.Barr. Emmanuel Gowon, the Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Association of Road Transport Owners (NARTO) in this interview with Segun Oladipupo explained how the traffic gridlock on the Apapa and Tin Can ports roads are caused by government negligence, terminal operators’ inability to meet up with the required standard of operations; he was quick to mention the contribution of the association to national development and how the association could single-handedly establish a holding bay if the government supports their vision among other pressing issues in the industry. Excerpts
NARTO is 26 years, what can you say the association has contributed to national development?
NARTO in name is 26, but NARTO has been existing before the name NARTO for more than 60 years ago. First, we used to have the Nigerian Motor Drivers Union in which the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo was once a National Secretary. It was operating mostly around the west then and the north started their own, the east too started their own and they were operating side by side, all defending the interest of transport and transport owners in this country until 26 years ago when the three eventually merged and became NARTO; one single organisation.
The one in the north then was NALBAT and then the Eastern Nigeria Haulage Association and in the west there was a similar body too. Starting from 26 years ago, the effect of the association and transport business increased tremendously just because of the unison of purpose. Transport Owners Association is no longer at variance with another but under one roof. So, there is tremendous improvement and even the performance of the objective of which the association exists.
As it is now, the association has national headquarters annex in Abuja, zonal offices in all the six zones, state offices in all the 36 states. It has a national spread now and more vibrant and transport owners feel more protected by the Association as it is and the performance in trying to achieve the objective of the association.
We have developed a very robust relationship with stakeholders in the industry, government agencies and authorities of whose operatives have bearing on the industry like the police, FRSC, Vehicle Inspection Officers, Ministers of labour and Transport, both at state and federal levels, Federal Ministry of Works and because we operate in the downstream sector too, as major and critical stakeholders, we have a robust relationship PPPRA,PEF, PPMC, NNPC-Retail and the six major oil marketing companies and other independent marketing companies.
Still, because we operate the mass transit for commuters we are the ones that are identified by the federal government as first line operators. We have established good relationship with the Federal Government and the states and have been making sure that we deliver in trying to assist the government in transportation of passengers too. So far so good, operationally too, we have improved tremendously.
You said your members feel more protected now under NARTO, what protection are you talking about?
In carrying out their businesses, our members come in contact with government agencies, officers of government agencies and authorities that have bearing with transportation and there are periods when such officers might try to be too overzealous and may go beyond their briefs, it does happen because we are all human beings and have such weaknesses.
In such situations, it is the transporter that will suffer but the association exists to see that such things are checkmated so that the transporter will enjoy his business. And then, there are times too that such a government agencies or stakeholders or organisations that transporters have relationship with in carrying out their businesses like the major oil marketing companies that we move their products to all the nooks and cranies of this country are also checkmated.
They might be slow in the issue of payment or other policies that might not be too convenient for transporters to cope with; such issues are addressed. It could be the policies of some of the consignees that are not too convenient for the transporters so, we step in to make sure that we correct them. The basic idea at the end is to create a conducive environment for the businesses of members to thrive.
Looking at the harrowing experience of people in Apapa due to the traffic logjam on which stakeholders have been trading blames as to who is actually responsible. In your own view, who is to blame?
The first blame goes to the government because of the failure of government; I will blame the drivers too even though they have no choice, they also form part of the creation of the problems. If you take a walk around Apapa and the Tin can ports and then the roads leading to those areas, they are in very bad states.
Their level of dilapidation is extreme; there are particular spots where accidents are recorded on a daily basis, examples are Coconut area and Moshood Abiola Way, Ijora, that is, on your way to Western Avenue, Apapa bound. It got to a point that any vehicle that attempts to manoeuvre at the gully will definitely fall. So, drivers are left with no other choice than to seek for alternative routes and the alternative routes are very few.
Then the operations in the port itself, ever since operations were handed over to concessionaires, the major objective of the concessionaires is to make profits so, delivery of service became secondary to them. So in the terminal that is supposed to discharge 200 or 300 vehicles upon call up will end up discharging five or fifteen in a day after the call up of about 300 vehicles and these 300 vehicles called up must come and they must remain on the road. So, if you are only able to discharge 15, due to server failure or things like that, the vehicles must remain there. And if 300 come and you are only able to discharge fifteen, another 300 will come the next day.
That is for just one terminal so, the cargo handling procedures are terrible and the process of entering into the port too has been a little bit tardy, no free flow but in that area, we have been discussing with NPA and I think there is a solution that has been put on the table that we are discussing. It appears good on the face of it and we want to be sure it is solid. If that really will come into full and smooth operations, it will be good and it will help our members.
The third thing is that no driver will like to come to Lagos from Maiduguri and like to stay in Lagos for one week before the he enters the port even after arriving at the arena and out of desperation, they look out for means that can facilitate their entry into the port and in some cases it means to shunt or something like that and confusion will automatically come. And then again, the government has refused to identify with critical stakeholders in terms of associations, partner with them and then all other transporters can now subject themselves to the organizations for the purpose of creating orderliness and something in the sector.
For instance, NARTO has created a taskforce which we finance and pay on monthly basis and on permanent employment of NARTO, we even provided working materials like motor cycles in those says , but motor cycles are no longer allowed to be used now; operational vehicles like Hilux vans and buses. Thank God that the Navy and the police have seen the need to partner with us, if you go around, you will see NARTO taskforce working together with Navy and police, that is what assisted in clearing the road recently. This is what the government has been running away from all this while.
When you identify a body like NARTO that has the wherewithal because we own 90% of the vehicles that come, it is not the issue of a wanting organisation or so. We know how to deal with our members. We don’t operate just within the port .We control 90% of owners; it means that if we control 90% of owners, we also control 90% of the drivers. We have the wherewithal to assist the government.
Our towing trucks are involved in helping to move some of the trucks that are static. On our own, we are doing it but we can still partner with government to do more; we finance it from our pocket but don’t have to go begging the government but through the works of our hands, you will see us there. Government to should be careful with those who will come to say they want to represent the truck owners and whose influence are small and cannot do anything.
As a substantial association that NARTO claims to be, what are you doing to put government on its toes to fix the decayed infrastructure within the port environment ?
Luckily enough, we are members of FERMA, where our National president is representing us, we are equally members of SURE –P, if you observe, most of the bad spots have been attended to but not completely though because when this thing was becoming too much lately, we took the Federal Government up and National president took it up by himself with the MD of FERMA and said it was on emergency particularly the Coconut and Western Avenue sides.
Continued next week