Mallam Nasir Anas Muhammed is the Manager, Lagos Port Complex (LPC); in this interview, he explains why the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) decided to introduce minimum standard of safety for trucks plying the port,
Can you tell us how well truck drivers have been complying with the Minimum Standard of Safety For trucks?
We can say it has been fair as you can recall that on the second of October, this year, we commenced the implementation of the minimum standard of safety for trucks that have business doing inside our ports and we gave them the requirements for them to comply with and we want to say that they have started complying. the requirements are quite many and stringent but along the line, we got presentations from them to the effect that if we are to implement all those requirements, it will make business difficult for them considering the nature of the job they do and at this time of the year we now that is usually characterised by high import of cargoes into the country. So, some of the stakeholders solicited that we should not be too stringent, considering that we will need the truck to carry out movement of goods in the port. We also took note that if we are not to create additional challenges to the end of the year activities, we may need to lessen the intensity of the application.
So, we agreed with them on various parameters for them to comply with. Recently, they have been complying and I understand from the record made available to me that within the last two weeks, we have turned back five to six trucks. These are trucks that are obviously not fit to operate in the port and to that extent, we believe that they are complying but beginning from next year, they will have gotten all their acts ready to believe that we are serious because we will make sure we follow it to the letter.
Why was there need for the minimum standard of safety in the first place?
The need for it is obvious; trucks are essential to port operations because when the cargoes reach the port after discharge from the vessel, then you must look for means of moving them. And if you move them from the port with train, you still need a truck to get it to the final owner since we are not fully deploying railway facilities, we tend to rely on the trucks. And because we rely on trucks, authority needs to take interest not only in getting the cargo out of the port but ensuring that the cargo reaches its final destination. So, if a truck moves from here and it is supposed to go to either Ikeja or any other part of the country, it is our desire that the truck and the cargo reach the final destination safely. Ideally, it is not our business but like I said, we should take interest in the cargo right to the final destination. So, it is on that premise that we felt that it has been observed and brought to notice that many these trucks break down on the way. Many get their cargoes dropped along the way. In many instances, it has created traffic challenges to other road users and in some cases, it has created fatalities. We have had loss of lives arising from container falling from trucks or some other cargoes falling from trucks. So, we just feel it is time enough for us to do something about it and we say before you come into our own port, you must meet some minimum standards. We want to believe that other stakeholders outside should be able to come in, ideally there are other authorities like FERCSERA regulating the standard of trucks outside.
To what extent did the recent traffic gridlock affect operations in Lagos Port Complex?
Well, the traffic situation in and around Apapa has been a nightmare for everybody and often times we find ourselves challenged because of many factors, some within, some outside our purview. Basically, we know the roads have not been really quite good, we know the trucks also have not been quite good and we also know the attitude of our truck drivers have not been what it should be, you look close to the port gate, you see a lot of trucks lying there; many of them have been waiting for the whole day. If you tell them to go inside the port, they refuse and if you insist they must go in, they take their trucks out around Apapa and still find a way to come and join the queue.
This is simply because they believe they should have another business to do when they drop the empty containers they are carrying and we are saying carry the empty you have into the port and if you have another cargo to take out of the port, fine but if you don’t have, drop your empty and go to wherever you are supposed to be and if anybody has a business for you, then he can hire you there, you come and pick it up. These are number of challenges that we face. At times we take some drastic actions to make sure that the right thing is done. At some points, NPA management had to acquire trucks for us and they have been deployed to the port and we said anyone of such times when we feel they are resisting, we tow the trucks away but often times, we give them three options; if you have your truck with empty container, go to the port and discharge, leave the road and go to anywhere you want to go, or the authorities will tow it away. There have been such instances whereby we have to go out forcefully to make them do what is the right thing. Along the line, like I said, the attitude is there; the issue of the bad roads is there and of course, the condition of the trucks and some other associated challenges around.
Not too long, NPA introduced E-Payment system followed by E-SEN, what is the impact of these on your operations?
