The need to bring about sanity in the trucking sub-sector of the maritime industry has given birth to a new association known as Truck Fleet Owners Association, now headed by Mrs. Folake Soji- George as the President. According to her, the association will enable protect interests of members, sanitize their operations and raise revenue for the government while fighting extortion of members in the sector. She spoke with MMS Plus, but in this interview, the man behind the “masquerades”, High Chief Michael Ajayi, General Manager, Western Ports of the Nigerian ports Authority(NPA) laid bare some truth.
There is this noise about truck owners withdrawing their services from the ports. What is N10, 000 fee all about?
The N10, 000 fee is an entry permit, you enter to do business in the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and you are making profit. But you want to enter the facility free-of-charge. Of course, that is not proper because we need to maintain the infrastructure. And these trucks contribute to the destruction f our infrastructure. We have a long list of them. Hardly will a week past without one of them destroying one thing or the other. So we need money to put them in order. So, when you look at the N10, 000 we are asking them to pay for a whole year, if you divide it by 365 days, it will give you less than N30 per day. So it is not exorbitant. If you go to the airport, just for your SUV or car you are paying about N300 and when you are coming again you pay N300. But this one is less than N30 per day and is a truck not ordinary car. And the problem they have is that they claim they don’t have money to meet the minimum standards. But instead of coming out to say this is our problem, they are saying they want to withdraw their services. And we are not saying don’t withdraw your services, you can withdraw your services because you are not even registered with us in NPA so you are unknown to us. Besides, your truck is not designed primarily for NPA. You can go and carry cement at Ewekoro with your flat bed. So you cannot come to dictate to us what we should do. That is concerning payment. And all the ports formations all over Nigeria trucks pay entry permits to go in, Lagos cannot be different.
So what is NPA’s minimum standards for the trucks?
It is straight-forward. We want to see that your break system is in order; the trafficator light is in order; we want to ensure that your flat beds are in order. We want to ensure that you have extra tyres. We have also seen that the radiator of most of them do not have covers. We want to ensure that their radiators have cover and that they have jacks. So we want to ensure that there is safety of life on the roads.
What is the disposition of the Minister on this?
I am not aware of the disposition of the minister on this. The mandate of the Minister is to generate revenue. But the minister cannot ask us not to generate legitimate revenue. And this is a legitimate revenue.
I hope this is not as a result of his N500 billion target?
Well, we have a target but this one has been there before the minister’s target. It is not because of the issue of N500 billion. Whether he gives the target or not, it behooves on us to generate revenue for the government. We are in business. The modern port of today in Nigeria is there to make business.
Members of AMATO are the main people kicking against this fee?
Well in the radio programme recently, the chairman of AMATO, Chief Remi Ogungbemi said he was not against the fee but harped on truck holding bay and the opportunity to enable them put their trucks in order and that explain the two weeks extension given to them for compliance.
There is an argument that importers have been paying 7 percent port development levy, so what does NPA do with it since you talked about infrastructure development?
I can’t comment on that.
Another point is why did it take NPA this long to think of how to fix the port access roads despite the complaints by concessionaires?
The Managing Director, Habib Abdullahi has made series of efforts to fix the roads but the Federal Ministry of Works would not want that. They have correspondences to that effect.
How many trucks have you registered in this exercise?
We have registered over 5,000 and many more are being registered with the two weeks extension. Over ten companies under the independent fleet owners are co-operating with us and they are paying their money into the Treasury Single Account (TSA) of the government open for that purpose. So the process is transparent.
The point is that the independent fleet owners are not with them, that is, members of the various associations of truck owners, who are making this dissenting noise. And the independent fleet owners are the target owners because some of them have 900 trucks, some 100, some 50, others 54. But these are individuals with one rickety things. These are the people that make noise and threat. They are not with them at all.
They allege that NPA Security collect N2, 000 per truck to gain access
This is a lie. You know when they see you they will raise one thing. When we are at a meeting they will never say it, because they know that you don’t have a means for somebody to reply immediately. It is a lie. We have told them, that if any person demands for a dim they should report. The so called extortion that they use as excuse every time, their drivers connive with them. They often come back to tell their owners that they gave the security a certain amount after conniving with the security officials to extort money.
But I have told the owners severally that anytime the driver tells you this, tell him to take you to the person who collected the money. A woman told me that she has 55 trucks and that the drivers collect N11, 000 from her, part of it is to buy diesel and part of it is to launder their way. So if you don’t give them the money they would not like to go. I then said lets collaborate by refusing to give them that part of egunje and let’s see what happens. At any point that they return to tell you that a particular person refuses to do something, just do that one and let us see.
We are not spirit to know who collects or who does not collect. But if they collect money from you, be bold enough to tell us who collected money from you, then we will investigate. To this extent, we constituted a task force made-up of all the transport unions, with me as the chairman. The committee is supposed to be inaugurated by the chairman but they are not ready to come forward. And we constituted this committee jointly. We determine who is supposed to be represented. But if they can’t co-operate with us we cannot clap with one hand. They need to co-operate with us to rid-out corruption and so they cannot be using that as reason not to comply with us to achieve sanity in the system.
And for the fleet owners it is good business for them, because they see the rickety vehicles as competitors as they cheapen the prices of trucks and drive businesses away from them because they spend a lot to maintain their fleet.