Alhaji Isa Bukar Managing Director of Greenview Development Nigeria Limited one of the Terminal Operators in Apapa port. In this interview, Bukar gives details of how the traffic situation in Apapa port has affected the operations of the company and how it has been able to brave the odds.
What is your assessment of the present gridlock in Apapa by truck drivers?
The gridlock has been an embarrassment to the stakeholders and government. It is a thing that did not start today but a long time. We saw it coming for long.
What is the cause?
All the existing trailer parks in Apapa were turned into container terminals and car parks, etc by NPA, then the trucks were thrown out and turned into parking spaces.
Why is it so?
The trucks are in definite parks in the port with both complementing each other. What is happening now is quite an embarrassment and disgrace to all. In my view most of these trucks do not have to be on the roads.
The truck operators turned the roads into parking lots waiting for customers, that is, those carrying cargos and those carrying fuel.
More than 60% of them are waiting for customers and not supposed to be on the roads but in business premises. For any one starting business, a premises is needed. Most of these trailer operators do not have premises. They look for government to provide these. It does not matter to look up to government but in situation where government is not coming forth you as a business man has to have a trailer park somewhere where you can keep your trailers, you allow them to come to the port when there is need to do so.
Secondly, some of these trailers park on these roads do so waiting to load for up to a week.
Why do they have to wait this long?
The fuel depots know the quantity they dispense every day. Why not control the number that come for loading? We, as terminal operators, some of us don’t provide truck holding bay in our terminals. We, for example, Greenview, we have spaces for enough truck to come in; therefore if you see any Dangote truck along the roads; it is because it does not have access to the road but we have opened all to come in . We expect other terminal operators to do the same because of the national problem.
What is the gridlock doing to your business?
Cargo is not leaving the port on time. It takes 3/4hours before one can access Apapa. When you come to the office in the morning; you see it virtually empty. Our cargo delivery capacity has reduced almost by half because the trucks are held somewhere thereby causing problem. Workers in Apapa and business men cannot report to work as early as possible because of hours spent on the roads.
What is the way forward?
As I said earlier, these trucks are integral to the ports. Without them there is no port. So I foresee a situation where the entire stakeholders must come together and find a solution which would be the provision of trailer parks somewhere. Unfortunately, within the vicinity of Apapa there are no empty lands where you can convert to truck park but because this is very urgent you need to quickly look for space.
The first step would have been for government to locate these trucks to a park like the one in Tin Can. like my own group, Dangote we are trying to have a truck terminal outside along Ogere and introduce a truck pick up system where our trucks would be permanently there and we would call them . I expect the truck owners and associations to have something similar somewhere.
The call up system is the only solution until this is done we would continue to have this problem. For us to reduce this problem let each terminal open its gate and establish a truck holding bay so that we can take some of these trucks off the road.
Some say relocation of tank farms is imminent?
There has been this talk of relocation of these tank farms for a long time. It can’t come overnight though we expect all depots collectively or individually to have a truck park until they are called to load.
What is your take on the multiplicity of tank farms and the issuance of additional tank farms licenses to prospective investors?
Yes, there are too many that have been here for a long time and as it is now relocation does not happen overnight, it takes time. If they are moved it will lead to fuel crisis the next day. So there must be a long term/medium term plan concerning relocation, may be 6/12months. You need to get your space. Lay pipes; have a jetty. Unfortunately there are about 12 depots in this country. In the past fuel used to be pumped for people to take from there. Now everybody come from the North and East to Lagos
Why are the depots not working, is it because of vandalisation?
You mean we cannot take care of our properties? We cannot leave everything for government. We have to collectively see how things can work otherwise Apapa would be at a standstill. Therefore the best thing would have been to decentralize the system since there are structures on ground. If adequate security is provided and working before what about now? Does that mean we can’t secure our investment? We should just take the trailers out and bring the call up system. Tank farms need to be relocated which would take some time, it can’t come overnight. Taking trucks out of the roads you need land outside Apapa.
If you take them further away there would be another problem of congestion considering the turn around time of vessel. For us, our gates are open for about 200/300 trucks
We have no option in order not contribute to the gridlock outside. If you see any of our trucks outside it is because it did not have access caused by other trucks outside. I expect my colleagues to follow suit. Let every terminal provide trucks with holding bays. APM; ENL; EKO support; ABTL, etc. If each of us can take about 200 trucks each totaling about a 1000 it would go a long way at alleviating the issue. But then some of the terminals don’t have the land
How did Dangote get the foresight of having a truck terminal?
May be the trucks are not theirs like Dangote. Most businesses have moved from Apapa now and Lagos is shut down.
Truck owners say terminal operators also cause the problem as a result of system breakdown?
It is possible. Especially empty containers but we are working. The funny thing is that most of these trucks after leaving the terminals park on the roads. They have no business parking on the roads but go away and deliver. Therefore, there is a lot of indiscipline on the park of drivers. They load and go and buy fuel, other repair their truck s on the road, so they contribute to the problem.
Go to Tin Can, for example they have a place as garage for repairs and assemblage of their trucks. It is not supposed to be. So we have to come together.
What are the multiplier effects of the bad roads on your business ?
It slows down movement of leaving the ports. Containers fall down. At times you might see the queue of loaded trucks from area B right to the ports especially when it rains. As a group we are seeing what we can do. Lagos state government should assist after all it generates revenue through the wharf landing charges.
In view of these problems why can’t we make use of the railway as our best option?
Is the service available? That is the question. You may have the tankers but the trucks are they there? It is only in Greenview and AP Moller that you can get lines. These rail lines are they into fuel business? Even in Tin Can and the creek road. But in dockyard, what percentage can it handle? Fine, it reduces stress. I don’t think the rail is working. But if they are it is a welcome development. We are also thinking of moving our goods by rail for a long time.
Have you tried it?
We tried it for Wheat but it failed. The first consignment fell along the rail track and it was discontinued. The only alternative should have been the rail but I don’t think they are ready.
What has the gridlock done to your company financially? How do you intend to pay your bills?
It has reduced our cargo throughput. We used to do 10,000 a day but it has reduced to 5000 because the turn around time is affected. So in this case our sugar factory should have delivered about 150 trucks a day coming down to 60/70 ditto flour. We have a salt factory here also affected. The turn around time has affected Gypsum sent to our factories, where we are dispatching 120 trucks a day now 20/30
Where we were thinking of expansion of channels for bigger vessel, now with the situation we cannot be efficient, so government has to do something quickly on the roads and general traffic regulation .Mark you, Apapa is an old port with a lot of modern development so the solution is to have a new port away from urban area which is in a long term in view of plans for Badagry and Lekki ports.