I tell you straight away that the impact has been tremendous. As the E-payment was explained that time, we relied on getting confirmation of payment from the bank. A times within Apapa here, you make some payments to the bank and before I get confirmation that a Shipping company has made a payment, it takes a whole day and sometimes until the following day meanwhile they had paid and since our motto is pay before service, then we cannot grant you any service without seeing the payment. But now, with the e-payment, we get it instantly as you pay, we get the alert on the system either on the handheld or on the Ipad. The moment your document comes in, we know and make approval for that. So, the same thing for the E-SEN that was recently introduced; you would agree with me that the introduction of technology, especially Information and Communication Technology, (ICT) makes it much easier for businesses to be done. You are sitting in your office and at the touch of a button, you execute your transaction without having to come to see anybody and it is that drive to reduce the time and to enhance better business that is driving the NPA management in bringing these innovations and which have been quite commendable. All the stakeholders are fully in appreciation of it. In fact, nearly all the Shipping agencies that have keyed into this now find it much easier for them to get our services. Unlike before when they would claim they had paid but because we had not seen the payment, we could not grant them the service but now they pay before they get to our offices we see the payment and as they come, we sign their documents and they go. So, I think everybody is happy about that.
There have been complaints by some shipping companies that there are not enough tug boats for use in the ports, what is the management of NPA doing to provide enough tug boats?
Well, I think I am aware that the NPA management has continued to address this issue. Just last week (two weeks ago) we had meetings between the NPA management and the Shipping Association of Nigeria, it has been an issue that has always been coming up and at that meeting, management told the shipping association that government has since approved for NPA to outsource this service especially starting from the Eastern ports. So, there are third parties now who are bringing tugs and the services are improving. Also within Lagos pilotage area, approval has been given for acquisition of additional tug boats by the authority using the same party that has been providing that service. The Shipping Association members were happy to hear that.
Recently, some truck drivers protested at the Lagos Port gate over alleged extortion by NPA and other security agencies. Was anyone of your officers indicted in the allegation and what was the resolution?
That is quite an interesting issue that has continued to disturb us. Issue of giving and taking money I understand has been as old as the port itself but it has considerably reduced. We are not saying it is not there but when it is there, it takes two parties before it is instituted. Before there is a taker, there must be a giver and if you are ready to give why should you give? Why not demand that the right should be done? So, when we have these series of allegations, we had to call all our security people: the DPO here and other stakeholders to draw their attention to it. But as long as you are in order, you don’t have to give anybody anything but in an attempt for them to breach the process, to shunt the line, to distort the procedure, they reach out to some staff who are not forthright, who are not sincere enough and get them compromised. It is in such situations that you find all these allegations, but where we discover that some officers whether in uniform or not are extorting innocent people, we will take action. Not quite long ago, we invited ICPC to come and do some raking around here and they made some arrests and I understand there are still investigations on the issue because we felt other stakeholders especially those who have responsibilities should come in because we keep hearing about this issues. We have kept trying to educate the truckers through their associations to do the right thing, don’t give anybody any money and if anybody asks for money, report him.
I have been sitting here for close to two years, nobody has brought any formal report to me to say that he is being extorted and then this is the person. But I keep saying if you know you are doing the right thing and somebody comes and demands anything from you, resist to give but the moment you attempt to do the wrong thing; it is either they use it to extort you or you on your own will attempt to compromise them so that you get something you should not be getting or getting it faster than other people. So, the long and short is that we condemn in totality any extortion in or around the port, we don’t condone it, we take serious action against it if it is brought to our notice and we encourage the stakeholders to bring it to the management notice what is happening and they will see the action they will take. But we have drawn the attention of all the agencies around that they should be watchful and careful because anybody caught in this will go in for it.
Managerial seats are always attractive from distance, but not without some challenges; what are your challenges as the Manager of Lagos Port Complex?
Well, we are still on the seat; maybe it is too early to give an overview but on any seat you are where you have to manage men and resources, you can imagine; because you can never make everybody happy. So, it will be challenges upon challenges. And you are dealing with human beings, who have different understandings, who have different perceptions, who may not see the vision that you are seeing, even if they see it, they would not want to key in line with it. You are dealing with people who in some cases are illiterate or even educated but not reasoning in an educated way. You hear comments outside that are out of context and you just wonder. If you keep reacting to these issues you may not be able to do anything. So, the challenges are always there. In any case, even life itself is full of challenges even when you are not a manager and roaming about, you encounter a lot of challenges. But the difference is your capacity to manage it and to continue despite those challenges or to harness those challenges to become strengths or assets to you and that is what we have been trying to do. We see every challenge as an asset to us and an opportunity to drive further.
Does your wife complain about your busy schedules attention when she needs it?
The truth is that she can speak for herself but I know not just for now but since I started my career, my wife and children have come to accept that I have too many responsibilities at home and in the office and we have tried to balance it and they too have tried to understand that I have to do what I do. Along the line, it has been fair enough on both sides.