By Kenneth Jukpor
Alhaji Inuwa Mohammed is a chieftain of the Nigerian Association of Road Transport Owners (NARTO). In this interview with MMS Plus newspaper, he explains while the substitution of container deposits with insurance should be prioritized immediately. The trucking boss also highlights the successes and challenges of the Electronic Truck call-up system ‘eto’ initiative since its commencement, while touching on other pertinent issues in the port sector. Enjoy it!
Eto has had some positive impact on the ports as well as challenges. How would you rate the electronic initiative currently?
Eto is a very good online platform and it’s a welcome development. I give kudos to the team behind the Eto initiative and I also thank the Managing Director of Nigeria Port Authority (NPA), Ms. Hadiza Bala-Usman for allowing Eto to come onboard. As you can see it has brought about sanity into Apapa and its environs.
I can testify that the beauty of Apapa is coming back in the sense that there is free flow of truck movement and that’s what we need. Eto has also made it mandatory that any truck that doesn’t have business in the port to stay at the truck parks. It’s only when the truck is called upon that such a truck can access the port and this is a very good idea. I believe if such initiative is sustained the port will bounce back to be the number one destination point calling in the West Africa and Central African sub-region.
However, there are challenges at the outer port corridor around Mile 2 downward. This can be attributed to the ongoing road reconstruction. The reconstruction has been an obstacle to the success of the Eto project. I don’t know the tactics the contractors deployed but it is too slow. You’ll notice a lot of barricades along that axis and sometimes they collaborate with some people to determine when or not to open the barricades. This brings human interface and corruption that eto sets out to eliminate.
Another problem on this port access from the Tin Can/ Mile 2 corridor is the multiplicity tank farms and bonded terminals. These factors, coupled with road rehabilitations going on some part of that route make eto less efficient on that axis.
NPA approved 17 truck parks as take off points under eto and some are for specialized cargoes. Is that sufficient for the port operations?
I believe that this administration and decisions with eto is a continuous process. These seventeen parks aren’t sufficient but I believe that more truck parks will be approved. Since eto was made for everyone who intends to access ports, NPA should also consider increasing the approved parks to ease the administration.
There are several other parks that should be considered and I think it will eliminate the pressure to make fake call-ups. When the locations or truck parks to obtain call-ups are numerous and reachable there will be less emphasis on forgery.
Eto will be the platform for regulating but people should be able to obtain call-up from several other areas in Lagos to lessen the burden on the few approved truck parks. I know it is a continuous process and I expect NPA to consider and approve more truck parks.
Recently some truckers alleged additional cost at the trucks parks via an e-wallet. What’s this e-wallet about?
From what I can deduce from their explanation of the e-wallet, it’s beneficial to people who constantly use the ports. With money in your wallet, it allows for quick facilitation of transactions each time you want to make use of the ports. For instance, one might need to do a transaction very early and it would be faster to make payments from your wallet to enable your truck access the port without any delay. The goal is just to save time. It’s not an additional cost.
NPA is currently regulating truck access to the ports while Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) is concerned about your cost. On issues of professionalism and ethics of truckers, should a regulation be carried out by the Council For the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN)?
How can CRFFN be talking of regulating truckers? They should rather face freight forwarding. Truckers should have an agency entirely regulating it. Don’t forget the Federal Government is setting up National Transport Commission (NTC), what will the NTC do when it emerges? CRFFN should focus on freight forwarding, while a more specific transport body could do trucking regulation because it’ll end up being duplication of duties.
During the COVID-19 lockdown era, Shippers Council negotiated with truckers for 30 percent reduction in cost; with Eto and the ease it brings in accessing the ports, should port users expect a downward review of trucking fares?
With eto there has been a relative ease, but there are lots of things to put in place before the freight charge and trucking cost will reduce. It is true that the increased trucking charges can be attributed to the delays faced at the port coupled with extortion and difficulty in accessing the ports; but with the Eto call up, within 20 to 30 minutes you can access the port unlike before where there are lots of impediments.
Eto also ensures that all documentations of truckers are intact which enables them to pick up their cargoes without any delay. I’m of the opinion it’s going to decrease the cost and enhance the ease of doing business. However, this business is governed by the market forces of demand and supply.
At one point last year trucking fares exceeded N1.5 million to move a container from Apapa to farther locations within Lagos. If you are to project a percentage reduction on truck charges from what Eto has achieved so far, what will it be?
Lagos is a peculiar area, so, I can’t really give a percentage cut but what I can say about the port is that a lot of things have been done to decongest it. I’m certain prices within that area will reduce but don’t forget if you’re going outside the port corridor deep into Lagos, there are still some challenges you’ll face.
In some communities and also some local governments, there are certain fees we pay. Touts also accost our drivers and extort monies and the security agents sometimes also do the same. So those are the other areas we want the government to look into and with that I think we will get a drastic reduction in trucking fares; but the reality is that there are still hindrances on several routes, communities and local governments.
The continuous abandoning of containers in Lagos port recently sparked an increase in freight cost from Asia and Europe to Lagos from $3,000 to about $13, 000. As a trucker, what’s you take on this empty container conundrum?
It’s true they’re charging us more now because we have empty containers here at our port and that’s why I said earlier that demand and supply also affect cost. You can see how it affects freight charges and this is a very complex problem.
Again it shows that if there is really no availability of containers in Europe, automatically we’ll have less import here in Lagos. Europe is short of containers to move cargoes here and the reason for their hike in price, shipping companies claimed that the containers are trapped here as a result of that they can’t return the empty containers.
Don’t forget that some maritime experts have also argued that it’s because the containers have expired that the shipping companies don’t want to return them. This is a very interesting topic that I want the relevant regulatory bodies to look into.
In my opinion, these shipping companies are fraudulent, they’re the ones destroying Nigeria’s port system. They are making money under the disguise of container deposits and demurrage, extorting importers whereas they are the ones that are supposed to provide holding bays. They have been importing and dumping containers in Lagos for over ten years or more and not returning it. It is high time Shippers Council step in to address this.
There have been talks about scrapping the payment of container deposit and replacing it with insurance. This is the best time for NSC to complete that arrangement. If the shipping companies are really honest, this is also the best time to collaborate with the regulators and make sacrifices to take back their empty containers. If possible, the regulators could structure waivers to support them while they bring in sweeper vessels to move these empty containers out of Nigeria.
Barging has been used as an alternative to evacuate cargoes from the ports as well as returning empty containers but recent barge accidents on waterways have been alarming. What are your thoughts on this?
I’m very much concerned and the relevant agencies involved should step up and make sure all barges operating on our waterways are in good standard conditions. We are all happy we have the land, sea and the rail which is up coming to move containers and also decongest the ports.
Barging is a good approach and it is what we have all been clamoring for when we talk about intermodal transportation. The barge and rail are like support systems to the land because it’s still the trucks that’ll move the containers to the final destination.
We don’t want faulty barges to operate on our waterways because it can cause lots of damage to goods as well as people who also use the water transport for passengers. So, it’s high time the barge operators get all licenses required for them to operate and also make sure their barges are in the best working conditions for the safety of all.