“We have proposed to NPA that they should allow empty containers come into the port between Friday and Monday morning”
Folake George is the President of Corporate Fleet Truck Owners Association. He spoke with Shipping Position Daily correspondent; Dapo Olawuni in Lagos last week and highlighted challenges associated with trucking business in Nigeria.
"You cannot really say that you want to enforce anything on truck drivers right now because of the situation of the roads"
Truck owners do not have truck parks, are you not supposed to own garages?
For members, owning garages is part of the criteria that you have to meet before becoming a member of Corporate Fleet Truck Owners Association, the criteria is that you must have a minimum of 10 trucks and you must have your truck park. As for me, all my members have their truck parks.
How do we overcome this challenge among truckers who are not your members?
Government is trying to create a pay park, they told us that they have some projects they are undertaking and that it is just for them to enforce, but you cannot really say that you want to enforce anything on truck drivers right now because of the situation of the road. However, government agencies in terms of the task force that has been set up by the Vice President headed by Commodore Eyo, they are trying to sanitize the system, they are into an agreement with Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) that any trucks trying to enter into Apapa, whether it is carrying empty containers or going inside to load containers or cargo, you must have your call-up, the call-up is being generated by NPA, and that is why they have some of their personnel at strategic positions with the task force to make sure that it is being complied with.
But, the task force has said that truckers are not abiding by the resolutions of the meeting with the Vice President that they make use of pay-park garages
I wouldn't know because I am not always in that situation, for me, if my trucks do not have jobs to do, we stay at our garage because we have a garage, and you know that right now, it is very difficult for us not to have job to do because of the congestion at the port and the high number of cargoes that need to be moved out of the port. But according to what is happening now, construction of Wharf Road is partially being concluded, I just received a message on the stakeholders platform this morning that the in-bound and out-bound of Wharf Road has been opened to trucks, with that, I know that we would have a bit of better movement of trucks in and out of the port. The only problem we have now is that the bridge at Area ‘B’ is closed, the bridge at Ijora has been closed, and according to the information we gathered, the bridges would not be opened until next year.
Do you think the shipping companies truly have holding bays?
They have, most of them have, but another issue is that when the holding bays are filled up, they still need to move the empty containers to the port and we have proposed to NPA that they should allow empty containers come into the port between Friday and Monday morning so that at least you can have a lot of movements and by so doing they would have more space at the holding bays when the containers there have been moved to the port, the other ones coming in there can go and drop their empties pending the weekend when there would be free movement. You know that TDO (Terminal Delivery Order) does not come out on Saturday or Sunday, the last day for TDO is Friday, so the ones that have come out on Friday, you can use that opportunity to move in empty containers between Saturday and Sunday, and before TDO comes out on Monday it would be in the afternoon and this can bring in a little bit of respite.
Talking of extortion of truck drivers by security operatives, how are you coping with it?
What I would say about extortion is that generally, you know that people don't want to wait for their time, everybody is in a rush, and because of the situation of the country, there is nobody you will offer money that he would not take, that is my take on extortion, the giver and the taker are both liable.
NPA has put up adverts for people to list their garages for licenses, and so far only two people have come forward, are there no spaces?
We have to streamline affairs of business in Nigeria, for example the trucking business, it is an all-comers business, if you have money you can buy trucks and be a truck owner, other criteria that you need to put in place are not being considered, so I think what Hadiza Bala Usman (NPA MD) meant is that they want to have a big holding bay where NPA would be using electronic call up to call trucks into the port. For example, in my place, my garage can contain 22 fleet of trucks, I have asked them questions that if you want to introduce this call-up system for the garage, are we going to collapse all our garages into this one single garage? Is it going to contain us? You still have to put this into consideration. Talking about all-comers affair in the trucking business, is it possible for us to have a regulation of the truck business as proposed by Shippers’ Council?
It is only the government that can do this when they are ready, they are the ones that will strategize the affairs of truck registration and look for ways to make sure that all is well organized.
Truck owners are apparently taking advantage of the current traffic gridlock at the port to hike the transportation cost, why is that so?
People that are making that allegation clearly do not understand the situation, I usually say it to anybody that cares to listen that, before we had this problem of traffic gridlock on the port roads, for example, when they wanted to start the construction of Wharf Road, I remember that I told Hadiza (NPA Managing Director) and the Minister of Works, Power and Housing, Babatunde Fashola that if they want to start the construction of the Wharf Road, they should make sure they provide an alternative route, and the alternative route to Wharf Road is the Tin Can port road, and the Tin Can road became an eyesore and a nightmare so much so that we even downed tools and Hadiza came to see the condition of the road on Tin Can axis, and the NPA promised that they were going to apply palliatives, but the palliative was never done, so the only route we can use to get to Apapa was the Tin Can road, while we were managing the Wharf Road, the ministry of works moved to the Area B/ Leventis bridge and blocked it, while we were complaining about how to solve the problem, they moved and also blocked Ijora Bridge, when they blocked Ijora, they said it was going to take three months, but it has been over five months now that Ijora Bridge has been blocked. Let me tell you, before we had this problem, tariff from Apapa to Eric Moore (within Lagos State) was N60,000, now the tariff is N350,000, when we were charging N60,000, you would go into the port and carry the consignment, you would go into the port and drop the empty container on the same day, at worst, the next day you are back at the port and you have completed your job of N60,000, now the charges have gone up to N350,000 to go to Eric Moore, before I leave from my garage to Eric Moore, the Navy would stop you on the way, either Dangote or a flatbed trailer, you would spend two days, it is not possible to leave my garage at Kirikiri and get to Apapa the same day in the last two years, it takes minimum of two days to get to the port and another two days to get to the warehouse, making a minimum of four days.The last container job I did, the container was on my truck for four weeks at N350,000, so where is the money that truckers are making?
What gave birth to your association despite the existence of other associations?
Our association came into existence as a child of circumstances when the Lagos State Government had issues with haulage operators. As a result of the accident that occurred at Ojuelegba, we were restricted to move our trucks at night and that was how truck owners threatened to withdraw their services by insisting that they cannot work from 9pm to 6am . We came up by making our impact felt because we were able to explain that the restriction would lead to massive diversion of goods to neighbouring countries in the region. After our presentation at the meeting with the help of Alhaji Lai Mohammed and Chief Michael Ajayi of the Nigeria Ports Authority, the State Governor; Mr Akinwumi Ambode stopped the restriction imposed on the movement of trucks and the strike was also called-off . However, we discovered that we are just there doing our business without belonging to any group or even attend meetings in connection with our business was not there either, but we felt there was need for us to come together and make some relevant points to the government as regards our operations and how the policies have been affecting our trade . To cut the story short, I can say officially that we started this association in March 2017. It was in March this year that we inaugurated the association and this is the beginning of good things to come.