Hajia Aisha Ali-Ibrahim is the Founder and Managing Director of Confluence Logistics and Transport Consults Limited. She also founded Women in Logistics and Transport (WiLAT), which she piloted for ten years as the Global Convener/Chairperson. She retired recently from NPA as the first female General Manager, Marine and Operations. In this exclusive interview with MMS Plus newspaper, Aisha speaks about life after her retirement and the services her new company renders. She also talks on other pertinent maritime issues; ranging from bottlenecks on the port access roads, the prospects and challenges with barge operations, women in maritime, the electronic truck call-up system, among other issues. Enjoy it:
Congratulations on your retirement. Before you left office as the Port Manager, Lagos Port Complex(LPC), Apapa traffic situation wasn’t as bad as it is now. Looking forward, what level of confidence do you have in Eto to address the present port access challenges?
I was actually still in office when the company managing the Eto system came for their presentation and we found this particular company capable due to their past records on projects they had done successfully. I have confidence in the call-up system, but the human elements between Lilypond and the port itself is where I think the challenge is.
For now, terminals do the call-up and trucks must go through Lilypond to access the port so they can carry their cargoes. So, in order to have a smooth movement and record daily flow of traffic, the human elements must be addressed.
The ports unfortunately have human elements as a limitation too, some of them are officials and some are not, those who are not officials hang around the port and in between the ports and Lilypond. It’s a very big challenge for the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) because NPA can only control what is within its domain, NPA is to manage the free flow of traffic but in between you have different people coming in, pretending to be assisting the system but in reality they are not helping.
NPA will do its best to address these challenges, but I believe that for anything to become successful it will first experience some hiccups. The moment NPA weeds out these elements in between those areas I made mention earlier, the traffic can be managed and the system becomes successful. Everyone cannot just head towards the port at the same time. There must be a good plan at the Lilypond end where they push trucks that are being called to the terminals.
The Apapa traffic seems to be a two way traffic system in the sense that we have that of Lillypond-Ijora axis and Tin Can-Mile 2 axis, but it looks like the call-up system is more focused on the Lillypond-Ijora axis without adequate arrangement for that of Tin Can-Mile 2 axis where we have lots of tank farms located with tankers, a situation that increases the problem we’re experiencing now. Do you think it’s an oversight on the part of NPA?
I think the trucks come in through Orile to Lilypond, I believe those that come through Mile 2 axis are the early call-ups but with time if they’re appropriately directed they won’t come through Lilypond axis. From Mile 2 there is a linking road to Orile to Lilypond. The Liverpool road has been fixed, so when trucks come, they go through Apapa while the smaller vehicles go through Liverpool so the traffic at Tin Can is not so much anymore.
I believe that for a system to work it needs everybody’s hands on deck. It’s not just about the Eto system, although the truck owners have been very supportive on their part but the drivers need to be compliant as well to make the system work. As for me, we need a change of attitude of every stakeholder involved in the system. We’re not going to leave it in the hands of NPA, we also need the support of all security agents. They all must embrace this system in order to address the present traffic situation.
As a new company, is Confluence Logistics taking advantage of the trending barge operation? If so, how has the experience been,so far?
Yes, I am into barge operations, although I’m only a new entrant in the business. I have my licence to operate and I’ve done some transactions,lately. The barge operations came at a very good time and I was still in office as the Port Manager. Honestly, if the barges were not operational I don’t know how the situations of things would be this moment because the barge operation took about 50% of the traffic that would have been on the road. It’s a good development and we’re thinking of even opening up all the inland waterways to the confluence state in Lokoja where the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) headquarter is located so that we can capture the traffic coming in from the far North. The roads are not enough to solve the traffic situation we’re experiencing. We have the bad state of the roads with multiple check points. There are so many reasons the barge operations has come to stay and it’s a very good development for our transport system. It encourages the inter-modal transport system and I commend NPA in that direction and also NIWA for encouraging and supporting barge operations across board.
The recent barge accident that occurred in Lagos has raised concern over the issue of safety and licensing of barge operations, what should be done in this regard?
Safety matters to NPA and they’re very concerned about regulations too. Apart from the loss of cargo on the side of the importer, we are also talking about wrecks on our waterways, the damage to our water channel and of course you know how much it cost to dredge our channels for bigger vessels. We don’t want a situation whereby we flood all the water channels with barges and the bigger vessels would be negatively affected. That’s why NPA is checking and reorganizing the list of barge operators for renewal, they’re requesting for all necessary documents and ensuring those given the license to operate are concerned about safety also.
Accidents happen but sometimes it’s the carelessness on the part of the operators but with what NPA is putting in place, I think there should be a level of reduction in the numbers of accidents. Safety is necessary, that’s why in my facility we are so concerned about passing knowledge to operators in the maritime industry, including the truck drivers and barge operators. I’m very concerned about passing on knowledge through my company because training is key. People sometimes make the mistake of jumping into business without having a good grasp and understanding of what they’re venturing into and so it’s important to have a place like this where such knowledge can be shared. Safety is very important in all areas of port operations.
Speaking of retirement after 35 years in service, how has it been so far?
