As NPA Deploys Eto

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Eromosele Abiodun writes that the deployment of electronic call-up system by the Nigerian Ports Authority will address the menace of truck congestion around Apapa and its environs.

For residents and Nigerians why ply their trade in Apapa, the only thing close to hell is the protracted gridlock that has sent many to the grave. Due to long neglect, Apapa become Nigeria’s signpost of incompetence, mismanagement, and lack of vision. The roads leading to Nigeria’s premier ports, Apapa and Tincan, became totally impassable, source of untimely death to and businesses and people alike. Many Apapa-based companies have gone under while some managed to relocate, the inevitable result is massive revenue loss for the government itself, importers and other operators whose livelihood depends on the ports.

In 2019, Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, joined numerous port users and businesses to echo the daily suffering and the revenue loss by businesses and government.

Dangote estimated that the country was losing about N140 billion weekly to traffic gridlocks on Apapa-Oshodi Expressway, Lagos, the access road to Nigeria’s main seaports.

Dangote who spoke to journalists in Lagos, said: “The economy loses more than N20 billion daily and N140 billion weekly. It affects businesses across the country. All our operations in the hinterland in Ilorin, in Kano are operating at 40 per cent maximum capacity.”

Lamenting the state of roads in the country, he added: “Today there is no linkage road going from South West to the North. You have to go all the way through Ajaokuta, Obajana, Lokoja and you have to go by that uncompleted road Obasanjo (ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo) started 13 years ago.”

In the last few years, Apapa has become a no-go area for visitors, hellish for those who reside and work there, and traumatic for business owners and those exporting or importing goods.

Cost of doing business at the ports has risen so high manufacturers are abandoning their cargo at the port. The call on government to fix the ports access road has however been heeded by government as work has since commence on the roads. But like everything Nigeria, security personnel sent to maintain traffic turned the problem into an enterprise.

As a result of extortion by security officials, haulage cost from Tin Can to any other part of Lagos has risen by more than 1,000 per cent from about N100,000 a year ago to about N1.2 million.

Recently, truckers raised the costs to move a container from the Tin Can Island Port, Lagos, to any other part of the city by 50 per cent, from N1.2 million to N1.8million.

As a result of the blockage of the roads, millions of containers are trapped in the ports and shipping companies have had to stay at several anchorages for between three to four months incurring all manner of surcharges.

On average, 100,000 containers carrying various cargos are discharged in Lagos ports monthly, with shipping companies now charging $6000 to sip a container to Nigeria, it costs shippers in Nigeria $600 million (N234 billion) every month to transport 100,000 containers to Nigeria.

In the first half of this year, it cost $1,000 to ship a 20-foot container to Nigeria from the Far East.

Today, the cost charged by shipping lines for the same service is between $5,500 and $6,000.

Due to the massive congestion at Tin Can and Apapa ports, many shipping lines have started diverting Nigeria-bound cargoes to neighboring ports in Cotonou and Ivory Coast. Importers, THISDAY learnt pay N25, 000 as demurrage per container a day and another N15,000 as storage fees to terminal operators excluding 7.5 per cent value added tax (VAT).

This amounts to N12.5 billion daily demurrage charges on 500,00 containers and N7.5 billion storage fees.

NPA Deploys Technology

In a bid to find a permanent solution to the Apapa gridlock, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) last year collaborated with a private firm to deploy technology and remove human interference.

After several months of meticulous planning, the NPA last week announced that it will next month deploy technology to manage traffic in Apapa in the form of electronic call-up system known as ETO.

The electronic call-up system, it stated, will address the menace of truck congestion around Apapa and its environs.

Sources at the NPA told THISDAY that when fully operational, the electronic call-up system will save Nigeria a whooping N140 billion weekly economic loss and another $10 billion annual loss of agro products.

According to the source in NPA who do not want his name in print, “The system will save the country N140 billion weekly economic loss, 40 per cent of businesses that have left Apapa, will return, there will be an end to 7-14 days cargo reception delay; consequent damage to perishable export products and reverse the $10 billion annual loss of agro products.

“That is not all, this effort will also save our bridges around Lagos mainland, which are old and fragile and can no longer support abuse by trucks. This will also put an end to unavailability of public funding for shared common infrastructure.”

In a statement signed by the agency’s Assistant General Manager, Corporate and Strategic Communications, Ibrahim Nasiru, the NPA said that henceforth, management of truck movement and acess to and from the Apapa and Tin-Can ports will be guided by ETO.

According to the NPA: “As part of efforts aimed at finding a permanent solution to the problem of truck congestion around Apapa and its environs, the authority is pleased to announce the commencement of ETO, the Electronic Truck call-up system designed for the management of truck movement and access to and from the Lagos Ports Complex and the Tin Can Island Ports, Apapa, Lagos.

