Intra- African trade has never really soared and it is one of the factors that has stunted the growth of many African countries and the continent at large. Nevertheless, a new body has appeared on the scene and it promises to remove trade barriers and increase the level of trade between West African countries. This new body is the West African Road Transport Union (WARTU).
The operations of Customs is largely regarded as a major factor in the facilitation of international trade and the West African Sub-region is one where Customs operations faces several challenges even as they are yet to account for their numerous sharp practices.
The Customs ability to utilize the electronic tracking system has been one of the major issues in the sub region. While the tracking system has been fully implemented in Ghana where the location of trucks can easily be ascertained, the situation isn’t the same in Nigeria or Benin Republic where manual escort is still deployed.
In Nigeria, for instance the Customs charges N25,000 per container as one Customs officer is assigned to a container. In Ghana, the equivalent of this fee is N2,500 while Cotonou is N5,000. Nevertheless, there are still several cases where Customs officers connive with truck-drivers to divert containers. Other challenges in the system include the duration before demurrage, slow pace of terminal operations, poor state of the roads, etc.
How does WARTU intend to curb some of these shortcomings? MMS Plus brings you the views of the WARTU President, Mr. Aloga Ogbogo, a Transport lawyer, Barr. Obiageli Obi, Chairman, Association of Maritime Truck Owners (AMATO), Chief Remi Ogungbemi and the amiable Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council, Barr. Hassan Bello.
During the inauguration of the interim working committee of West Africa Road Transport Union (WARTU), the Executive Secretary, Nigerian Shippers’ Council, Hassan Bello noted that WARTU was born out of the need to look at ways of improving trade within the West African sub-region.
According to the Executive Secretary, there are so many things to trade on among nations in the region, yet the volume of trade within the Central African region is about 1% compared to that of Europe which stands at 70%.
Hassan Bello said that Nigeria’s trade was supported by Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), laws and protocols which had been guiding the effective operation of trade in the region.
He stressed that the Council had been playing a critical role in ensuring that the institutions and bodies were supported in one way or the other and he commended the National Road Transport Owners (NARTO), for their involvement in the series of laudable activities believing that the union had the capacity to put things in place to facilitate trade in West Africa.
Bello expressed the Council’s readiness to give the newly inaugurated committee the necessary support and encouragements to enable them meet their aspirations.
Meanwhile, the president of WARTU, Mr. Aloga Ogbogo told MMS Plus that the union is geared towards bringing together transport unions and associations in West Africa to project trade and articulate the interest of the West African Sub-region.
“Before now, integration among transporters has been a problem within the sub region but WARTU would facilitate and encourage better understanding among transporters so that the challenges that would have been encountered either collectively or individually would be eliminated or reduced to the minimum.
“Sometime ago, over 60 Nigerian trucks were hijacked while in transit to Niger. Armed bandits had attacked the trucks, some drivers were killed and none of those trucks returned to Nigeria. This matter is still in court at the moment but such scenario should never arise. As WARTU takes it place on the scene, such cases would dissipate; WARTU has actually been in existence but moribund, so we are resuscitating it”.
Mr. Aloga also noted the association was working assiduously to resolve the differentials in axle load in the sub region.
“One of the things the body has done is to compile the various axle load from different countries and we’re working to see how we can harmonize it. The variation in freight rate within the sub region, issues of currency differentials, language barriers and most importantly, security challenges are also on the front burner of WARTU. We know that there are other challenges beyond our powers but the essence is to ensure that there is collaboration among West African transporters to ensure that trade would expand” he said.
Aloga noted that while the Customs may be responsible for trade facilitation, there is a level of understanding among transporters that would enhance trade within the sub-region, considering the fact there is no viable alternative to road transport at the moment.
However, the Chairman Association of Maritime Truck Owners (AMATO), Chief Remi Ogungbemi stressed that Nigeria should be more concerned about fixing its roads to enhancing trucking in the nation before worrying about West Africa.
“Charity begins at home. What have we done to improve the transportation in Nigeria before we start talking about West Africa? The condition of the roads in the nation is not the best, especially within the port environment. So, we should start from home. Our roads are terribly bad.
“No truck owner is breaking even at the moment because the cost of maintaining trucks has become higher than the returns that the truck could bring. This is why so many rickety trucks remain on the scene; the government has to create an enabling environment for trucking”
Chief Remi lauded WARTU as a strategic body that would enable the unions point out the challenges facing trade across frontiers and also call governments’ attention to loopholes in their policies.
He recalled that the WARTU agenda started when the Federal Ministry of Transportation conveyed several transport associations to deliberate on how to boost trade within ECOWAS; so, he referred to WARTU as the ideal forum to discuss issues of common interest to transporters within West Africa.
A Transport lawyer, Barr. Obiageli Obi also told MMS Plus that the multiplicity of transport associations in some countries could limit the progress of WARTU. She said that the association should make efforts to bring all transport associations together in various countries.
“WARTU should be looking at bringing in every association because at the moment there is a proliferation of road transport associations. Everyone should come together under one platform like NARTO”
Barr. Obiageli said that transport is integral to trade as a nation cannot trade without having transport.
According to her, if the movement of cargo along the sub-region is not hitch-free, trade cannot be facilitated because a lot of countries that trade within West Africa are faced with issues of passage, freight, safety, delays and so many problems for transporters at borders.
She remained optimistic that WARTU is going to address these issues which will ensure that there is hitch-free trade and transportation of goods within West Africa.