“Most of them at COMTUA have self-interest”
Mr. Olaleye Thompson, is a frontline transporter and the Managing Director of Tom Lee Nigerian Limited. He is the Chairman of Amalgamated Truck Owners (ACTO) and also a member of Corporate Fleet Owners. In this exclusive interview, he told Anozie Egole of the challenges in the nation’s haulage business and why there seems to be proliferation of truckers’ association in the sector.
“The managers and the drivers take advantage of what is happening to extort money from the owners”
What do you think is the way forward on the protracted Apapa traffic gridlock?
Because we have been able to come together under one umbrella, that is ACTO and Corporate Fleet Owners we have been able to proffer a lot of solutions to the issue of Apapa traffic, that is why we are where we are today. Had it been that we didn’t participate at all, the situation would have been worst. On the solutions that we brought was that, we said there is need to have a call up park where individuals can gather their tucks instead of littering the roads, we said or else, stay in your garages. Then, we mounted pressure on the government and they agreed with us to release Lilypond as a truck transit park for all the truck owners. So you go to your park which is a big park and if you have any that can contain up to 200 trucks it should be registered and you should be willing to add it as one of the truck park that we can call from, before you go to Lilypond. So the idea behind the forming of Lilypond truck transit park was that we don’t want to see any truck on the roads, the idea is that you go to Lilypond if you have a genuine document, then from there you move to the ports. I am sure within the period that we put this in pratice, traffic flow has improved and the economy has improved.
We learnt about extortion at Lilypond, what do you have to say about that?
What I have not experienced, I don’t comment on, I have sent my boys to Lilypond and to prepare documents there and nobody has ever asked me for money. So what I have not experienced, I don’t speak on and also as their (truck owners) leader, nobody has ever come to complain officially that anybody is asking for money.
See, there is one thing I want the media to know, the managers and the drivers take advantage of what is happening presently to extort money from the owners. For instance, someone can come and beg them for assistance of about N500, but by the time they come to the office to give account of their expenses, they would start cooking up figures. So there are lots of lies coming up from both truck drivers and managers to extort money from their bosses.
As a logistics person, how much would you say the nation has lost so far, because of the Apapa gridlock?
The past three years and half have been horrible in terms of movement of trucks in Apapa and I am sure the government has lost nothing less than one trillion naira in the last four years. Look at what is happening now, they closed the land borders and people are shouting, a lot of people are agitating that they are losing billions of naira; it is because things are not working properly in Apapa. Had it been that Apapa and Tin Can are working optimally, there won’t be all this nonsense about people smuggling through the bushes and all that. What the government is supposed to collect as duty genuinely, people are willing to pay; but because the roads are nothing to write home about, that is why the people are looking for an alternative. If the government can do the right thing, the government can make a lot of billions of Naira.
What is your take on the closure of land border?
I don’t see why the government should open the land borders; by opening it, the government is losing. People are losing and they will still lose because when you engage yourself in illegitimate trade, this is what you get. Do the right thing, respect the law of the land and do your business genuinely. Pay your tax, pay all the duties that the government is supposed to get from you as an importer, that is what they give to the officers on the road and at the end, it is the Nigerian government that is losing.
What would you say informed the formation of Corporate Fleet Owners Association?
Before you can be a member of the association, you must have nothing less than 20 trucks. And what brought the idea was, if you have at least 20 trucks, you have invested hugely in the business. And when you invest in a business and it is not moving, you need to take control of the business from the parasites, the people that don’t contribute a dime, but they are feeding fat from where they didn’t invest. And all of us looked at it, we have invested hugely in the business and nothing is coming in, we left the business in the hands of people who do not have a single truck, that was what informed the idea. We felt there was need for us to have a union or group that can fight our cause and it is paying us well. The idea has been fantastic, because when we talk now, we make presentations to the government, they accept and if we suggest, they will adopt it.
So what is your relationship with Council of Maritime Truck Unions and Associations?
I was the acting BoT Chairman of Council of Maritime Truck Unions and Associations (COMTUA) when it was formed but when personal interest of some individuals were overriding the interest of the generality of the members at large, that was when majority of us started withdrawing. Because you can’t be backing an association that is not contributing to the welfare of its members, but it is looking for a way of generating income; it’s not right. You need to work for people first and let them feel the impact of what you did for them, before you ask them to pay union dues. At the initial stage, we told them that, look at ACTO, we have Corporate Fleet Owners, AMARTO amongst others we came together and suggested that we needed a towing vehicle and crane to assist our members in case of truck breakdown on the road, that is what other associations overseas do. If there is a breakdown, if you have an association and you have a crane you can go there and do it; all you have to do is to inform the police, they will help you and manage the situation. But we told them, if your ideas is like ours we can work together, but within a short period we noticed that it is not the same. At the stage we are today; with what God has done for those of us at Corporate Fleet, I don’t think I can mix myself up with people that their ambition and aims are not the same with what I have in mind.
What was the idea behind the formation of COMTUA?
The idea was to form a very strong association that would be presenting the case of the truck owners, drivers and everybody in maritime haulage business. But we found out that things were not working the way we expected. Because if the purpose of forming that association is being respected the way it is supposed to be, by now we are supposed to have started seeing a tremendous improvement. But most of them at COMTUA have self-interest; it is all about what I can benefit from the system, instead of what you can do for the system.
What is your reaction to the 56 truck parks submitted to NPA by truckers to complement the Lilypond Truck Transit Park?
We at Corporate Fleet Owners were the first to manage the park when they started. We advised other groups to do the same thing, but unfortunately none of them followed our advice. We now said if we want to remove all these trucks from the roads you must have a park; just like business, if you want to go into any business as a business man you don’t think of making money, you have to think of how to start, manage, expand and secure your business, that is the idea of anybody going into business. For instance, if you have over 200 trucks you are talking of Billions of Naira investments, in that case you would be thinking of how to secure your business and help people and also you are contributing to the economy of the country because you are paying your tax. And if you have a park you can’t see your trucks on the road, even if you don’t have, go and look for someone that has, that can accommodate you, those were the ideas. We need a bigger park that can accommodate trucks or even talk to the government to get a bigger place, let us develop it. And we recommended 50 parks that we knew are secured, when we gave it to Admiral Eyo the chairman of the-then task force, he said it was a laudable idea he accepted it. But the boys working under him increased that number from 50 to 211 parks and most of these parks are non-existing parks, they were just adding the number to extort money from people. But when the new presidential team, we had a meeting and we made them to understand that most of those parks were not in existence. We were the people behind the idea of the parks, and that what we submitted to Navy then was 50parks, so they said we should please present the parks again and we gave them 56 parks. And they said they were not going to approve the whole 56 parks, they need to go for physical inspection and it was after the inspection that 36 parks were approved.
Is it true that out of the approved 36 parks, three were selected for use for call-up?
That is not true, it is a lie, all the 36 approved parks can apply to NPA to serve as call-up and it will be given, because they have visited the parks and they are satisfied that the parks will serve the purpose.
What is your appraisal of the presidential task team?
They are doing a fantastic job, that is the gospel truth. Because when the former joint task force was in charge, I didn’t see anything positive that they achieved. Admiral Eyo did a wonderful job, but a tree can never make a forest. The difference between that team and this one is that the head of enforcement of this team who is a Commissioner of Police, and the second in command are always on the road 24hours. So it is difference from someone sitting in the office and giving directive and that is why you see some level of sanity. Ever since the formation of this presidential task team a lot has changed you don’t see things like that again.