The Association of Maritime Truck Owners (AMATO) has developed an initiative “the call-up system” to eliminate gridlocks at port environs usually caused by trucks and tankers. As a result, MMS Plus sat with AMATO’s chairman Chief Remi Ogungbemi to fetch you more details about this system and other steps taken by the association to make the port a better place.
Please expatiate on the call-up system proposed by the Association Maritime Truck Owners (AMATO) to curb traffic congestion at our ports.
A call-up system is one that would utilize technology just like manual electronic gadgets to solve the traffic hazards found at the ports today. The arrangement is that trucks will have to stay at their truck parks/ garages, for those who don’t have parks a place will be secured for them where they can park especially for trucks and tankers coming from outside the state. The call-up system will inform the truck driver electronically when it is his turn to enter the ports to load, hence, we will eliminate the situation where trucks queue up on the roads despite the fact that they may not be attended to for days or weeks.
We are partnering with a company known as FT Global Logistics Services to design plans for the call-up system. I’m privileged to be part of the meetings that AMATO has been holding as we have made presentations to the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC) and the Lagos State Government. I believe that with this system in place, the challenges of gridlocks at Apapa and Tincan ports would soon become a thing of the past. The issue is the government and their lengthy bureaucratic processes before endorsing an initiative. The governor of Lagos state, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode has given an ultimatum of ninety (90) days for trucks to look for parks because he would no longer tolerate a situation where trucks park on the roads. This is a step in the right direction since we have sent our proposal to the Lagos state government, NPA and NSC; we believe they will do the needful.
Truck drivers spend several days or weeks on queue on the road. They wouldn’t eat, sleep or take their bath- how do we expect such a person to behave normal. By the time we achieve a better system which will regulate the influx of trucks into the port environment, we are sure to bring some measure of professionalism into the truck business.
Is the truck call-up initiative a product of the committee setup by the Lagos state government which has AMATO and other maritime stakeholders involved to curb falling trucks and traffic congestion?
No, the idea was not as a result of the committee. The call-up system is a private initiative, although NPA and the Lagos state government are involved. I want to believe that the company is waiting for a letter of engagement before it can commence and it will also need funds because the software required for the system runs into millions of naira.
The outcome of the committee was to setup a taskforce to ensure that all trucks coming into the ports file up in a single line so as to create access for other road users. If you are coming into the port from the Tincan or Ijora axis you will find that most of these trucks are in a single line. This is as a result of the taskforce which was created to ensure compliance. This idea is laudable but it is not the best because all the trucks are not heading to the same loading point. When we start this call-up system, anywhere a truck is, even if your terminal is at Agege or Ikeja within one hour you can enter the port because the roads will be free. If the road isn’t free as the situation is at the moment, it can take you a whole day to enter the Apapa port even if your terminal is at Ijora.
You stated in a recent interview that your association doesn’t need new trucks presently. Can you explain the reason for that statement?
What I mean is that we cannot acquire loans to replace our rickety trucks with new ones when the roads remain in a deplorable state. If the truck falls and gets damaged as a result of the bad roads, how do we repay the loan?
It is better for us to continue managing the old trucks we have, when the roads are fixed we would have the confidence to acquire new trucks. It is a risk for someone to use N30million to acquire a new truck that can go on one trip and the truck gets damaged. We will keep managing the trucks we have because of the state of the roads
The minister of transport Mr. Rotimi Amaechi has pledged to revamp the rail system. How relevant is this to having better roads and what is the implication from the business perspective of a truck owner?
Well, if the railway starts working it is good for the transporter because trucks are supposed to be complimenting the efforts of the rail. It is not the best that a truck will be transporting goods from Lagos to the far North like Borno or extreme East like Enugu. The rail should be deployed for such long distances but the rail isn’t there. If we have the rail working, it will also elongate the lifespan of our trucks. The trucks will just be moving the goods from the rail station to a short distance, but the situation now is so bad that even if you get a new truck within six months you would think the truck has been in operation for over ten years. Fixing the rail system would be the best way to address most of these problems.
The roads can no longer accommodate the volume of activities that we are giving it. Imagine the Lagos-Ibadan express road that was constructed about forty years ago and by now we supposed to have gotten another one to complement and support it. We have not even been able to maintain that one talks less of building another, yet we increase in population every day and vehicular movement also increases.
How do we expect the roads that were constructed about forty years ago to still accommodate the volume of activities that has increased? We are not developing in this regard. Our saving grace at the Apapa port is that we have a low turnout of goods at the moment; the volume of import has reduced drastically, if the ports were booming as it was before we would be in more problems. Most of the traffic congestion nowadays is caused by tankers coming to lift petroleum products. What will happen when the rate of import and export increases significantly and the roads remain in the same state?
What does it take to be a member of Association Maritime Truck Owners?
It is a very simple. The first and most important step is to own a truck.
Are there regulations or sanctions that checkmate activities of the members of the association?
Yes, there are standards but things are not working as expected because most of the places that are supposed to serve as truck parks have been taken away for other business activities. That is why we are clamouring for people in authority to assist us to get places that we have seen to serve as truck terminals. We discovered a place at Mile2. The place is big enough to accommodate all the trucks operating in Apapa and TinCan. If the government can acquire the place and build it up, the problems of traffic congestion in the port environment will become a thing of the past. There will also be a Container Holding Bay at the place, but we have this idea and we lack the financial and political power to actualize it. We have informed the Lagos state government, NPA, NSC and other maritime stakeholders such as NAGAFF and ANLCA. We know that we cannot achieve this without these crucial maritime stakeholders. They say “hand wash hand, make hands clean”.
One last word-
I want to use this medium to appeal with all stakeholders to key into this call-up system that we are trying to introduce. However, I also know that we don’t have the monopoly of wisdom or knowledge. If there are other ideas or platforms better that this, they should feel free to come on board with it. We can jettison this one if there is a more superb one. What we want is a conducive environment to operate our business. We don’t want a situation where trucks will always have to queue up on the roads from days to weeks and we look at our drivers and cannot differentiate them from lunatics. The slogan for the nation today is change. We want change at the ports in the operations and the roads. Change into a conducive environment. A situation where you can be proud to say I am a truck driver.