Apapa: Faltering Gang-up against NPA’s Electronic Call-up System

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Apapa Gridlock

Transport

With over 100 trucks visiting the Lagos ports, Apapa and Tin-Can Island daily, task force, security agents, and Lagos traffic officials make N12.5 billion yearly controlling traffic. The electronic call-up system (ETO) introduced by the Nigerian Ports Authority to solve the protracted Apapa gridlock became a death knell to that racket of dubious security and traffic-control operatives. Hence, the pushback and the gradual return of the trucks to the port access roads. However, with renewed determination and the designation of 17 parks with a capacity to contain over 3,500 trucks used for the haulage of various kinds of cargo comprising imports and exports, fish, refrigerated containers, and other flatbed trucks under the electronic call-up system, the end may have come for an unscrupulous few determined to profit from the misery and death of Nigerians who ply the route. Eromosele Abiodun writes

Nigerians woke up to the cheering news of sanity returning to Apapa on February 28, 2021, following the take-off of the electronic call-up system (ETO) introduced by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) to solve the protracted Apapa gridlock.

Apapa was once a thriving port city that was turned to hell on earth by truck drivers for residents and Nigerians plying the port access roads before the electronic call-up system’s commencement. However, the dust was yet to settle on the cheering news when merchants of death, which include: security agencies, truckers, food vendors, and street urchins who have made an industry of the daily misery and death suffered by Nigerians, devised another means to perpetuate the status quo.

Following the crisis, Apapa became a lucrative posting for members of the Nigerian police and officials of the Lagos State traffic agency. THISDAY investigation revealed that LASTMA officials, the police, and food vendors were particularly aggrieved that the electronic call-up system has taken away ‘food’ from their mouth.

A LASTMA official said the call-up system would not be allowed to work.

“How can they introduce this system when my daily take-home pay was gradually improving. Some senior officers here have built houses from this Apapa traffic. Now that I am beginning to enjoy here, they are introducing electronic call-up. It will not work,” the traffic warden asserted.

Some truck drivers told THISDAY that the return of gridlock to the access road leading to the Lagos seaports – Apapa and Tin-Can Island after the electronic call-up system’s deployment is caused by entrenched interest benefitting from the gridlock. It was gathered that the truck drivers pay a whooping N12.5 billion yearly to security agencies controlling the traffic before they could access the seaports. At a bank close to the Airways bus stop early this year, a truck driver detailed how he transferred money to the now sacked presidential task team, police, LASTMA, and truck drivers union to access the port. Some truck owners alleged that before dismantling the presidential task force on Apapa gridlock, it took N400,000 to move a 40ft empty container from Ijora bridge into Apapa Port.

According to a truck driver, Bashir Ladi, at different security points, truckers paid bribes ranging from N100,000 to N200,000; otherwise, their trucks would be at a point for several days, if not months. According to estimates, with at least 100 trucks visiting the Lagos ports (Apapa and Tin-Can Island) daily, the task force makes N12.5 billion yearly, controlling traffic into the ports. However, the introduction of the electronic call-up system by the NPA has put an end to the unreceipted revenue, but entrenched interest reaping from the chaotic situation is sabotaging the agency’s effort.

Like several efforts in the past to tackle the intractable perennial gridlock that had failed and had forced business owners to relocate to neighbouring countries and some residents to abandon their homes, the saboteurs are also doing everything to sabotage the e-call-up system. Last week, the Lagos State Special Traffic Management Enforcement Team announced that it uncovered counterfeit call-up tickets.

The development THISDAY learnt was responsible for the teething problems experienced when the initiative commenced. Reacting to the counterfeited tickets, Transit Truck Parks Limited Chief Operating Officer Dayo Adeboye said tickets issued were photocopied and altered to cheat the system. He disclosed that the e-call-up ticket is programmed with a PIN code that cannot be changed or duplicated.

“There is a PIN code on every ticket issued by TTP that cannot be altered. Each code is unique to a ticket. We had a few of the alterations, but we are working on it to resolve it,” he said.

AMATO Commends NPA

President of the Association of Maritime Trucks Owners, AMATO, Remi Ogungbemi, confirmed the development and called on the truck park operators to be more security-conscious of the system. Ogungbemi, however, commended the introduction of the system stressing, “It is better than what was obtainable before now.”

He explained that the system’s introduction had reduced the extortion, fighting, and other vices associated with the unregulated system of allowing trucks into the ports.

Ogungbemi said: “Yes, I heard about the forgery, there are ways to checkmate it, they should put more effort, they should put more security features that will make it impossible for them to forge. In every situation, there must be a way out. No system is perfect, the implementation has started, and I am also commending the efforts, and I appreciate it no matter the challenges they face now.

“I want to say that no matter the challenges we are facing right now, no matter how bad the system is now, what we are passing through presently is far better than where we are coming from because the rate of extortion, exploitation, intimidation, death fatigue and stress has reduced drastically. The amount of money spent to pass the trucks has also reduced drastically, but my only concern is that the operators should be careful not to allow sycophants to hijack the system from them.”

The NPA management, in a statement, described the introduction of the e-call-up system as a success two weeks into its introduction. According to its Assistant General Manager of Public Affairs, Ibrahim Nasiru, the call-up system will resolve the intractable Apapa gridlock.

“Although we have experienced teething problems as would be expected of innovations like this, the NPA is pleased that these issues are being tackled as they arise, and that steady progress is being made in the process.

