NPA- FRSC Romance: Safety, Cost Implications And Solutions

NPA- FRSC Romance: Safety, Cost Implications And Solutions

Nigeria’s port system has traditionally put a brake on economic development, due to poor performance and high costs. After a comprehensive reform of the port sector which led to the port concession in 2006, the operational management, Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) was converted to a landlord model.

Terminal concessions now attract private investment and the privatization has also helped eliminate overstaffing at the ports, cargo theft and excessive port-related charges, in addition to unlocking funds for infrastructure improvements.

Nevertheless, a number of key challenges remain, such as poor customs performance and corruption, and a need to improve landside access to port and ensure standards of vehicles that do business at the ports. This led the NPA to sign an MoU with the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) in order to curb the accidents resulting from rickety trucks that do business at the ports.

This NPA- FRSC romance and MoU comes with an additional cost which the maritime truck owners have frowned at and are bracing up for a 300% increase in their charges in order to carter for this additional cost, coupled with the annual NPA truck fees as well as increase in cost of diesel and spare parts of trucks.

The NPA- FRSC MoU continues to raise several conflicting opinions depending on whose side of the prism you choose to view the issue from. While FRSC remains resolute in its stand that trucks must meet the minimum standards and possess good brake systems, lights, speed limiters, etc., some truck owners have labelled the standardization scheme by FRSC and NPA as a gimmick to exploit them.

Freight forwarders and Customs agents who are the first clients of these maritime trucks equally have varying views as some are loyal to NPA while others sympathize with truck owners because the increase in trucking would affect their businesses; some say NPA has discovered that the ploy to make N10,000 on trucks worked last year so it came up with another money spinning strategy; another school of thought posits that NPA and FRSC should engage banks to give out long-term loans in order for these truck owners to acquire new vehicles.

While NPA’s role in negotiating the standards of trucks entering the ports remains a puzzle, the fact is that the Vehicle Inspection Officers (VIO) and Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) have the onus of ensuring standards and the responsibility of negotiating the charges falls within the ambit of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC).

Speaking to MMS Plus on the challenges of additional cost and threat by truck owners to increase their charges, the Head of Media Relations and Strategy at FRSC, Mr. Bisi Kazeem stressed that the minimum standards of trucks must be adhered to in order to guarantee safety of lives and properties of road users.

He said; “You cannot quantify life. If your property is saved, your life and the lives of other road users are saved through concerted efforts of FRSC and NPA; I think it is better for the society at large. The minimum safety standards are the requirements. Things such as proper braking system, front and rear lights, good wipers, retro reflective tapes, container strap ropes, speed limiting devices, etc., are basic minimum standards every vehicle requires”.

Mr. Kazeem referred to a rickety truck as a coffin waiting to bury people, explaining that most crashes involving articulated vehicles are as a result of speed induced effects, mechanically deficient vehicles and lack of proper maintenance.

“Our advice to the truck owners and drivers is to put their vehicles in proper shape so as to avoid been arrested on the highways. The life you safe today as a result of compliance may be yours”

Reacting to the cost burden, Mr. Kazeem said, “I do not see anything outrageous in few thousands been spent to safeguard a vehicle that is worth more than 30 or 40 million naira. Above all, no one can bring back a life that is lost due to the increasing crashes involving this category of vehicles. Road safety is a shared responsibility; let the trailer drivers and owners play their part by supporting FRSC and NPA in this quest for better road usage”.

Similarly, Chief M.K Ajayi who championed the NPA Truck Standardization scheme as the General Manager, Western Ports noted that the FRSC- NPA MoU was to ensure safety of lives and properties by ensuring compliance to the minimum standards for vehicles.

Chief Ajayi noted that the N10,000 NPA charge is an annual entry fee for trucks that enter the ports to do business. “The N10,000 charge is just like a toll-fee to gain entry into the ports to do business; but there is need for these trucks to be in good order. Hence, NPA signed an MoU with FRSC to ensure standards and prevent accidents”

“Most of these truck owners don’t spend a dime on their trucks. They make so much money but they forget about investing in their trucks” Ajayi said.

Meanwhile, the Acting President of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) Chief Increase Uche maintains that truck owners cannot increase prices without adding value.

Chief Increase sympathized with truck owners on the additional cost, advising the “truck owners to sit with representatives of NPA and FRSC in order to discuss their challenges”

Increase lamented that the burden on trucks, and roads were as a result of the lack of other transport options to evacuate goods from the ports. He admonished NPA to be geared towards ensuring the development of rail and inland waterways to create the requisite linkage for an efficient port system.

“The pressure on the road should be reduced and the number of those in road haulage as well as the problems associated with this would also reduce. There would always be challenges with ensuring standards of trucks that would access the ports because that is the only means of evacuating goods”, he said.

In his reaction, Major Henry Ajetunmobi (Rtd), Executive Director, SIFAX Haulage & Logistics Limited, a subsidiary of SIFAX Group, lauded the new partnership between the NPA and FRSC in the enforcement of Minimum Standard of Safety and Road Worthiness (MSSRW) for all trucks entering Nigerian ports.

According to Ajetunmobi, the standardization policy has great potentials to enhance safety at the Nigerian ports, so he called on all the relevant government agencies need to take seriously the strict enforcement of the policy.

He said: “I can tell you that a good number of trucks around the ports are sub-standard and not fit for logistics business. Such trucks could have negative effects on the safety of cargo and people. That’s why I believe the standardization policy is not only good, but also timely.

“The policy has great potentials to enhance safety at the ports. But like everything else, potentials alone are necessary, but not enough; the process fully needs to be strengthened by effective compliance monitoring and enforcement.”

Ajetunmobi argued that any maritime haulage business company that is certified to meet the standardization requirements has all it takes to boast of been a competent, efficient and law-abiding corporate citizen.

“SIFAX Haulage was one of the first maritime haulage companies to meet NPA’s minimum standards of safety and road-worthiness in 2016. Our trucks are fitted with speed limiting devices, tracking devices, Goods-in-Transit Insurance, brand new fleet heads and other state of the art technologies that ensure safety of goods and personnel. SIFAX Haulage compliance status establishes a clear distinction between her and other competitors that may want to compromise standards or cut corners, primarily because they have no name to protect and project,” he said.

Meanwhile, another freight forwarder who doesn’t want his name in print, has urged NPA and FRSC to engage the banks in the truck standardization scheme to create an opportunity for truck owners to have access to loans to acquire new trucks.

He stressed that most of the trucks found in the ports have been in use for decades and need to be changed.

According to him, “truck owners are also bearing the brunt of the economic recession and they are aware that these trucks need to be changed but they don’t have the revenue. NPA and FRSC should engage the banks to give loans to credible truck owners and ensure that only roadworthy trucks enter the ports. The problem is not the absence of speed limiter, brakes and others; the truth is that these trucks have become obsolete”

The various truck associations have kept their cool as the March 1st deadline for the truck standardization scheme draws nearer. How much increment would be ideal for trucking if they remain bent on enforcing the increment? Perhaps, all affected and interested parties should meet at a round-table to discuss the headway. There has been continuous increase in the prices of consumer goods in Nigeria for many years as a result of increase in transportation cost. Another increase might be looming and there is no better way to resolve this conflict than round-table discussion and negotiation.

 

By Kenneth Jukpor

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