any support from stakeholders?
I must commend the efforts of management of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA). Aware that they are listening to the information about the 51 acres of land at mile 2 owned by family, we have collected all the documents, court order, gazette, family consent, handling over note. The land was under military before, but now it is with family. We wrote a covering letter attached and sent to management which is receiving attention as well as given provisional approval from proximity, it is about 2 kilometers from Tin can and Apapa. The place is very strategic to the port. We have even gotten a person ready to finance it.
Tell us more about the call up system?
It is a system that will be devoid of human contact because if we still have human contact, tendency of favoritism will be there but with the electronic call up system once you get your TDO or loading order you take it to the consulting agent. You are registered on first come first serve.
How soon can there be a relief in Apapa?
We at AMARTO and other stakeholders are presently in a committee set up by the present Lagos State Government to offer solutions to the constant falling of containers on the roads and the traffic mess. Proper things have to be done for us to have a relief.
What are those things?
Discussion is ongoing with the management of Lagos International Trade Fair Complex, Lagos. We are making progress to facilitate the call up system so that if you are coming from anywhere, instead of parking on the road where you don’t have a park or garage you go and park at the space until you are called to come to the port. Also, if the terminal operators are not ready to receive empty containers, go and park there until terminals and shipping companies are ready to take them. But we cannot achieve this without the support of the stakeholders. That is why I am using this forum today to let there be a synergy within the port. That is, between the management of NPA, Nigerian Shippers’ Council and Lagos State Government.
It will be better and faster, if all can work on the same page for sanity and orderliness in the port environment.