"Most of our drivers, especially the motor boys, they seat on the floor, they look dirty and it is not the best"
Chief Remi Ogungbemi is the Chairman of the Association of Maritime Truck Owners (AMARTO). In this interview with Shipping Position Daily's correspondent, Dapo Olawuni, he said the association has begun sensitising truck drivers on the need not to park their trucks on port access road, in line with a recent directive from the Managing Director of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) Hadiza Bala Usman, and that shipping companies must own and utilise their holding bays.
‘’Back then, there were rail lines across Apapa, up to Liverpool, there were factories at the Warehouse bus stop where the rail would roll in and load whatever products they have, either as export or whatever’’
How far have you gone in your talks with NPA on the establishment of a trailer park around the port?
To establish a trailer park requires parcel of land, and going by Decree 8 of 1978, land is vested on the state, it is only state government that has power over the land. In all our efforts, it seems the state government is not giving the go ahead, so there is nothing we can do except the state government gives us the go ahead, but however, we are not relenting, we are still talking to the authorities concerned to see what they can do, because without getting a place where the trucks would be coming from, it would be very difficult, and again, by the time we have a place like that, all these problems associated with the trucks within Apapa and Tin Can port would be a thing of the past. But most importantly, we are also discussing on how we can start using a call up system, a system that will regulate the movement of trucks to both Apapa and Tin Can port, but the present situation where all the trucks and tankers are coming at the same time is an aberration, because the fact remains that all the trucks cannot be attended to at the same time, it has to be one after the other. So arrangement is on, even we the non- governmental agencies and stakeholders, we want to take up the challenges and see how we can start implementing the call up system.
Talking about electronic call up system, is it possible for your group to acquire the land without any government support?
In getting a land, it is a capital intensive project that we don't have the political power and the financial power to achieve, but I believe that with the support of the federal government through the Nigerian Ports Authority, being the technical regulator of the port and the State government, definitely we should be able to achieve it, but if you count these two bodies out of it, it will be difficult. Like I mentioned, we had identified a place in 2014 and committed resources running into millions, but then the state government at the tail end of it, they refused; they said the place would be used for a housing estate at Ijora. As I speak, we have also identified a place that can accommodate 1,500 trucks but it is a private property, the owner of the property wants outright sale of the place, the ground is concrete, readily available, it has all the necessary facilities, but as at now, we don't have the financial power to acquire the place, this is why we are calling on NPA and the state government to assist us, we would work out modalities on how to pay the money back.
How much is the place going to cost?
He is asking price for N2.5Billion but I believe that if the government comes in, government would send valuers to go and value the property to know how much it is worth. it is negotiable, even if he says it is N1.5Billion, it is worth it, because it can accommodate more than a thousand trucks, it is located at Orile, Lagos.
Last week, there was a stakeholders meeting called by NPA where they threatened to sanction shipping companies that do not have holding bays, how feasible is the implementation?
Government must have their own reasons before rolling out such a policy, I am aware of the policy, I was also at the meeting where a matching order was given to the shipping companies to look for where they would be putting their empty containers, it is an instruction, the government has spoken that they don't want empty containers to be coming to the port again, rather, all the containers should be taken to the holding bays, so that only request, they would now know when the empty containers would go back to the port. As of now, the instruction has been given, we don't have a choice than to obey our government that says, don’t come to the port with the empty containers. The sensitization is ongoing so that every container carrying truck would know that it is no longer allowed for them to bring their empty containers to the port, but how viable is the holding bay for the empty containers? How are we sure that they have enough equipment or facilities to receive all these empties at the holding bay they have provided.
The shipping companies have accused truckers of not utilising the holding bays; they prefer to queue on the access road?
I disagree with that, yes I know that there are some situations by which if a truck has an empty container and he also has a Terminal Delivery Order (TDO) to come and pick cargo in the port, they prefer making the double transaction instead of coming into the port before they go out and get a TDO to come and load. So they do such transactions, but if there is a place outside where they can easily drop the empty container, it is better.
What is the idea behind the food canteen you commissioned for the truck drivers?
