By Oyeniyi Iwakun
The recent maritime stakeholders meeting which held in Lagos was full of optimism as thorny issues were trashed with assurances by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) that recommendations made at the meeting would be committed into full implementation.
Deliberations at the meeting centered on the need to remove bottlenecks at the ports caused by the indiscriminate parking of trucks and other illegal activities of shipping companies and terminal operators. Aside the economic effects, stakeholders also lamented the health and security consequences of the poor infrastructure and gridlock on Apapa residents and other port users.
Also, some stakeholders at the meeting have decried the unfriendliness of the Apapa environment to businesses and also questioned the rationale behind the non- utilization of other ports in the country other than Apapa which is partly of the reason the port is always congested.
Speaking at the meeting the Public Relations Officer (PRO), Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Dr. Kayode Farinto bemoaned the arbitrary charges by shipping companies and terminal operators which has left the consumers at the receiving end.
Mr. Farinto alleged that there is connivance between Maerskline and APMT to create a deliberate delay of containers so as to get much demurrage. According to him, it is in a bid to extort people that the Apapa gridlock was artificially created. He therefore advised that all shipping companies should be mandated to disclose the location of their holding bays even as he urged NPA to look into the review concession as posited to be done in May,2018
“It looks as if the shipping companies are not ready to comply with our laws. I am impressed with the activities of NPA’s leadership especially on the sanction of Maeskline, Mediterranean shipping company (MSC) and others. On the issue of terminal operators, I have said earlier that there is need to look at the concession agreement. Every shipping company should tell us where their holding bays are, we want to go and inspect them. Shipping companies are depleting our containers’ deposits and even billing us detention charges. It seems there is connivance between Maeskline and APMT. Maerskline would say you can take their empties to APMT but APMT would close their gates at will and they wouldn’t even listen to anyone. We just have to look into that.” He said.
The Secretary, Lagos Port Chapter, Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria (RTEAN), Isiaka Olalere opined that the cause of congestion, extortion and other forms of hardship at the ports is not only as a result of the bad roads or infrastructural decay but due to inadequate preparation for the receipt of empty containers. He therefore submitted that shipping companies should make known how they will be receiving their containers even as he said enforcement is also germane when the holding bays are known.
The Apapa Local Government Chairman, Adele Elijah Owolabi expressed worry over the challenges posed on residents and commuters by the Tankers and Trucks parked on the roads. He said in specific terms that the gridlock had hindered the local government environmental sanitation officials from collecting the wastes from the streets. He also noted that hoodlums take advantage of the situation to unleash terror on people coupled with other forms of criminal activities. He however announced that the Local Government had established a barrier to take care of containers coming into Apapa.
“God forbid any disease outbreak, it will be difficult for us to curtail it in Apapa because of the very dirty nature of the environment. It has become a nightmare for residents of this area to move about their normal daily activities with ease. If there are emergencies, we cannot attend to them because of the road obstructions. We have recorded so many causalities
“When we approached the truck and tankers’ drivers to allow us sanitize the environment, they complained that once they leave the road, another person would take over their spaces. I was privileged to meet the governor, His Excellency, Akinwumi Ambode recently, and I discussed with him that the respective agencies in charge should help us stop those drivers littering our environment. He had instructed that those who refuse to adhere to simple instructions should be arrested. We are committed to this cleaner Lagos initiative that even residents are told to keep their refuses inside a black nylon and dump at the mother waste-bin provided by the government. It has been a tug of war that even to go out of Apapa axis could cost about three hours.
“We shall be patrolling everywhere henceforth to enforce the law. Although, I have been trying to be diplomatic with them in the past so that none will be arrested but some people think they are above the law. I want to appeal to us all to be partners in progress. We are here to ensure compliance with the law. We are going to establish a movable barrier and whoever has a container to deliver would have to inform us 24hrs ahead.” He said
The Director, Operations, Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC), Engr. Niyi Alli, informed the stakeholders that there is an alternative way of moving cargoes out of the ports which is via rail transport mode even as he urged importers and exporters to maximize the railway option so as to put trucks off the road and reduce the bottlenecks at the Apapa axis. He said the NRC had been working assiduously to help decongest the ports by running freight services between Apapa and Ebute Mette Junction (EBJ) station.
The NRC boss also expressed disappointment at the non-patronage of the terminal operators.
He said “at least we move over 400 cargoes weekly but we are encountering some challenges with terminal operators. They are not ready to cooperate with NRC on the movement of these consignments via the railway.”
In her reaction, the Managing Director, NPA, Ms. Hadiza Bala Usman informed attendees that NPA management had met the previous day and taken some salient decisions especially on the need for all shipping companies to move their empty containers off the road to their holding bays within a given seven days ultimatum as part of ameliorations to the problem, noting that it had become imperative for all affected to comply.
Ms Hadiza enunciated the activities and efforts of NPA in ensuring that all available resources and machineries are put in place to remove all challenges encountered at the port in order to attain international best practices on trade facilitation even as she announced that NPA had flagged off barges for the movement of consignments through the waterways.
According to her, NPA had also written to the Federal Ministry of Transportation to allow NPA take over the rehabilitation and maintenance of Tin-Can Island ports which had caused serious nightmares to ports users. Ms Hadiza also notified her audience that efforts are ongoing to ensure completion of the trailer parks at Tin-can Isalnd port as proposed by Honeywell which is expected to be based on Corporate Social Responsibilities (CSR).
The NPA boss also announced that in pursuance of the ease of doing business, year 2018 would be tied to the entry and exit of goods even as she warned terminal operators and others against the introduction of arbitrary charges.
On the underutilization of other ports in the Eastern part of the Country, Hadiza said it is not the duty of NPA to compel importers to use a particular port. She explained that importers/exporters have the discretion to decide their preferred ports of destination even as she implored them to make use of some other ports in the country. According to her, the dredging of the Calabar ports would commence in earnest to allow flat bottom vessels maximize the port.
She said, “within the next few weeks, NPA will be high handed with Terminal operators for the payment of their debts to NPA and other concession agreements. NPA would complement the efforts Apapa LGA authorities in refuse disposal based on CSR. To avoid accidents and also to boost movement of consignments via railway transport system, there should be standard operating procedure (SOP) between NPA, NRC and terminal operators. Failure of compliance would lead to sanctions. Compliance is not a choice but must be adhered to. The holding bays must be used. People must be held responsible.” She said.
Speaking exclusively with MMS Plus recently, Engr. Samuel Shokunlo, BUA Sugar Refinery Limited said government seems to be unserious on its part as he believes there is supposed to be a government supported trailer park. He opined that the implementation of NPA’s directive might be difficult if government doesn’t provide support in getting a place for the trailer to be parked and also empty containers kept.
He said, “what is the level of government support in that direction in getting a holding bay? If you start acting without giving them the necessary support, they will still hold the entire place to ransom because all of them are together; they will now use the Tanker drivers to embark on protests and strike. The problem is not only from truckers but even the tanker drivers are a bigger challenge because 90% of the tank farms in Nigeria are located in Apapa. Most businesses have left Apapa to a distant place as a result of this horrible situation; Most housing facilities in Apapa are now empty, go to Apapa GRA and you will see what I am saying but in the past, a lot of people dreamed to live and work in Apapa. So it is affecting our own economy too. If we want to do something, we are supposed to consider the environmental, social and political effects. I have also realized that the risk is detrimental and life threatening. Several times containers have fallen.”
Engr. Shokunlo also opined that it is important for government to develop the railway transport system.
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