EromoseleAbiodun writes that truckers’ rejection of the plan by the federal government to create a new taskforce for Apapa shows lack of trust
Following allegations of corruption and ineptitude by truckers, the federal government announced that a new team would be reconstituted to manage traffic on the port access road.
The Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Transportation, Dr. Magdalene Ajani, disclosed this in Lagos during a meeting she held with stakeholders including officials of the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing, Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC), Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), Seaport Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN), truck owners and representatives of shipping companies.
The meeting was held to find solution to the perennial gridlock on the port access road leading to the Tin Can Island Port Complex, Lagos in a renewed effort to check congestion at the nation’s second busiest seaport.
Ajani said the blockade of Tin Can Island Port by trucks due to the activities of different government officials, truck owners and drivers was no longer tolerable and must be dealt with decisively.
Before the deployment of an electronic call-up system by NPA in January 2021 to manage the movement of trucks on the port access road, she said urgent actions must be taken to address the gridlock, which has almost brought cargo evacuation at the Tin Can Island Port Complex to a halt.
According to her, “We must have some form of orderliness. Trucks must only get on the road when they are called to come in, and if that happens we shouldn’t have trucks on the road.
“We also want to plead with the Federal Road Safety Commission and the Police; enforcement is very key. Enforcing means don’t let people who should not be on the road come on the road, because if there are no trucks on the road, we won’t have the miscreants. There will not be anyone to coerce on the road. Who gives the miscreants access into the port when they are not supposed to be there?”
She added: “Before the electronic call-up system starts, you’ve been operating for decades. How have you been calling up your trucks? Manual, I presume. So, why can’t you get back to that and make sure that it is a functional call-up? Functional call-up is the word.
“We all have our roles to play, but the typical thing is that we want to show that we have authority somewhere, and everybody trying to show that they have authority somewhere is what has ended us where we are now.”
She said though instructions have been issued by the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing to “open up the roads” leading to Tin Can Island Port, this might not solve the gridlock until trucks that have no immediate business at the port are taken off the road.
“The issue of Presidential Task Force or no Presidential Task Force, I threw up that question on Tuesday to the Vice President and he said ‘Madam Perm Sec, that has been disbanded’. I have been trying to get a written document because I clearly stated that I don’t have a written document. If I have the communication as a Ministry, then we should be able to do the needful. So I have requested that we get the communication both to the Ministry and to all the institutions – Lagos State, the Police, all the parastatals; NPA, NSC, are all part of the transportation.
“So once we have that, then we can sit down to chart what needs to be charted. We have invited the relevant agencies for 8 a.m. meeting tomorrow because we must chart the course of who takes responsibility for what to at least decongest the road. That is the immediate thing we have right now to do, and then allow people to come out of the port and open up the roads if need be.
“I am using the word if need. We may just open temporarily to move all those ones that are blocking the roads but going forward, we need to do the right thing, and that is discipline ourselves and having an effective manual call-up till we’re able to implement the electronic (call-up), ”he said
Ajani said FRSC to deploy more truck towing vehicles on the port access roads to remove broken down and unwanted trucks to free up the road.
She said: “We will engage Lagos State and maybe Ministry of Works if they have land around those areas, so that at least there is a clear place where you drop the impounded trucks. I guess when we begin to do that; people will take us a bit more seriously.
“So if you have not been called up and you get on the road, then your vehicle will just be towed. By the time you are there for three months, the goods you want to export is there, you begin to talk with the owner of the goods. People will probably be a bit more serious in dealing with what needs to be dealt with.”
A week after the meeting, the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi , told maritime workers in Lagos that the government would deploy a new taskforce comprising 200 security operatives to Apapa.
Truckers reject taskforce
As soon as the plan was revealed, truckers rejected it stressing that taskforce has never been the solution as they will eventually extortionists.
Speaking to THISDAY, Chairman of Association of Maritime Truck Owners (AMATO), RemiOgungbemi, said truckers will reject any task force because they are only coming to extort truckers.
Also, the truckers insisted the plan to deploy 200 security personnel was a misplacement of priority, saying, “It is uncalled for and very unfortunate. We are shocked that the only solution that government has to proffer is to set up another task force. We have had over five different task force on Apapa, they come do what they can do and impose all manner of levies on truck owners and go. That government is trying to set up another task force baffles me and I want to say, it is not the best, it’s never the way forward.