If you look outside there, you would see that most of our drivers, especially the motor boys, they sit on the floor, they look dirty and it is not the best, the idea is that we are trying to see how we can change their mindset and mentality, and before you can succeed in changing any human being’s mindset, you need to look at the environment, if the environment is not conducive enough, it would be difficult to change the mindset. So, we are trying to remove them from these dusty areas to let them come to the secretariat where they can ease themselves when they are pressed, where they can take their bath if they are dirty, but we cannot achieve all these without the support of other stakeholders, especially the terminal operators. There is a regulation that truckers are not allowed to go inside the port together with their trucks, so we are trying not to let them remain under the rain and the sun, this is why we have prepared a place like this. We have told the caterers at the canteen that the canteen is not for high class people alone, even if it is N100, there is food for everyone.
Recently, NPA opened a food canteen at Apapa port, are you now competition with them?
We are not competing with them, the port is a security area where people cannot just be trooping in anyhow, Nigeria is signatory to ISPS code and IMO regulations, these regulations states that pedestrians are not allowed into the port. The NPA canteen was opened inside the port where the drivers and the motor boys have no access; this was why we opened this one to make it easier for them.
How would you appraise the concept of truck transit parks in Nigeria?
I am aware of the truck transit park, it would reduce the fatigue on the side of the drivers, it would help them bring professionalism into the business, but they say charity begins at home, this is why the government agency championing that course which is the Nigerian Shippers’ Council should first and foremost establish a truck transit park here in Lagos before we talking other states in Nigeria, because Lagos is where you see the trucks and tankers, so, much concentration should be given to Lagos before any other state.
Recently, there was an increase in price of hiring a truck, what is the rationale behind the price increase?
What you refer to as an increment is just a fire brigade approach because of the situation we had at hand. In Nigeria to the best of my knowledge, we are running a free economy, you know how much you bought your product and how much you are going to sell it, there is no way you would decide to sell below cost price of the product, so we were just considering the number of days and so many ‘handshakes’ on the road before the trucks can enter the port, all these put together is the reason we had the fire brigade increase, it is not an official increase.
Should we be expecting a slash in the price?
It all depends on the situation, it is the demand that determines the rate, the season and atmosphere determine the rate. For example, if the truck that is supposed to bring tomatoes from the North did not come within four weeks, you would see tomatoes that you are supposed to buy for N5 would now be sold for N200 or more. It has become our way of doing things in Nigeria that we capitalise on any situation, and even the increase was just a fire brigade approach to address the situation on ground.
By the time we have a call-up system in place, it would be easier for the owner of the trucks, and the driver to know the date he is supposed to be at the port, the present situation where trucks are just coming to the port at the same time is an aberration, a software should be developed to address such situations. Although the task force in Lagos are trying, they have assisted us in making sure we have a lane for other road users, and the present situation by which the Apapa Local Government erected barriers on inside streets, has also served as a relief to Apapa dwellers, they have restricted the movement of trucks to some particular areas within Apapa, but this is not the lasting solution, we are still waiting for the lasting solution, the solution is the call-up system that would regulate, monitor and control the movement of the trucks. Secondly, there should be a place that would serve as a transit park, so that from the transit park which can accommodate 1000 trucks, they would be calling them as per the number required at any terminal, be it Apapa or Tin Can port.
With the aggressive renovation of the rail, do you think truck services would still thrive?
It is not a competition, we are supposed to have the rail as it was, I have been operating in the port for more than four decades, back then, there were rail lines across Apapa, up to Liverpool, there were factories at the warehouse bus stop where the rail would roll in and load whatever products they have, either as export or whatever. But, a policy came and it rubbished all these systems, if we have rails functioning, it is to the best interest of the owner of the trucks, it would reduce the lifespan of the truck. Imagine a situation where trucks would leave Lagos and be going to Maiduguri, it is not the best, this is why most of our roads get spoilt easily because of the weight that the trucks are putting on the road, but by the time we have the rail, the trucks would only be complementing the efforts of the rail, this would further elongate the lifespan of the trucks.