By Kenneth Jukpor
In a bid to ensure order at Lagos ports and eliminate the perrenial gridlock, Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) has appealed to the federal government to find a lasting solution to the empty container quagmire at the ports.
Customs made this call at a stakeholders’ meeting organized by Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) to chart the headway for traffic management at Lagos ports and environs, noting that 90% of ports access problems stem from the empty container challenges.
The Zonal Coordinator, Zone ‘A’, NCS, Assistant Comptroller General (ACG) Kaycee Ekekezie who was represented by Deputy Controller, Enforcement, Tin Can Island Port, DC Dera Nnadi, said this at the summit even as he identified some measures to address the traffic congestion.
These measures described as low hanging fruits by the Customs boss include; opening alternative access roads for Tin Can Island Port, collaboration between traffic managers and terminals on the number of trucks needed at specific times, sincerity of terminals on the preferred facilities for empty containers, optimal management of barge operations, among others.
“We can repair all port access roads and these problems would remain. The major terminal operators should explore the possibility of lifting empty containers from their terminals. Most of the challenges we have at the ports is because trucks coming in with empty containers queue up for days trying to offload containers. Sometimes, these trucks get into the ports only to be turned back because where they have brought the empty container isn’t the designated place. So, there is lack of information”, he said.
He also lamented that the seaports were concessioned without some key issues like common user areas sufficiently addressed.
In addition, he pointed out that Customs Government warehouses in the concessioned ports were demolished and opined that provision of such facilities would ease the evacuation of seized and overtime cargoes at the ports.
“We suggest that the contractors handling the Apapa – Oshodi expressway should help open more access routes. Presently, there is just one access road in and out of Tin Can Island Port. When that road was closed the cost of hiring trucks skyrocketed from N400,000 to almost N1million because the Liverpool bridge became the only exit. While we commend the efforts of the contractors, they should help us open one more access roads in and out of Tin Can Island Port. We also want to optimize the human efforts controlling traffic on the port access roads. There are too many people doing this but it’s not coordinated”, he said.
Responding to complaints that Customs seldom punish officers involved in sharp practices at the ports leading to additional scrutiny and interception of goods along the port corridors and the highways, he assured that the Service under Col. Hammed Ali (Rtd) had zero tolerance for indiscipline.
He stated that officers found to have aided clearance of compromised goods received sufficient punishment, however the service couldn’t publish such actions on the media.
According to him, the Customs in-house monthly order the showed the extent of disciplinary measures taken by the management.
Earlier, the Port Manager, Lagos Port Complex (LPC), Apapa, Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) Mrs. Funmilayo Olotu said that the frivolous interception of cargoes by Customs officers was an addition to the already congested port environment.
Olotu, who was representing the Managing Director of NPA, admonished the Customs Service to purge itself of such corrupt officers, noting NPA had to take such actions to restore sanity at the Authority.
Speaking on behalf of freight forwarders at the conference, the Chairman, Kirikiri Lighter Terminal (KLT) Chapter of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Engr. Emmanuel Umeadi shared similar views that the difficulties in returning empty containers was the primary cause of Apapa gridlock.
Umeadi blamed NPA and NSC for their inability to compel shipping companies and terminals to act rightly.
Meanwhile, Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) called on the Lagos State Government to establish mobile courts in Apapa in order to speedily prosecute and jail traffic offenders.
NSC Executive Secretary, Barr. Hassan Bello also stated this at the stakeholders’ meeting, stressing that it would be a viable tool to limit the high number of traffic violators and malpractices leading to traffic gridlock at Lagos port access roads and the environs.
Bello who was represented by Mr. Cajetan Agu, Director, Consumer Services at the Council, said the major cause of the traffic gridlock in Apapa was not lack of efficient traffic management system, but the lack of compliance by operators.
He also admonished Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and the Presidential Task Force on Restoring Order at Lagos ports to revisit the use of Lilypond and Tin Can truck terminals which saw the port access roads free in September 2019.
The NSC boss equally observed that the 48 nominated private truck parks should be utilized to ease the burden on Lilypond and Tin Can truck parks.