Rejection of Empty Containers Prolongs Apapa Gridlock

Lucky Amiwero
MR. Lucky Amiwero, National President of the National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA)
  • Traffic situation has improved, presidential task team insists

Eromosele Abiodun

As commuters and residents of Apapa, a once thriving port city, continue to suffer untold hardship due to the perennial gridlock on port access roads, THISDAY’s investigation has revealed that the rejection of empty containers by shipping companies has forced trucks to remain on the roads, thus prolonging the traffic crisis in the area.

THISDAY gathered that after a brief respite that accompanied the rehabilitation and reopening of the Kilometre 2 Apapa-Wharf Road and the Ijora link bridge in December 2018, the traffic situation has since returned to its bad state, with many road users losing their lives to containers falling on commuters, despite the efforts of the Presidential Task Team appointed to restore sanity.

The Presidential Task Team has, however, insisted that its efforts have yielded results, as trucks now spend less time on the roads.

But Customs agents and truckers told THISDAY that shipping companies and entrenched interest have turned the crisis into a “business enterprise.”

According to them, the shipping companies’ rejection of empty containers due to claims of lack of space in the ports as a result of the upsurge of imports through the port following the federal government’s closure of land borders, has forced the truckers to park permanently on the roads.

The President of National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA), the umbrella body of clearing agents in the country, Mr. Lucky Amiwero, said the federal government must call the shipping companies to order.

He said: “Shipping companies benefit from the crisis seriously; they are charging demurrages for doing nothing. They are happy with the current situation because when your container stays in the port you pay N20,000 per day per container and the more you stay, the more you pay. They do this only in Nigeria; there is nowhere else in the world where this happens. This problem is affecting the image of Nigeria.

“What is the work of the shipping companies? They only bring containers and they charge even more than the terminal operators who own the space, pay concession fees, fuel trucks for freight lifters and equipment in the terminals. And you have government agencies at the ports; they watch them exploit their own people. The fact remains that the more you have containers in the port, the more the shipping companies smile to the banks.
“What they are doing here is illegal; they collect double charges – one from their principal and another from their agents and importers here. These things are supposed to be reviewed because the shipping companies can just wake up and slam you with charges, but the government is doing nothing. That is why we operate the most expensive ports in the world.”

Amiwero said the Apapa gridlock could be solved, stressing that the situation has remained the way it is because the right thing has not been done.

He said: “The first thing the government must do is to redesign the process of doing things at the ports. There are certain areas in the port that are not being utilised and we have one mode of transportation. A perfect system must use three modes of transportation. “However, from Apapa port we can move cargo to Kirikiri Lighter Terminal (KLT) using barges and they have empty container bay at KLT, which is owned by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA). That will reduce the pressure on Apapa.

“What we have now is that most of the trucks are coming to Apapa and Tin Can Island Port and the road to Tin Can is terribly bad compared with KLT. What the government must do now is dredge the channels and move cargo via the inland waterways. KLT alone can take 10,000 containers. Taking containers there will remove pressure from Apapa. Again, what many have not realised is that the concession that the government entered into with terminal operators have not been explained properly. There is need for government to sit with experts, shipping companies and terminal operators to resolve this issue.”

Also, Chairman of Association of Maritime Truck Owners (AMATO), Mr. Remi Ogungbemi, said the crisis had become a huge business for certain interests.

He also blamed poor infrastructure, especially the poor state of the ports access roads, for the crisis.
According to him: “All what they are doing right now is never a solution because the infrastructure that we have can no longer accommodate the volume of activities that we have at the port, especially the road infrastructure. Apapa-Oshodi road leading to Tin Can Island Port has collapsed totally. Our population is increasing every day, so also are vehicles and other business activities. In the same vein, goods that are coming to the ports are increasing and to compound it all, there are people that are benefiting from the crisis. The necessary thing to be done to solve the problem is not acceptable to them because the crisis has become a source of income for them.

“Even the Presidential Task Team that was called in to address the situation has over-stayed their welcome because many things have set in. Familiarisation has set in; preferential treatment has set in; personal interest has set in and so many things have set in. Therefore, they have out-stayed their usefulness and many people have soiled their hands.

“So, it is difficult. But I believe that this government is actually ready to solve the problem and they can because after God, it is government. But it is unfortunate that even people that government appointed to come and intervene, they, themselves have in one way or the other see it as an opportunity to make money.”
However, the Executive Vice Chairman of the Presidential Task Team, Mr. Koyade Opeifa, has said the effort of his team has led to improvement in the traffic situation in Apapa, adding that trucks now spend less time on the road.