“As part of efforts to deepen the impact of Eto and make the movement of trucks more seamless, the Authority, after consultations with stakeholders arrived at the categorisation of trucks parks for all trucks doing business at the ports: Transporters and truck owners who do not use the approved truck parks based on the categorisation, would be unable to access the ports,” the statement explained.

It added, “While the Authority is working with Nigerian Export Promotion Council to arrive at a more conducive environment for the operation of export cargo owners, the Authority wishes to state that truckers in this category should ensure they complete all documentation required by the Nigerian Customs Service, Terminal Operators, and Shipping Lines before approaching the ports. Failure to complete the documentation will be met with denial of access into the ports.”

Designated Truck Parks

Meanwhile, in a bid to strengthen the process, the NPA designated 17 truck parks with a capacity of over 3,500 trucks used for the haulage of various kinds of cargo comprising imports and exports, fish, refrigerated containers, and other flatbed trucks under its electronic call-up system. This new categorisation comes two weeks after introducing the ETO, designed to fine-tune the processes to eliminate the teething challenges associated with the e-call-up system.

According to a statement by the Assistant General Manager, Corporate and Strategic Communications Division of the NPA, Ibrahim Nasiru, the new categorisation is in line with the agency’s desire to eliminate gridlock. Under the new system, a conducive environment has been provided for export cargo. Truckers are encouraged to complete documentation required by the Nigeria Customs Service, terminal operators, and shipping lines before approaching the ports.

The NPA also warns that transporters and truck owners who fail use the approved truck parks based on the categorisation would not be able to access any of the country’s seaports. It was gathered that the NPA is working with relevant government agencies, including the Nigerian Export Promotion Council and other stakeholders, to resolve the teething problems associated with the news system.

The NPA also did not fail to acknowledge the role played by Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos towards ensuring a gridlock-free Apapa.

Increased Commercial Activities

Customs agents have unanimously welcomed the new system saying the e-call-up system has a positive effect on commercial activities at the Tin Can port. Speaking on behalf of his colleagues, the Chairman of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents at Tin Can Island Port Chapter, Akanni Muhammed Mojeed, debunked reports that customs agents were against the new system.

He commended the Managing Director of NPA, Hadiza Bala-Usman, for the initiative, urging stakeholders to support NPA to ensure the system works.

Mojeed explained, “We have seen the effectiveness of the NPA Eto. If it continues likes this, it is going to work and be better. If you look at congestion at the port, truck drivers usually caused the traffic before now. Some of the truck owners have about 15 trucks each, but they don’t have parking yards. They took over the roads as their parking space where they stay until they get another job; this has been a serious problem causing traffic at the port.

“But with the current electronic call-up system and the Eto, without your TDO validation, you cannot bring your truck into the port. If not that the Mile 2-Tin Can Port road is not completed, trucks would have moved from Oshodi to Mile-2, straight to Tin Can Island Port without any issue under ten minutes.”

The ANLCA chairman advised NPA to monitor the system strictly and apply strict sanctions for airing truckers and hackers.

Continuing, Mojeed said, “The system is working. If you come to Tin Can Port, there are no more trucks on the road like we had before. There is nothing like bribery in the trucking business again. If you have 20 trucks, you can bring them all into the port, provided you have the NPA Eto. No need to settle or bribe security agents before entering the port.”

Agents, Residents Applaud Eto

Meanwhile, port users, operators, and Apapa residents are elated as normalcy gradually returns to Apapa. An Apapa resident, Chukwuma Vincent, said, “If you have been to Apapa in the past, you will know what I am talking about. Our businesses went down, and properties lost value, and people were dying like no man’s business.

“We call on the NPA to sustain this. I drove to my house for the first time in many years, and I cried. I thought we had no government in Nigeria again. This is worth celebrating, and I can only hope it lasts.”

In the same vein, importers, clearing agents, and truck owners expressed optimism. This was even as they called for a functional holding bay by shipping companies to return empty containers before the commencement of the ETO. The NPA had late last year announced the launch of Eto, an electronic truck call-up system designed to manage truck movement and access to and from the Lagos Ports Complex and the Tin Can Island Ports, Apapa, Lagos.

The NPA said trucks at the ports would be required to wait at the approved truck parks until they are called into the port through the Eto app. The Eto app schedules, entry, and exit of trucks into the ports. Trucks must approach the ports from a holding bay or truck park with a bar code to access the ports.

The Vice Chairman of the National Association of Road Transport Owners (Dry Cargo section), Abdullahi Inuwa, said the call-up system would end the port access road’s artificial bottleneck.

Inuwa stated, “I call on all stakeholders to cooperate and allow it work. If that happens, then we will get a good result. Actually, if it takes off successfully, it will eradicate corruption, no human contact, and other artificial bottlenecks. The motive is to take trucks off the road, but NPA should involve other garages where trucks are parked to successfully decongest the road.”

But the National Vice President, Kayode Farinto, said unless the port access roads are fixed, it may not yet be Uhuru. He explained, “The road should be put in adequate place because there is nothing the call-up can achieve without a proper port access road.”

Farinto, a former chairman of the Tin-Can Island command of ANLCA, added, “Also, shipping companies should put up a holding bay for empty containers because without an efficient holding bay, is there a way the policy can be achieved? NPA should also decisively take over the system and prevent the security agencies from hijacking it. They must remove human contact.

“But I don’t know how that will be achieved because Terminal Delivery Order will still be generated manually. There is nothing on the ground to show that it will be electronic because what is happening on the port access road is an eyesore that is giving stakeholders sleepless nights.”