“All trucks doing business at the ports will be required to park at the approved truck parks until they are called up into the port through the ETO application. The ETO application will be responsible for the scheduling, entry and exit of all trucks into the ports with effect from 27th February 2021.”

It added, “Therefore, all transporters, trucks owners and truck drivers will be required to download the ETO App from Google play store or sign up at http://eto.ttp.com.ng before the commencement date to enable them register accordingly.

“In addition to this, cargo owners should please note that empty containers can only be returned to the ports through the approved holding bays of shipping companies using the ETO Platform. It is the responsibility of the shipping company to move empty containers from their holding bay to the Port.

“All cargo owners have to do is drop their empty containers at the holding bay of the shipping company. The shipping company will then make the necessary bookings on the ETO platform to return empty containers to the Port.”

The NPA solicited the cooperation of transporters, truck drivers, cargo owners, clearing agents shipping companies and all port users in the implementation of the project, which it promised will bring order and sanity to the ports access roads.

Non-compliance to the use of ETO and its guidelines, it added, will result in denial of access into the Ports, impounding of trucks and withdrawal of registration/operating license.

Transforming Apapa

In a chat with THISDAY, the Managing Director of Trucks Transit Parks Limited, the company providing the technology, Jama Onwubuariri said the effort will transform Apapa and make the port city thriving again.

According to him, “Our Company, Trucks Transit Parks Limietd (TTP) provides solutions to the truck traffic challenges in Nigeria. The NPA aims to decongest Apapa, improve traffic flow and ultimately facilitate the efficiency and productivity of the ports. We will help them do this through the use of technology.

“Our operation is based on an electronic call up system called Ètò, through which trucks movements will be scheduled from the originating points of the trucks to a park, then to a holding bay/pre-gate and then programmed in batches (on a first-come-first-served basis) to access the ports. Thus, all trucks are expected to remain within approved parks until they are scheduled to access the ports or are moving from one park to another. The idea is to prohibit illegal or indiscriminate parking of trucks along the roads.

“Therefore, law enforcement agents have been set up to enforce compliance and tow or fine offending trucks/truckers. Hence, an electronic call-up system that will drive the check in and checkout of trucks from each location has been put in place to achieve this. In addition to batching and scheduling of trucks movement, TTP would also offer add-on or ancillary services such as truck wash, tyre change, truck service, accommodation etc at designated parks.”

He added that the main objectives of the company’s operations is toimprove ports efficiency, decongesting traffic gridlock, improving traffic flow within Apapa logistics ring, improve accountability and eliminate extortion and improve ease of doing business.

On how it intends to achieve it, he said, “We will deploy electronic truck scheduling, park, truck and traffic management platform called Ètò, provide modern truck parks and holding bay facilities with hub amenities, use of ICT hardware such as access control, law enforcement/traffic agents to enforce complianceand registration of all ports bound trucks and drivers on Ètò.”

The affected stakeholders, he added, are:truck drivers, truck owners, truck drivers unions, truck owners unions, truck park operators, terminal operators, shipping companies, clearing agents.

Others, he added, are; Apapa residents, workers and companies, government agencies –Police, Customs, LASTMA, Road Safety, Nigerian Shippers Council, Lagos State Government (Ministry of Transport and Ministry of Environment)and Apapa Local Government.

NPA’s General Manager, Corporate and Strategic Communication, Adams Jatto, had recently confirmed the plan when he told journalists in Lagos that the system would go a long way in addressing the traffic gridlock in Apapa.

According to Jatto, “We have concluded the procurement process to be able to engage our investors to manage the truck park. So with this, I believe we should be able to have something on ground for people to be proud of. Call-up system is not just the areas we are looking at, for us to ease the congestion along ports access roads.

“It is a kind of temporary measure for us to ensure that we have a free flow on the axis that lead to the ports. The call-up system is for us to be able to have truck parks along ports area and some of the truck owners have assured us that they have truck parks, where they can park their trucks.

“A call-up system is to ensure that in each of the areas where there are truck parks, the trucks are there and when it is time for them to come to the ports, we have to adopt the call-up system to call them. On the basis of this, we will be able to streamline the trucks coming into the ports, to ease congestion.”

Jatto said the management of NPA led by Bala-Usman has always been desirous to address issues of the port access roads in Apapa, through sustainable road construction.

“A truck terminal park had been constructed at Tin-Can Island port, but the shoreline protection was not done. The Federal Ministry of Works had re-awarded the contract for completion. Our Managing Director/CEO, Ms Hadiza Bala-Usman had taken a bold step to ensure that the truck terminal will be managed by Public Private Partnership (PPP).

“That is where we are having real automation of call-up system. The management of NPA is working toward ensuring that Lillypond terminal is converted to a truck transit park for easy flow of traffic, along ports access road in Lagos,” he stated.