“I was thinking by now the government should realise that the port can no longer contain the volume of activity that it is been burdened with. The NPA has promised to deploy electronic call-up system, this is what we are all waiting for. The NPA has partnered with a company called TTP Limited and they plan to deploy the system, which is what the government should focus on. I am not sure the Minister of Transportation was properly briefed on the matter.
“Task force is never the solution, what we need is an automation system that will have no human interference. Even if the government like let them bring one million security men, it will not solve the problem. I am sure if the minister was properly briefed that we have been having task forces without solution he would not have even contemplate the idea.”
Ogungbemi added: “However, any attempt to bring another security operative that will be unleashing terror and extorting truck owners we will not accept it. It is those people that are benefiting from the corruption and rot in the system that have advised the minister to set up another task force. They have misled the minister, they are mischievous and want the status quo to remain.
“It is uncalled for, with the modern technology that is been deployed around the world, why must we be lagging behind? Apart from the NPA electronic call up system, we have come up with our solution that will have no human interference but because we were seen as nobodies they rejected our solution. I want to stress that setting up of any task force can never work because it hasn’t worked in the past. We will not allow it, we don’t want it because they see truck owners as source of revenue and an opportunity to enrich their pocket.”
Opeifa blames entrenched interests
However, the former Executive Vice Chairman of the now rested Presidential Task Team on Restoration of law and order in Apapa, Kayode Opeifa, rejected allegations of corruption and blamed interested parties who were used to disorderliness in Apapa for the many corruption allegations against the task team.
Opeifa, who praised the work of the PTT said the Lagos State Government would now take the task forward while the NPA would fix its call-up system to effectively manage the movement of trucks in and out of the Ports.
He said coordinated negative media reports on the axis as the handiwork of those benefitting from the hitherto corrupt system in the nation’s busiest port.
Speaking on the allegations of rising transportation bottleneck and cost of haulage on the axis, Opeifa said genuine stakeholders on the axis were impressed by the level of restoration of law and order that has taken place on Apapa axis as far as transportation are concerned.
Opeifa said a lot of successes have been recorded on the Apapa axis with the removal of heavy-duty trucks, petrol tankers and containerised trucks on the roads and bridges leading to Apapa, adding that the roads that were initially in bad shaped are undergoing construction and near completion.
He added that the Presidential task team has delivered on its mandate to restore order in the Apapa axis, even as he urged the Lagos State government and stakeholders to take ownership and ensure orderliness in maintained.
Opeifa said instead of the unwarranted criticisms of the presidential task team, the federal government should be commended for taking a bold step to address the myriads of problems in Apapa that had been neglected for years before President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration began to address the problems, which include bad roads, corruption and absence of law and order in the axis.
“Presidential Team recorded significant successes in easing the traffic situation in Apapa. Among these is the exit of tankers, containerized trucks and other heavy-duty trucks on the bridges along Ikorodu road, particularly around Stadium, Iponri, Fadeyi, Onipan and some parts of Ijora-Iganmu road.
“The team, which further ensured that only vehicles with genuine documents were allowed into Apapa; also introduced a manual call-ups system that guarantees a systematic, programmed movement of articulated vehicles into the port, which eliminated the many-weeks duration heavy-duty vehicles usually spent on the same spot while trying to access Apapa, “he said.
He added that most of the transportation challenges on Apapa are caused by the failure of some of the stakeholders to follow laid down rules, “especially since the introduction of the manual-call-up system, adding that traffic situation on the axis would continually improve if everyone complies with the laid down rules.
Opeifa blamed the negative reports on Apapa on some ‘faceless’ individuals whose interest is in the continuation of the hitherto corrupt system rather than restoration of law and order in the Apapa axis.”
However, he appealed to stakeholders on the axis to stop cutting corners and adhere to the established rules and regulations in order to sustain the successes recorded in traffic management in the area.
“What we are seeing in Apapa is the case of the corruption fighting back. When they see that the system is not possible for them to escape because they are not supposed to be on the road, they will go to the media to allege corruption, which is not true.
I have said that there is a calculated attempt to using the media to fight back by the people we displaced from the corrupt practices,” he said.