Retirement to me is a new beginning because if you have worked in an organization for 35 years and you retired meritoriously, you are living as a happy fulfilled citizen because you’ve paid your dues. And now it’s a new beginning for you in your private life. To me, it’s a privilege because it’s not everyone who works gets to retirement level. You don’t need to retire before you die, some people die before retirement. I’m very grateful to God almighty. It now depends on what you want for yourself. For me, I’ve always had the passion to train. Training has been my area of expertise, I feel that way because I don’t need to struggle much at this point in my life. I’m doing what I do at my own convenience, I make the little I can out of any business I venture in. So far, so good, I retired last year and I am a happy person, I am very grateful to God almighty for me to be here. Retirement is a thing of joy for me and I continue to appreciate NPA for the opportunity given to me while I was still in service.
Why do you have to choose Lokoja as a base, looking at it from economic factor, setting up a factory where you think you have an comparative economic advantage with sourcing of materials for production? Is it because of sourcing of raw material that made you choose Lokoja as a base when ideally a more busy place like Lagos would have guaranteed more patronage?
That’s the reason I have a branch office in Lagos but my headquarter is actually in Lokoja. Apart from the fact that I’m an indigene of Kogi State, Lokoja has so much untapped opportunities. Kogi state is an export state, for example, Cashew nuts, I think Kogi state is the largest producer of Cashew nuts in Nigeria but there are challenges around that area, if only we can have investors put in money I believe Kogi state would be a state to be reckoned with. The revenue that would be generated from Cashew nuts alone cannot be quantified. Although the only modes of transport to the North are rail and road but from Lokoja itself it’s only road, we also have the NIWA headquarter there so if barges can move all this produce through water from Lokoja to Lagos and Onne port for export that would be a great achievement. So my being in Lokoja is strategic, I’m waiting patiently for opportunities to open up, whatever stage the river port is now, I believe that it’s completion will open up opportunities. As a professional I know the river ports are viable
Speaking of potentials in Kogi state as the largest producer of Cashew nuts, do you have any plan to go into cargo consolidation plans or venture into export of Cashew nuts as you’re based in Lokoja?
Yes, I’ve thought of it and in my short stay in Lokoja recently, I observed that there is no consolidation centre, not only for cashew nuts but also for all other agricultural produce and that is actually an area everyone should look into. I am into consultancy and I’m still studying it to see which way I can come in. Shippers’ association members are looking in that area too, there are other Federal Government agencies located in Lokoja like Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC), they’re all looking at it. We actually need one consolidation center so we don’t have to bring all the produce on trucks, it’s better all the documents are done at the center and just leave straight to the port. By the time barge operation starts with the consolidation center then we’re good to go. All these are areas waiting for investors to tap into.
Between when WiLAT took off some years back and now, would you say there have been tremendous improvement in women participation in the Maritime industry?
The women have always been there but the problem is they had not been visible, also they had no voice. But when WiLAT started it gave them that voice, it gave them the confidence to come out, to have a sense of belonging. Apart from WiLAT there are other women groups and also women in the industry today have been empowered enough to be able to contribute their own quota to the development of the industry.
Women are keen in fighting corruption in the industry, can we also say that they’ve been able to curtail some form of corruption over time with their visibility?
In my opinion when women are in position of authority they are very meticulous and you find out that women usually try their best as much as possible. When you talk of integrity, a woman is more bothered about what she does in the industry and how people see her because she believes that she’s responsible, answerable and accountable to not only to the office she’s occupying but also at home. As mother, it’s important to teach the children how to be accountable at all times. For me, the women in the industry have done so well with the opportunities given. When I was still the Port manager, people around me knew that I always wanted to do the right thing, I might not get it perfectly because it’s a team work and sometimes within your team you’ll find someone trying to stall your efforts. Nigeria itself is a pandemic, so it’s difficult to operate alone without being faced with all sorts of allegations but within yourself you know what you stand for. For the women in the industry, so far, we’ve not heard of any allegation that have not been appropriately addressed.
Confluence Logistics and Transport is six months old. How has been able to weather the storm and what are those unique services the industry stakeholders should be looking out for?
We actually started in February in between Covid. We put the company together between February and October last year. We flagged off officially on my birthday last year in October. We faced the covid challenge which is a global thing but however it has given me the opportunity to package myself because I believe that having worked for NPA for 35 years I should be able to create a facility which is of professional standard. I’m still in the process of putting myself together. The journey so far has been good, we have our own training facility. In the whole of Apapa there is no training facility of this nature and Apapa is so strategic that we have all these agencies and companies that can make use of them. We have the board room which is already being used because there are some people who could have their offices on the island and because of the traffic situation they take advantage of our boardroom for meetings. We are strategically located in Apapa and in Lokoja. Knowledge, training and manpower development are key for us here. We believe training and learning are spontaneous so we’re strategically located here waiting for patronage from all the agencies and terminal operators. We believe we have a lot to offer, apart from our training facility we’re also into trade exhibition, we can organize educational talks, investment talk, consultancy, travel and tourism, ticketing. We believe we can deliver the best services according to international practices. We’re well designed to serve the needs of our clients. We also do shipping services and trucking through our partnership. Through our company we link anyone that approach us for such services to our partners who are specialist in that field because we can’t do everything ourselves.