Fresh Move to Resolve Apapa Traffic Crisis

Hassan Bello

Eromosele Abiodun writes on fresh move by the Nigerian Shippers Council to rally stakeholders on strategies to end the gridlock at the Apapa port access roads

With the Apapa traffic crisis approaching frightening dimension and fear of port congestion looming, the Executive Secretary/CEO of the Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC), Hassan Bello did the unusual by cutting short his annual leave to rally stakeholders to find urgent solution to the crisis. The recent intervention is not the first time he has taken such steps. To be clear, it is not the duty of the NSC to ensure ease of movement of cargo in and out of the port. The NSC is the nation’s port economic regulator. In line with the federal government port reform agenda, the NSC was appointed the Port Economic Regulator in February 2014, to create effective regulatory regime at the Nigerian ports for the control of tariff, rates, charges and other economic services.

The functions of the NSC as port economic regulator are as follows: provide guidelines on tariff setting in order to guide against arbitrariness; monitor and enforce standards of service delivery to ensure availability, accessibility, affordability, stability, predictability and adequacy of services; encourage competition and guard against the abuse of monopoly and dominant market positions and perform mediatory role among stakeholders.
Others are: establish accessible and modern dispute resolution mechanism; regulate market entry and exit; promote efficiency in the provision of port services; minimise high cost of doing business and prevent its inflationary effect on the Nigerian economy; encourage private sector investment in the port sector and monitor and ensure compliance by all parties with the provisions of the Port Concession Agreements.
However, the NSC has taken the front seat in the effort to rid Apapa of traffic gridlock so as to avoid a total shutdown of activity at the port due to the high volumes of cargo coming into Nigeria as a result of the closure of land borders by the federal government.

Need for efficiency
Speaking when he led officials of the NSC and Presidential Task Team on a visit to APM terminals in Lagos, Bello called on terminal operators to improve on efficiency by effectively deploying their equipment to salvage to the situation.

The NSC boss during the meeting with officials of APMT said: “We are apprehensive of the congestion on the road and at the sea and vessels taking much longer time to come in. Your efficiency has much to do with this, we also always concerned about your operation, we understand the challenges you face. We also want to sit down with you and see how we can come to a conclusion.

“I am concerned with the cost to shippers, there have been some delays and the delays come with cost attachment especially with the ship coming late and demurrage and late evacuation of cargo where the shippers with the consignees through no course of theirs have been slammed with some demurrage and I think we have been on this issue for a very long time. We discussed with the Vice President about a month ago and we feel that shippers should not suffer or bear the cost of delays occasioned by terminals or other factors.”

He added: “We have said that this period of before the clock turns should be extended from three days to 10 days because in other countries it is seven days free period. This has been under consideration and we have discussed this with the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPSA) and all the terminals. Now this is the biggest terminal for containers, you are doing quite a lot but we are disturbed first of all with the cost. People should not be slammed with cost for what they are not guilty of. Your efficiency or otherwise has a lot to do with what is happening, how you deploy your equipment has a lot to do with the traffic situation.”
Also speaking, Executive Vice Chairman of the Presidential Task Team, Mr. Kayode Opeifa, called on terminal operators to be mindful of demurrage charges.

“We have always engaged APMT and the response has always been that that they are ready to take more trucks. Who is supposed to give them trucks? It is the NPA that is in charge of the call up and they will tell you that the ones that are inside are yet to be dealt with. So in order to make sure that the road is free we have stopped trucks from coming from Creek Road to access the port, retaining only one access to the port. But right now we have truck right from Area B on cue, if container carrying trucks cannot get in, the empty containers cannot take their place.
“So the trucks that have been called by the NPA are still on the cue. But we get report from APMT that they deal with 500 to 700 trucks but our investigation revealed that they are taking trucks from barges and because they do so, there is no way trucks from the roads can enter because the barges have taken over the whole space. We are concerned that the figure does not tally with the efficiency we see on the road. We need to look at the issue of demurrage because it is what is making trucks to want to rush to drop containers.”
On his part, Stakeholder Manager, APM Terminals, Odibe Daniel commended the NSC and Presidential Task Team for their concern and taking steps to salvage the situation.

“I must commend the shippers’ council and the Presidential Task Team for coming around to find out what the challenges are. Like I have explained to them, we all need to collaborate. You need prior information before trucks can access the terminal. Better use of the call up system and the Lilly Pond Truck Transit Park will help us create the efficiency that is desired in the port. We are experiencing high volumes into the country and we have to work together to ensure that it is sustained and also make it easy for port users to access their cargo, “he said.

Stakeholders’ collaboration
As a follow up to the visit to terminal operators and Lily Pond Truck Transit Park, the NSC last week organised a stakeholders’ meeting to find a lasting solution to the gridlock.

The event which was attended by terminal operators, shippers, importers, truck drivers, Police, Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), shipping companies among others deliberated on the causes and solutions to the gridlock.

According to the stakeholders, corruption perpetuated by traffic control officers, and lack of consequences for traffic violators, shunting of queues, sharp practices by truck drivers, breakdown of the call up system and shutting down of the Lilypond Truck park.
The Lilypond park, according to stakeholders, has created a temporary relief to road users but subsequent shutdown had led to return of truck drivers to the roads and bridges leading to the port.

Also, the stakeholders bemoaned the deliberate shutdown of the Lilypond Truck Terminal agreed that the truck park must be made to work.
Though, neither the stakeholders nor the NPA unravelled why Lily pond was shut, the participants mandated the PTT to go all out, in synergy with all relevant agencies, particularly the NPA, to restore the Lily Pond to its strategic relevance.
Speaking on shutdown of the park, Bello who was represented by Director, Inland Transportation, Akintunde Makinde, noted that Apapa gridlock was the concern of all stakeholders and buck passing was no longer in anyone’s interest.

“It is a shame we are discussing about traffic on our port access roads. Lilypond Park must be put to use to help decongest these trucks on the access roads,” he said.

The executive secretary said further, that the council would liaise with the Lagos State Government, so as to provide a mobile court in a bid to ensure on the spot punish for corrupt personnel on the road.

He therefore stressed the need for compliance, urging truck owners to ensure that they have call-up letters before embarking on trips.
He advised terminal operators to be efficient and know the number of trucks to be attended to in a day.
Also speaking, the Managing Director of NPA, Ms Hadiza Bala-Usman, decried the number of armed men on the bridges passing trucks and warned against illegal collection of money.

Bala-Usman represented by the Port Manager, Lagos Port Complex (LPC), Mrs Olufunmilayo Olotu, urged truck drivers to ensure they rely on call-up system to help resolve the gridlock.

“There is gridlock in Apapa because many illegalities happen on the roads. Security officials drive or escort trucks while some are collecting illegal toll. The introduction of the use of barges is a good thing. The APMT terminal should give a barge space. They should also allow shipping companies to use their inbuilt crane to compliment theirs, ’’she said.

Nailing corruption
On her part, National President, Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA), Ms Saratu Aliyu said that corruption played major role in the Apapa gridlock.

Aliyu represented by a former Chairman, Nigerian Trawlers Owners Association (NITOA), Mrs. Margret Orakwusi, urged stakeholders to think more about the economy of the country.

Also, Opeifa said that Apapa gridlock was driven by corruption which must be tackled.
According to him, stakeholders in Apapa should desist from unhealthy rivalry and collaborate to tackle the gridlock.
“Government is not looking for new ideas. It has consulted with everyone and they know what is happening,” he said.

Opeifa said that the system and everyone involved in port business should do the needful to stop the gridlock, and stressed that those feeding corruption by paying “owo mugu’, a euphemism for subscribing to extortion should desist immediately.

He maintained that the issue of Lilypond should be solved because it was a critical part of tackling congestion.

Similarly, Mr. Olaleye Thompson who represented the truckers stressed the need for an effective badge system while Femi Olaore, who stood in for shipping companies, stressed the need for improved port access roads. Engr. Kuti, representing the Federal Ministry of Works highlighted the ongoing activities in Apapa metropolis and elsewhere.